Sam Majani IMG HumanIPO
Sam Majani IMG HumanIPO

A family is having a conversation after dinner. On national TV a respected business reporter is interviewing an octopus-like business woman. Confused, Tim, a nine year old boy asks the dad what a socialite really is. But before the dad could answer, Tim’s mother, a fashion designer and business woman interjects.

“Son, a socialite is a classy model who is paid to attend events or create hype about products. She’s an influencer. Her presence gives weight and colour to whatever boring event it would have been,” her mom says.

Tim nods his head but prety much unconvinced turns to his dad, implying his mum has missed something in her answer.

Blame all that on one Uncle Chim, a self-proclaimed most-hated man in showbiz and Ghafla Kenya’s huge gossip king until his exit to PQ’s Mpasho. Chim wrote half of Ghafla and had its old testament at one time blocked to students in various local universities and even a number of family-inclined advertisers pulled out.

Not relenting, Baba Ghafla, Chim and the then Ghafla team brought several people’s lives to a standstill and as well made others shine. The most recent was when one radio presenter was dumped by her actor boyfriend, she was pregnant and low and in need of love. Chim blew the lid and eyeballs came online in droves reading. Some sympathetic, some jealous while the rest were too young to understand the magnitude, mostly just confused until deadbeat dad came on scene.

Chim’s altar had more touched and blessed than it could doom. As he ministered, his faithfuls gave more. More tips, more stories, more semi nude photos and more gossip and he also grew and grew. The socialites grew, Ghafla amassed traffic to millions of uniques, clients came in droves, more were even attracted by it’s cheap price point then something happened.

Money came calling.

Ghafla-Radio Africa in the good days!
Ghafla-Radio Africa in the good days!

South Africa’s Times Group bought nearly all of Radio Africa Group which owns Kiss 100, Classic 105, Radio Jambo, X FM, East FM, Relax FM, The Star newspaper and Kiss Television and almost every youth friendly FM station and other media properties in East Africa. PQ and crew got even hungrier.  They began courting Trinc Media and Ghafla. Having them at their premises for shows to maintain that family feel.  Trinc Media which was running various social media accounts for Radio Africa presenters and a couple of other corporates. The money had to be shared and Trinc was bought. The real price and stake of the social media outfit built at Sam Gichuru’s Nailab.

No one covered the story apart from our friends at the dreaded Kahawatungu and another one here. Kahawatungu has more info on the media itself than the paid reporters do. But it could have been vegetables had someone not messed up with Jackal News founder.

Now after acquiring 40% Trinc Media for just Ksh 3 million and PQ buying himself  20% according to reports, Radio Africa’s wise men went for Ghafla but Ghafla wasn’t an orphan as had investors with a significant stake who also believed in its potential. The sale didn’t go through. Ghafla says it would make all the marked price in just one year. And it was making some money and it still does today even though it looks like a mosaic of billboards cluttered together.

According to estimates the Gossip industry is worth $3 billion annually. Baba Ghafla knew this already and was the defacto king while other entertainment bloggers were sleeping on the job or too smart like Daily Post’s Tim Obare hidden from the public eye and not interested in advertiser money which comes with meetings and deliverables and takes several months to close and finally have the payments.

As Niaje died slowly (full story here today or and ressurected here), there were thousands of gossip sites creeping into the space. ENews was amassing some traffic, so was Nairobi Gossip, Buzz Kenya and just about everyone. As local tech companies still court print media and TV, tech bloggers were quitting tech to do something more lucrative. Gossip was huge. From the days of Grace Kerongo’s Hotsecret’s, the Gossip industry was growing at drop it like hot speed. The major problem most of the publishers were print. Star had (have) a brilliant entertainment section it ran, so was Zuqka then Pulse.

And as things were hitting up, Standard Group launched The Nairobian, then Aga Khan’s Nation Media Group followed with Nairobi News (RIP), but trying to go clean, away from the corruption in town and at his NMG campus itself, NMG’s Nairobi News tried to go after the heart of the reader with human interest stories but in a few weeks after launching it didn’t make any business sense and the Aga Khan’s money ought to be clean anyway. Nairobi News was killed.

FAREWELL-2-528x270The clean news thinking was also getting out of hand and got even worse with the launch of an evening news outfit called X-News (no relation to X FM). MediaMax’s The People also hired an old newspaper general to have a worthy second coming as a free daily newspaper and real saviour for the matatu loving Nairobians.

