“The first step is always to try: get out there and do it” – In conversation with entrepreneur and CEO Jihan Abass

Jihan Abass (Investment and Financial Risk Management, 2015) left her job as a sugar trader in the City of London to found two digital insurance platforms – Kenya’s first digital-only car insurance platform, Griffin, and Lami, the technology platform used to build the Griffin app. Since then, Lami has successfully raised 1.8 million dollars in seed funding and Jihan has met the Prime Minister of Barbados and has represented Africa at the world InsureTech Connect (ITC) 2020, the biggest insure tech event in the world. We spoke to Jihan about her achievements since graduating from the Business School (formerly known as Cass).

“[The Business School] felt like it was very much the right environment in terms of the experiences and teaching”

Lami Tech

 Jihan’s interest in the world of finance drew her to the Business School, she explains “it felt like it was very much the right environment in terms of the experiences and teaching”. A standout aspect of her experience while studying was getting to know her fellow students: “I think that was definitely the highlight: meeting so many different people from other countries and different cultures and backgrounds”. After graduating in 2015, Jihan landed a prestigious job as a sugar trader but things changed when, during a holiday to her home in Kenya, Jihan spoke to a waiter who didn’t have any insurance. When she investigated this further Jihan found that formal insurance coverage penetration in Africa is as low as 3%; shocked by this statistic, she took it upon herself to start working on a solution.

The decision to leave a good job and move back to Kenya to become an entrepreneur wasn’t an easy one, but Jihan explains that “ultimately, I think it’s all about the problem that we are trying to solve, so that’s the main driver”. She goes on to note that across Africa many people rely on a single source of income, but they aren’t protecting it using financial services like insurance “so that was one of the key things for me, thinking how can we provide a safety net for people?”. The commitment she felt to protecting people and their livelihoods gave Jihan the push she needed to leave her career in London and start a new path as a founder and entrepreneur.

“One of the keys things for me [was] thinking: how can we provide a safety net for people?”

This lightbulb moment led Jihan to found Griffin in 2016; Griffin is Kenya’s first digital-only car insurance platform which allows people to buy insurance in a matter of minutes. Following on from this, Jihan’s company later released Lami: the insurance platform and API which was used to build Griffin. Lami is now being used by other businesses to create digital insurance products. The aim of both companies is to make insurance more accessible and affordable, “we are democratising access to insurance by creating the infrastructure to facilitate others to be able to create and distribute products”.

“Traction speaks for itself: if you are able to show progress and show results, then people get on board”

As with any start-up, Jihan faced a number of challenges, but this was compounded by the fact that she Lami Tech group picture is a young, black woman in the tech industry in Kenya which is currently dominated not only by men but also foreigners. Jihan says initially it was hard to get people to see past her age, “in the beginning people thought what I was trying to do was kind of crazy. They thought the problem was too big to solve”. However, she persisted in pursuing her goal and explains she learnt that “traction speaks for itself: if you are able to show progress and show results, then people start to get on board and see what it is you are trying to do”.

Alongside the challenges come the rewards and, for someone so young, Jihan has had many career highlights to date! She tells us that in the face of the obstacles she has overcome “being able to fundraise for the business has been a big achievement for me and something we, at Lami, are very proud of”. Another key moment was the launch of their first product: “it was a big milestone for us, showcasing what we had been working on… that was definitely one of the most exciting things for me”. A personal highlight for Jihan was being invited to meet the Prime Minister of Barbados to showcase the work the company are doing – one of three start-ups selected by the Central Bank of Kenya: “it was very exciting to be recognised like that”.

“The first step is always to try: get out there and do it.”

 Wrapping up our interview Jihan shares some advice for fellow entrepreneurs, explaining that, for her,Lami Logo the motivation comes from the impact of her ideas. The first questions she would ask herself about a new business idea are: “do you have a problem worth solving and are you willing to sacrifice time and put in a lot of effort to actually solve that problem?”. After that, she says, “the first step is always to try: get out there and do it. There’s never the perfect time or opportunity… I don’t think there’s such a thing as the right time or the right choice, I think it’s about the drive and the will to succeed”.

Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us, Jihan!