We recently spoke with Johnson Mwangangi, ygap Kenya program alumni and founder of Gilitics Media LTD. Johnson speaks about the importance of telling real stories, why entrepreneurship was his calling, and where he hopes to see Gilitics grow to in the future.
Tell us a bit about you:
I am from Mombasa, the coastal part of Kenya, though I spent most of my younger years up country in Machakos county. I came back to Mombasa to do my degree.
I am naturally curious and I’m always trying out different things, so, when it comes to being an entrepreneur, my curiosity won.
What was your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?
I went to a boarding school from class four, which gave me an opportunity to be independent and to learn to interact with the world from my own perspective. When I moved into high school, I began a business doing photography at events, which was my first entry into entrepreneurship.
When I finished high school I went back to the community in Mombasa to study at University, and began experimenting with business in my second year on campus. I started a business doing social media marketing which didn’t work out very well; I saw the potential of digital but back then not many other people did. I ended up volunteering at a community organisation in my spare time, where I learned to speak well and become more of an orator so that I could freely interact with the community.
It was during this time volunteering that a friend and I tried growing the organisation with social media, which was met with some success. This friend later became my Co-Founder. When I finished university I was faced with a difficult choice — do I go and find a job, or do I dive headfirst into creating a business? I am naturally curious and I’m always trying out different things, so, when it comes to being an entrepreneur, my curiosity won.
Tell us about your venture:
Gilitics media is a digital media company and we share inspirational stories from the coast of Kenya. Through our platform, clients and partners can tell their stories through various formats like articles, feature stories, informal documentaries and our newly established online radio. Our audience is mostly from the coast region, but since it’s online content our stories can be consumed across the world.
Why digital media? The market is moving to the digital space, so we wanted to get in early and maximise our use. We are telling important stories and we are making money from it at the same time.
What kind of impact have you had so far?
We started this business because we realised there were very few authentic coastal stories in the media. We saw an opportunity to change that by finding ways to tell those stories. So far, we’ve been able to have an incredible impact. To give one example, we shared the story of someone living with HIV/AIDS through COVID-19, and the challenges they were facing. This person had a difficult living situation, so we started a crowdfunding campaign which ended up raising enough to arrange a house for them to live in. That’s just one example of the power of the stories we tell.
We are doing a lot now with accountability and the Country government. We’re partnering with NGOs to try and make sure public money is being spent responsibly, the community is getting the help they need, and that the Country is actually delivering on what they’ve said they’ll do. These NGOs are working on the ground, so they have compelling stories they want to tell but no avenue for doing that at the moment.
We’ve done some exciting work so far but we’re not where we want to be yet. We want to be doing impactful stories that take our impact to a different level, and that get attention not only in the coastal region but around the world. We want people from the outside to change their perspective on the coast, but also for people from the coast to change their perspective about themselves.
What challenges have you faced?
Our biggest hurdle has been marketing. We get clients but the conversion rate isn’t high compared to the outreach we’re doing. We are trying to make people see the value of using us over other platforms. That requires a really strong value proposition which isn’t easy to find.
Another difficulty has been in keeping talent. For example, we had someone great working for us who was poached by MTV and is now working for the BBC. We’re so happy for them, of course. It’s growth for them but a loss for us.
Finally, it can be hard to change from friends to Co-Founders. Working together is a different relationship, and something that should be handled with care by both people.
It’s been challenging but we have managed to get some awards and recognition. Just here locally in Mombasa we have been nominated by the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce Industry — twice — for the best use of social media. Our videographer won the Best Videographer of the Year for 2022 in Mombasa.
I am also proud of the progress we have made. As we speak, we are finalising setting up the first audiovisual studio in the coast region. I don’t think there is anything else like it around, and we are going to take the market by storm.
The community is responding so well to the radio project. We are playing music already, and people are listening and waiting for us to go live with the programs we’ve been trialling. We already have people who are willing to pay for time and space in the studio, like podcasters who want to make episodes of their show. We’re excited about the impact this is going to have for people as well as being able to make money at the same time.
Who has been the biggest help?
It’s hard to say one person has helped the most because each person has come through when we needed them. The team has stood with us, even from when the idea was just a vision with nothing yet to show for it. Now they see where they are going. And of course, our parents. They don’t get it sometimes, but they always support us.
How has ygap helped you in your journey?
The ygap Kenya program changed my perspective on how business is and how a business should run, and gave me a deeper meaning for why I am doing what I’m doing. The training came right at the time when we needed to consolidate our services, dig deeper, and try to understand the problem we were solving.
Running a start-up is hard. At the beginning you’re trying to do everything yourself — you’re the finance person, the management person, the marketing person. With ygap’s help we’ve been able to break down the roles and assign them to various members of the team.
We have been redefining ourselves, trying to link our services together and figure out how they tie into the problems we’re trying to solve. Thanks to the grant, we have been able to add a very powerful customised computer to help us deliver the stories we can tell.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
I would tell them entrepreneurship is not an easy journey. You have to have a passion for it. If you are doing it because it seems trendy, you are not going to withstand the challenges that will hit you. But if you stick with it, the rewards are incredible. It’s an opportunity not just to run a business but to understand yourself better. You get to learn as you go, to handle challenges and opportunities that most people won’t get to have. So, hang in there when the tough times come, celebrate the little wins that you get, and keep pushing — it’s always worth it in the end.
What’s the dream for Gilitics in the next 5 years?
In a word? Scalability. We want to expand, maybe take the consultancy aspect of the business to a national level, or to a different region. We want to go beyond the coast and on to other regions in Kenya, establish a full-time internet TV channel, and get the radio to a frequency where it’s listened on a national level. And, we want to have a solid team to back it all up. We want our company to be one of the best places to work.