Interview: Jeannetta from WAKA Fitness

Jeannetta from Waka Fitness, Kigali

I met Jeannetta shortly after arriving in Kigali and I’ve been following along closely as she and Dennis have taken WAKA Fitness to new and exciting places. Here’s a short chat about what it’s like to run their exciting business. Find out more about WAKA Fitness their website or Facebook page.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am from the U.S. I moved here in 2012 from NYC to work with the Government of Rwanda’s public-private partnership unit.

Can you give us a bit of background on WAKA Fitness?

WAKA opened in March 2014. It was founded by myself, Dennis Dybdal, Jon Wagner (founder/former CEO of Nairobi Java House) and Miruka Martin, Founder/CEO of Kava Africa. Our mission has changed from when we first opened, it is now: “We are pushing the boundaries of urban professional lifestyles in Africa by creating affordable, inspiring and quality spaces where people can work, exercise and stay connected with their communities.”

What gave you and Dennis the idea to open a gym in Kigali?

We were not satisfied with the experience at gyms in Kigali and in the region. Certainly putting equipment in a room does mean you’ve created a gym but there is so much more to getting people to improve people’s lifestyles. Community matters, education matters, good customer service matters.

How did you feel like you could improve on gyms that were already open at the time?

The most important improvement we felt we could make was about the customer experience, from a service, facility and quality perspective.

What do you think sets WAKA Fitness apart from other gyms in the city?

We pride ourselves on delivering a high-quality experience at an affordable price.

Did you and Dennis have experience running a business before WAKA?

Dennis owns an e-learning business, Green Zebra, before he opened. I had no experience, and frankly, felt no desire to open a business.

How was your experience setting up a business in Kigali?

All of the practical aspects of setting up a business in Rwanda are easy (e.g. registration, etc). The major challenges are figuring out the market – its small and our clients are price sensitive.

What are some of your major challenges running this type of business day-to-day?

We are always on the lookout for good talent – we largely hire for attitude and expect that we will have to train on technical aspects of a job. It’s been challenging finding talent whose attitude matches with our culture and our brand.

What are some of the most rewarding parts about running WAKA Fitness?

Engaging with clients – seeing their transformations, lifestyle changes, promotions, etc. They are our #1 priority and usually the source of most of our most rewarding stories.

Tell us a bit about your new location in town.

Our new location is located in the Central Business District behind Simba Supermarket. We have created the first lifestyle hub in Africa – where you can work, exercise, meet up, grow and get inspired. We have a number of different type of membership options. For our co-working space, we have private memberships, semi-private desk space and hot desks. All our work members use the gym for free. Those that are just interested in the gym can become daily, monthly or annual members, with the same great set of benefits we have at WAKA Kimi.

Why did you decide to expand?

From the day we created WAKA, we always intended to expand and become a major fitness franchise in Africa. Now the scope of our expansion plan has changed to include our new concept and we are also analyzing what would be the most strategic markets to enter.

What are some reasons that Kigali residents should choose a WAKA membership over other gyms in the city?

We are providing an experience, not just a gym. From how our front desk greets you to what you may find in our locker room, we believe we have developed a brand that represents quality, world-class design and a 360-degree approach to health/fitness/lifestyle.

What future plans do you have for WAKA?

We plan to to expand to 1 or more location in 2019.

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.