The rags to riches series feature inspiring stories of African entrepreneur, who built an empire using a bootstrap system, i.e. started from scratch. The story is intended as an inspiration for the struggling citizens of Africa who fear the impending failure of their independent struggles. Fomba Trawally is the founder of Kumba Beindu and sons, a company in Liberia producing toiletries and flip flops. What you may not know about him is the fact that he was once a refugee in the Gambia, and started his company with $200. This is the story of a former refugee who had to leave school to support his siblings, before managing, against all odds to build an import company that became one of the biggest in Liberia.
Fomba Trawally, a Liberian who lost his parents, traded in a wheel barrow, fled his country because of a war, came back years later, started a petty business with just $200, and ended up building a million dollar company in the process. . His source of inspiration comes from his mother Kumba Beindu who did not have any formal education and sold peppers and aubergines to feed her children. She played a significant role in his early life and taught him some hard lessons to survive the tough world.
After her demise, young Trawally started earning by selling shower slippers on a wheelbarrow. In 1989, when the civil war broke out, he fled from his country to The Gambia as a refugee. Upon his return, Fomba Trawally realised there was an urgent need for rubber flip-flops in the capital city, Monrovia, because a lot of people largely walked barefooted since the war had passed. Immediately, he capitalised on this business opportunity and started selling affordable flip-flops to the populace.
In 1992, he started his first company Kumba Beindu and Sons, sole importer and distributor of beauty products including Cocoa Jennifer and Cocoa Shakira in Liberia, with his savings of $25 and $120 that he received from his Malian friend. In one year, his business grew exponentially from $200 to $3,000 dollars, which was a substantial sum at the time.
Fomba Trawally grew his revenues steadily, and by the year 2005, he had three retail stores in Liberia selling items like paper and cosmetics imported from various countries around the world like China, The United States, Turkey, and Ivory Coast.
Today, Kumba Beindu and Sons has a factory called National Toiletries Incorporated, which is Liberia’s first paper and toiletry products manufacturing factory.
His factory supplies products to over 1,500 businesses within Liberia, exports to neighbouring countries like Guinea and Sierra Leone, and rakes in an excess of $600,000 yearly in revenues.
Today his company Kumba Bendu & Sons Inc. operates several businesses across the Monrovia and imports cosmetics and raw materials from different countries including US, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, China, and other places. Trawally has invested in building a factory in Monrovia to start manufacturing soaps and other beauty care products for the Liberian market. He also aspires to start a research and development centre to develop health and wellness products that exclusively serve African people.
Fomba Trawally was featured in BBC’s African Dream, a program where successful businesspersons from Africa share their journey on how they started off and made it big. Trawally also believes and emphasizes on starting with whatever one has in his/her hands, ‘I believe you should believe that you can do whatever you wish with $100 or $500 or whatever you already have in your account. My mother started with five or 10 US cents with which you can’t think of anything today.
The firm is named after his mother, Kumba Beindu, a woman who had no formal education and sold peppers and aubergines in order to feed her children.
With tens of employees, Kumba Beindu and Sons' main site is located at Monrovia's Waterside Market, and residents flock to it in search of items normally available only at his place.
"I was not expecting that at all. I was not dreaming about it. My dream was only to get $500 in my life," he told BBC Africa's reporter Jonathan Paye Layleh.
"So I was not thinking that I'm going to talk about $1,000, I'm going to talk about $10,000 and end up with $1m… If I could get $500, then I could go to a Nigerian market to buy goods from Nigeria," he said.
This is the story of Fomba Trawally, a Liberian entrepreneur who proved the belief that one’s past does not define their future. Against all odds, he started with a little amount of capital and grew an empire that became one of Liberia’s largest.