Meet Dennis Dybdal Founder of WAKA Global
Which team and when did you graduate?
I graduated from Team 9 back in 2004.
What have you been working on since you graduated as a Kaospilot?
I’ve been working in different organizations and fields since I graduated. I’ve worked as a Project Coordinator in Kashmir, focusing on defining the number of casualties and survivors due to the 2005 Earthquake. I’ve worked as an Event Coordinator at People Group primarily focusing on marketing events for the gaming industry and been a Coordinator at the Coaches Training Institute, setting up and planning international training seminars. I’ve worked as a management consultant focusing on leadership training and talent development and I’ve also worked as a Team Leader at KAOSPILOT, designing and delivering the 3-year Enterprising Leadership Program.
In 2010, right after coming back from a 1-year sailing trip from Denmark to the Caribbean and back, I was headhunted for a position in Rwanda. In my new role as Program Director was to support the development and opening of a new entrepreneurship university in Rwanda. Living and working in Rwanda made me see new opportunities, which made me found my own business called Green Zebra. We specialized in big scale corporate training packages and e-learning. I’m proud to say that we helped train over 120.000 people in 16 countries across 3 continents, in 5 different languages. After having run this business for a number of years another business opportunity came up. So, parallel to running Green Zebra, my new business partner and I founded WAKA Global, which saw an opportunity to bring the professional fitness and gym experience to the African continent.
How did you get to start this company?
Green Zebra started with one customer, which was a big Swedish owned telecommunication corporation operating in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Latin America. They needed an all encompassing and extensive training program, which would help subcontracting street vendors become more entrepreneurial and to professionalize their operation and improve their sales strategy. The challenge we faced was the need of adjusting the training according to cultural differences, variation of products and even language. In order for this program to be successful, we had to train trainers and select master trainers internally in their organization.
In parallel with running Green Zebra, my partner and I started WAKA Global. After two years of working on both businesses, I decided to focus on the development of WAKA Global.
My partner and I presented to a potential investor within a week of getting the idea. To our surprise the investor liked our idea and plan and committed to invest during the meeting. It took us 12 months from idea to the grand opening. We had to make some radical changes within the first 18 months after opening. These changes in our business model forced us in many ways to rethink our segment and better understand our core product and the perceived value proposition. I believe that if we hadn’t been open to challenge our initial concept and vision, we would not have been in business today.
Where did the idea for WAKA Global come from?
The idea for WAKA Global grew out of us observing the Rwandan gym market, which mainly consisted of a lot of smaller hotel gyms. We asked ourselves: why not build a normal sized gym? What would set it apart from any competition would be that it was a really cool gym where doing a workout is more than just a workout, it’s a lifestyle and a particular community you join. It was very important for us to look at the fitness market, on a global level and aim for the stars in the development of the concept. How can we create something that would be so cool that you could take this fitness center and place it in New York City and it would still work like a charm? We have been fortunate with the amount of regional media coverage we have had over the years, which I believe has something to do with the fact that we have dared to push the perception of what is and is not possible in Africa.
We were fortunate to be selected by Stanford University, out of approximately 400 african business, who all showed great growth potential, for the Stanford Seed Growth Program. The direct impact of our business was another major change in our business strategy based on new market insights. We created a second fitness center with an even stronger emphasis on the lifestyle and community. We wanted to create a second center that was really inspiring where we mashed up WeWork and Equinox, but fostering a real the sense of belonging that we could attract entrepreneurs and freelancers, who understand that if you are physically healthy, it will affect your company positively. And meeting likeminded people in healthy and inspiring surroundings and establishing relations will only be of benefit for them. We want to open as many of these places up as possible and the real goal is to expand across Africa.
Of course, our goals and dreams can only be realized because we are so privileged to have talented people work for us and with us to keep our mission alive!
What are the next steps for your business?
Lifestyle diseases are growing across Africa, and equally around the globe, and it is estimated that if nothing is done about lifestyle diseases that the costs of treating these diseases will in 30 years’ time surpass the total global GDP. We believe that with our different fitness offerings, we can create solutions that help combat these diseases and help individuals and societies stay healthy. However, COVID has further made it clear to us that we want to and need to flip everything upside down. We are currently developing a new business model, which we believe will disrupt the entire fitness market as we know it. I cannot disclose too many details at the moment, but overall it will be a data and marketing driven fitness facility.
What is your biggest source for inspiration right now?
At the moment I’m reading literature by people, who I initially think I disagree with. I’m trying to understand what it is that I disagree with, or don’t like, in that person’s opinion or point of view. I can feel that I’m challenging my own point of view and it’s making me more conscious about my values and ideals.
Do you have a piece of advice for future Kaospilot graduates?
Stay open and humble.
Dennis Dybdal is the co-founder of WAKA Global. Dennis has 15 years of start-up, innovation, leadership training and strategy experience. Dennis has executed projects in 20 countries and developed corporate training programs, which have been provided to more than 110.000 people. Dennis has a business degree, is a coach and co-active leader. In 2017, he graduated from the Stanford Seed Innovation Program, an executive program for business leaders focused on expanding businesses in Africa.