How a passionate gamer built a tech company

When Godfrey founded Magila Tech in 2011, it started off as a briefcase company, a one-man show that evolved into a startup with 126 employees.  PHOTO | COURTESY

Summary

  • Godfrey Magila’s love for computer games as a child led to his passion for technology which eventually saw him become the owner of a regional company, Magila Tech

Confucius, a renowned Chinese philosopher once said; ‘Choose a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’. The saying shows the importance of having a passion for your work- for if you like what you do, you will definitely accept all that comes with it, be it good or bad.
Godfrey Magila, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Magila Tech is a living example of this. Magila Tech is a Dar es Salaam-based software development and cybercrime solution startup founded in 2011 after Godfrey won a second place in a programming competition by Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (Costech).
Growing up, computers always had a special place in Godfrey’s heart. He developed an interest in computers at the age of nine. At the time, he was living with his aunt and uncle.
“I used to ask them for sh300 on weekends, an amount that enabled me to pay for 30 minutes at an internet café that was near our house. This became a habit that eventually made me get so attached to computers,” he narrates.
Initially, Godfrey used computers for playing different games on the internet. He slowly learnt how computers work and this made him spend more time at the internet café so he would explore computers more.
“That experience was the foundation of my company, it is what led me to understand how programming works. It enhanced my company to be the technology vendor it is today,” Godfrey explains.
Godfrey started living with his aunt and uncle in 1998 after his parents died. And as fate would have it, he lost his aunt and uncle in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The loss left him with the only thing that was nurtured during the time he was living with them; technology.
“During that time, it was the only thing that I had that was close to reality. I loved it when it did not bring me money and even when it did. When I started solving real life problems using my knowledge, I dedicated more time and energy in it,” he says.
His first-ever product was a chatting messenger dubbed ‘Voice of Orphans Tanzania (VOT)’, a computer based system. Godfrey made this product with the intent to connect school clubs across the country. He was a Form Five student at Mbezi Beach High School at the time.
“That product was for a Non-Governmental Organisation that has other affiliates across the world. They wanted it to be based in the country but many students did not have access to the internet at the time, which led to its failure,” he says.
In 2011, Godfrey developed a biometric voting system for the purpose of enhancing accuracy when counting votes in elections. He made this product when he was involved in an incubation programme at Costech. He and other Costech programming competition winners were being groomed under the programme so as to understand the tech world in and out. The product was designed in a way that enabled a single vote to be counted after scanning both the fingerprints and the face of the voter.
The biometric voting system was made to reduce complaints that usually arise during elections. The aim was to do away with cheating claims in the whole process.
“That product required huge investment, multiple certifications, approvals and global standardisation to succeed. I worked on it for a period of two years but it failed. This did not stop me from exploring technology even further, in fact it was a learning curve for me.”
Godfrey adds; “That failure taught me that in life and career, not everything turns out the way we want and that sometimes it is important to listen to people’s opinions about your work for they may guide you on the right way to go about things,” Godfrey details.
During the incubation programme, Godfrey was taught that for his work to be a success, he has to be more than passionate. He was advised that his products had to be impactful in the society while making him money at the same time.
“My first-ever successful product was Tigo Backup application, a cloud storage for mobile data. I created this in 2015 and launched it in 2016. The idea originated from people’s complaints on how they lose their data after their phones are stolen. The product enables a person to store photos, videos, documents, songs and contacts. During that time, data backup was expensive, so Tigo Backup came to the rescue,” explains Godfrey.
One day when Godfrey was at Costech, he ran into Diego Gutierrezz, the then Tigo CEO and thought it was a good opportunity to sell his idea.
“I saw the opportunity right there and then. I pitched the idea to him and the Tigo boss showed interest. He told me to visit his office the following day which I did. When Mr Gutierrezz saw how the application works, he was excited,” Godfrey recalls.
Tigo Back up was a dream come true for Godfrey and his team. It opened a lot of doors for Magila Tech both nationally and internationally. The company received orders from banks, other telecom companies, tech companies and aggregators.


Growing beyond borders
“Growing the company as well as scaling up beyond the Tanzanian market was among the many goals that we had set from the beginning. We now have offices in Congo and Dubai. We also have clients in different countries including Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, USA and Eswatini,” he hints.
When Godfrey founded Magila Tech, it started off as a briefcase company. A one-man show that evolved into a startup with 126 employees, some working at the headquarters, while others are in the bureaus.
“I remember serving almost every department. I was the accountant, programmer, analyst… I was the full package!” recalls Godfrey smiling at the thought. He adds; “I later took in two of my friends, one who is now the chief software engineer. The beginning was a blurred start but our passion for technology is partly what has pushed us to where we currently are. The company was also founded on the grounds of discipline and commitment,” he reveals.
Speaking on the lows and the highs during his career, Godfrey reveals that one of the challenges he faced was earning clients’ trust.
“Many people questioned my ability to deliver because I was a one-person company. They used to ask why they should trust me and not hire a corporate company. Another challenge was the financial capacity. There are products that required massive financial investment that we did not have access to,” he recalls.
According to him, there are a lot of unheard success tech stories in Tanzania that deserve to be given the spotlight.
“One of the goals I have set is to support more tech talents in the country. I aim at offering opportunities and guidance the same way I was supported. There are lots of great ideas that are likely to become impactful in the Tanzanian society once they are worked on and offered support,” he says.
Godfrey advises young people in the tech world to be aggressive in their careers and that they should not view giving up as an option.
“To young people in the technology space, be aggressive and open minded at what you do. Being firm in your work will earn you experience and momentum in a manner that will make you understand that your whole career is an evolving ecosystem. You should not lose the drive that is likely to push you forward and earn you a deserved spotlight,” he advises.
The self-taught programmer says young people should understand that there is no single definition of success as every step made is worth celebrating.