For most people, starting a business right out of college might seem a risky undertaking – one that comes with uncertain job security, and requires ample caution. For the Genfis, however, this is not the case.
After Ashesi – graduating a year apart from each other – Kofi Genfi ‘16 and Pinamang Genfi ’17 started businesses that have steadily gained significant footprint in their respective industries.
“Our family is full of entrepreneurs so it’s something we’ve both grown into,” said Pinamang. “I guess it also comes naturally to us because we have good examples within both our immediate and extended families to learn from.”
Though working in separate industries, the Genfi siblings hope to meet daily needs people grapple with through their businesses.
In high school, Kofi co-founded Cyst, a software innovation company focused on providing high-end tech solutions for its users, using artificial intelligence. After rolling out several products that fell flat on the market, they finally struck gold in 2016, launching a payment platform, Mazzuma, to provide money transfer solutions for users across Africa.
“We initially started Cyst in 2013,” explained Kofi, who oversees day-to-day business decisions and company strategy. “Essentially we built it as a software innovation company with a vision to create locally built software with a global perspective. Over time, we built our company around this vision, as opposed to centered on just one or a few products. That way, we were both flexible and constantly looking for new avenues to grow into. So in 2016, we decided to look at mobile payments from a fresh perspective; to make it more inclusive. And so, Mazzuma was born to provide people at all levels flexible options to make transfers and payments across different networks.”
On her part, growing up, Pinamang had always nurtured a dream to be in the fashion industry, and would occasionally sketch out designs in her notepads. Today, she not only runs TAAG Fashion, a women’s shoe line but also Marshmallow Gifts, a gift concierge service.
“I started TAAG because for as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in fashion, and always wanted to have a career in the industry,” explained Pinamang, who designs all the shoes her shop stocks. “Marshmallow Gift concierge, on the other hand, was actually supposed to be just a summer project I worked on after school, and nothing more. However, working on it, my interest grew and I saw potential in it, so I decided to build a business out of the idea.”
While entrepreneurship may seem innate to Kofi and Pinamang, who are constantly looking for ways to solve problems and expand their businesses, their journeys have been far from smooth.
“Combining school and trying to get a start-up on its feet was difficult,” explained Kofi who spent almost every free time he had as a student, working out the kinks of the company. “I learned to be tenacious: you can’t give up. Your brain doesn’t go to sleep. In the early days, the start-up is like a baby, and you have to make sure he or she always fine, and then when the baby starts to walk, you have to make sure that all the parts that help it to move are also functioning at optimum performance.”
Growing as business owners, they also credit their journey to some experiences they picked up along the way, including at Ashesi. “First, in running a start-up, you need to know a bit of everything, and Ashesi’s liberal arts system has been helpful because it exposed me to a bit of every field,” Pinamang shared. “Also, it’s given me a good network that has been pretty beneficial to me since I started.”
For Kofi, who has always been interested in the tech industry, he chose to do Business Administration at Ashesi, primarily to understand tenets of the business world.
“Taking a course on competitive strategy at Ashesi made a huge difference for me,” he said. ”Not only did it incorporate practical ways of driving your company to the top, the course also had realistic and practical modules. Through case studies we read in the class, we learned what works in our context and how to apply it.”
Despite the challenges, both siblings continue to make significant strides. In early 2018, Kofi and his co-founder were selected as part of the Forbes Africa’s prestigious 30-under-30 list, for their work in advancing innovative technology solutions across the continent.
“At the pace the world is moving, if you don’t move briskly, you will be regretfully behind,” he said. “We just didn’t want to fall into that trap. So basically we came to a simple understanding: just do it.”
Unsurprisingly, Pinamang shares a similar perspective about taking the first step in starting a business.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to act instead of just thinking,” she said. “When you have an idea, act on it rather than spending too much time thinking about it. You can think for as long you want but it doesn’t produce any results until you actually start doing.”
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