With all this developments, Radio Africa Group couldn’t be stopped. The group understood one thing. Gossip sales. It had the evidence and not just dry data from an international firm. It’s run lucrative entertainment/ gossip morning radio shows raking in millions monthly from advertisers.

Its appetite grew even bigger when Nairobi Now was killed before anyone could buy a piece.  Radio Africa Group’s huge obstacle-some guy called Sam Majani needed crushing. Majani, who like most entreprenuers, with no MBA became an easy targe. Radio Africa Group needed to move fast to save themselves the earlier embarrassment of failing to buy him out and probably teach him a lesson.

With just a little history for having founded a site for Kenyan music lyrics dubbed Kenyan Lyrics and dropping out of university, Majani was as vulnerable as vegetables and to some of his evangelist reporters, there salaries were their business. Their employment was their businesses and if they could get a better deal why not!

One meeting, the second and Radio Africa had its plan hatched. Get all those crazy noisemakers from top blogs, of course beginning with Ghafla, quickly customise a WordPress newspaper theme, pay them for tips, put them in great office with beautiful computers and women and even pay them more, launch a site invest in radio airtime, promise readers new iPhones and go out get advertisers as fast as possible promising them a 5-in-1 package of Print, Radio, TV, Social media and online before the first batch of reporters move on to start their own gossip sites.

And boom, Ghafla was touched and some of the writers and social media guys left. Some had already joined ad agencies for their social media prowess. Chim and his small crowd of elders left to start a new Ghafla clone for Radio Africa dubbed Mpasho which is first gaining traffic.

Though Ghafla says he is not moved with MPasho, there have been improvements since they launched. Each is struggling to break more news and have all the exclusives and inside the mind of the Ghafla CEO, quality content and SEO are still king and he still has the eyeballs.

Speaking to TechMoran in a mood only Ft: Kendrick Lamar’s song The City can descibe, Sam Majani, Ghafla CEO and founder said, “Ghafla has been rigged to survive any onslaught. Anyone in the company is replaceable, even me. Cabu Gah came in for Chim and I have Sue Watiri, Philip Etemesi just in case. Turning hiring into a process has been the key. You need to know what you’re looking for in people and how exactly to get it repeatedly.”

Radio Africa’s Mpasho and all the blogs tell us only one thing.  A whole generation has been converted. Kenyans will take their two or three socialites as attention seekers but overnight an industry is growing. Businesses will fuel the gossip blogs as is everywhere. Now worth $3 billion, the global Gossip industry is here to stay. Even without investor money such bogs will always have traffic and online advertisers want eyeballs not a nice family website with two clicks.

Gossip sells.

Mbugua Njihia
Mbugua Njihia

Mbugua Njihia, CEO Symbiotic, a mobile VAS firm based in Kenya told TechMoran, “Gossip has been the mainstay of human life since the days of old. With the drudgery that is the rat race humanity needs ways to take its mind of things and think or look at “other” people…a different reality. Hence porn, alcohol and gossip has a ready clientele. Think of Machakos “Airport” and the publications that move in the thousands at Ksh 20 printed on barely held together paper that can find easy use as an tissue paper thereafter; the headlines are ridiculous and some stories borderline unbelievable. You will pick a copy knowing full well it is rubbish, but hey…”

Majani agrees.

“Yes it’s true. The market expectation for an entertainment publication is to provide gossip. We are the supply fulfilling the demand. I cannot divulge what our biggest threat is. All I can say is it doesn’t exist yet. Who has anything close to Ghafla’s 1.4 million uniques, 10 million pageviews?”

Ghafla’s new high priest Gabuh Cah with several awards for his work is taking the site to where Majani has always dreamt of. Taking us back into history  of what Prezzo did to Caro Mutoko and Larry Madowo date some 19 year old socialite. It’s all fantasy though but it’s sticking up. As usual, both Ghafla and Mpasho have listicles are shared by both Ghafla, Mpasho, Nairobiwire and another outfit dubbed Enews Kenya.

Don’t get bored of the lists, just yet.

According to a report by the Wired, “Lists are everywhere. They’re the bread and butter of sites like Cracked and BuzzFeed, and regular content or sporadic filler at dozens more. (Yes, even WIRED.) From the multimedia gallery to the humble top 10, list-format articles — listicles — are rapidly becoming the lingua franca of new-media journalism.

