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“Kosovo’s Google” launches first online tech shop in the country

Gjirafa, an online search engine catering to Albanian speakers, has launched the first technology online shop in Kosovo, which includes door-to-door delivery.

Gjirafa, an online search engine catering to Albanian speakers, has launched the first technology online shop in Kosovo, which includes door-to-door delivery.

Gjirafa’s Prishtina headquarters could pass for the offices of any Silicon Valley start-up: an open space, colorful dashes of paint (motivating!), young people clacking away on computers, and bean bags strewn about the floor.

Launched in 2014 (after a failed stint in 2013), Gjirafa has grown to be the biggest search engine combing through the “Albanian internet.” The site tries to make it easy for users to find Albanian news websites, businesses, jobs, and even real estate.  It  mainly targets users based in Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania, but users come from a wide range of countries, considering that almost a third of Kosovo’s population live abroad.

“You could literally say we aspire to be ‘Kosovo’s Google,’ with the main difference being that we intend to not only replicate ideas but also to adapt those to the existing market for our target clients,” said Mergim Cahani, Gjirafa’s founder and current CEO, adding that they decided on the name because the giraffe is the most agile mammal, which he considers a key feature of the website.

Mergim Cahani | Photo Atdhe Mulla.

Mergim Cahani | Photo: Atdhe Mulla.

Their latest and possibly most innovative project is the online shop Gjirafa50.com, a heavily curated platform offering the latest tech products. The shop, which currently has only 50 products on offer (hence the name), is a novelty for the Kosovo market.

“We saw a struggle. Even when we ourselves wanted to order things online, we knew it would take forever to get them,  even without getting into the whole trouble with the border customs,” explained Brikena Rexhaj, a business analyst working on the recently launched project.

Gjirafa50 intends to make online shopping for Kosovars easy, alleviating the need to order from abroad.

Rexhaj also explained that currently, the site provides only limited technology products, such the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, or various Lenovo and Assus computers. All products come with manufacturer warranties.

“We want to solve problems for Kosovo citizens who want the latest technology products,”  maintained Rexhaj. Payments are all electronically processed, but the payment can also be done upon delivery. All deliveries in Kosovo are shipped within a 24-72 hour timeframe, while delivery to Albania and Macedonia is expected to start soon.

Brikena Rexhaj, Gjirafa50's business analyst. | Photo Atdhe Mulla.

Brikena Rexhaj, Gjirafa50’s business analyst. | Photo: Atdhe Mulla.

Social media expert Valon Canhasi considers Gjirafa.com’s search engine and new online shop as an important move for the Albanian market.

“Kosovo needs more digital services. As an Albanian-speaking market, we are very behind in these types of services in comparison to the region or the world. At the same time,  the online non-recognition of Kosovo from big companies doesn’t help the issue,“ Canhasi explained. Most online shops, including various country-specific Amazon websites, do not list Kosovo as a country or a destination.

Even Facebook recognized Kosovo only in 2013, five years after the country declared independence, as a  result of joint efforts of volunteers and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in digital diplomacy.

Canhasi also believes that Gjirafa’s search engine has helped to gather data for a comprehensive analysis of Albanian internet users and to understand their consumer needs.

“Internet economy is an unexplored business here. At the same time,  it’s very challenging in our market. Studies about running or managing these types of businesses don’t apply here. But challenges can also mean opportunities,” Cahani said. He admits that he went into this business for different reasons, and in the meantime, the market has changed.

“Emerging markets could be our next move, as we could have a chance of competing in, for example, Bosnia, Africa, Nigeria, or whatever, though we don’t intend to compete with large companies such as Google,” said Cahani optimistically.

Gjirafa staff hard at work. | Photo: Atdhe Mulla.

Gjirafa staff hard at work. | Photo: Atdhe Mulla.

A lot of the grunt work at Gjirafa is done by the young people – most of the company staff is under 25. Cahani agrees that there is a lot of potential but he is worried that they do not have enough resources to build human capacity.

“We do need young talented people, but for now, it is a bit hard to be open for large number of interns who want to learn programing, due to financial issues or literal lack of space,” shrugged Cahani. “But we do believe we’re going to work on that in the future.”

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21 November 2016 - 14:38

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