They’ve met with no end of resistance from the old guard, cantankerous readers and old-school journalists convinced that listicles (and their admittedly unfortunate portmanteau) are rotting our brains, destroying our attention spans, and generally contributing to the decay of all that is right and good. Listicles have been picked apart, analyzed, attacked, explained, and defended.

Ghafla knows that with lists you’ll spend more time on the site, curious to see the next semi-nude photo of a socialite. The new media firm has also learnt to promote its content on social media and as well share it almost around the clock to populate your social media timelines so can’t avoid them.

Ghafla has also refused to remain a one hit wonder like the majority of musicians the new media startup writes about. The startup firm has launched Duwaa, a local social media and tech site, Tambaa a travel news portal, Mwalii, a relationship advice site and a MachoMoran killer and he’s trying his hand in business reporting. He understands the technology, has had some experience building his following on social media and pulling readers with misleading headlines. The writers he had, some of whom are at Mpasho might be a little competition but Ghafla seems to have something more for readers who flock the site everyday.

19-year-old architecture student at Nairobi Institute of Technology, Joe Karani Mpasho's first iPhone 6 winner with Carol Mutoko (IMG credits The STAR)
19-year-old architecture student at Nairobi Institute of Technology, Joe Karani Mpasho’s first iPhone 6 winner with Carol Mutoko (IMG credits The STAR)

Wondering why you shouldn’t cry for Ghafla?

Like Nairobi’s clubs and restaurants sitting next to each other and offering the same foods, the sites will co-exist and no one cares at the moment who will outlive the rest. Readers will flock one site then go to the other and media buyers don’t care which site they visited first before the other.

Its all about traffic and at the end of the day, who has more eyeballs wins. Online advertisers such as telcos, beer companies, cosmetic firms, dating sites, and even professional mentors and churches want eyeballs for their products. Daily Post, Ghafla, Mpasho, Nairobiwire, Nairobigossip among others will give them the numbers they need. Traffic is what feeds advertising and even though Kenyans might think there are too many blogs or new media companies, the Kenyan advertising market is way too young and unserious for any tangible business.

“The advertising market has to be big enough with enough being spent online by advertisers/brands in Kenya. Many still spend on billboard, TV stations and radio vs online. Online is 1-2%.  Needs to be closer to 5-10%. Brands have to know there are enough engaged and worthwhile users in Kenya to get a return on investment on their advertising,” says Mbwana Alliy- Managing Partner, Savannah Fund.

1908241_477586889031517_251499810_nGhafla, Mpasho and co. might be all smiles looking at Silicon Valley new media firms such as BuzzFeed raising millions with their GIFs. It tempting for them to think this might trickle down to Africa and bring fortunes in form of investor funding or advertising. However, experts this is a killer deception for anyone this side of the world.

“When you do the math, is the audience big enough for Kenya alone? Comparing with BuzzFeed when the context is different doesn’t help,  classic case of translating or cloning a venture without thinking about the Africa implications. Different business model for Africa might work e.g. Selling tickets etc. But must do the math on the business model. Not assume it’s BuzzFeed for Kenya and hence is bankable.”

Sam Gichuru, CEO Nailab
Sam Gichuru, CEO Nailab

Sam Gichuru, CEO and co-founder at Nailab, where Majani began his lyrics site before he got an investment from 88mph to launch Ghafla was unwilling to comment or be associated with Ghafla.

Tim is not done yet.

“Honestly Dad,” he calls out, “Who were the three big socialites in the 90’s? I can’t see them on any blogs?”

Cabu Gah has to publish the list just before Tim refreshes Ghafla.co.ke on his phone.

 

 

  • Okii Eli

    Rewrite the story now …3 months down the line

  • Okii Eli

    Majani ,its 3 months and Mpasho is NO where !! Am I wrong

  • Mr. Majani

    No comment 🙂

  • Sam Wakoba

    Majani is actually my teacher. Guys shouldn’t think we have beef!

  • Competition is good for the industry. It will be interesting to revisit this in a year and assess the industry then.

  • Okii Eli

    Ghafla will emerge the winner. The vision is still a live ,only foot soldiers decamped. Majani get other smart young guys ,expand to Nigeria & South Africa ,if possible East Asia. Mpasho will burn out in the long run.The revenue generated will not be enough to sustain that team. The losers are the foot soldiers who decamped. Those who start a business with aim of killing a competitor are losers!