How Two Africans Overcame Bias To Build A Multi-Billion Dollar Startup

Forbes | Jeff Kauflin | June 6, 2022

Only about 40% of Africa’s 1.4 billion people are considered “banked”—meaning they have access to, and use, a bank—making the continent rich territory for fintech startups looking to bring financial access to hundreds of millions of African mobile phones.

A pair of twentysomethings from Uganda and Ghana thought there was a fortune to be made bringing transnational financial services to Africa’s 1.2 billion people.

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It was the summer of 2018, and Ham Serunjogi, a 24-year-old Ugandan immigrant, thought the pitch he was making to a Palo Alto venture capi­tal firm was going well. He had explained how his fintech startup, Chipper Cash, would enable African consumers to send money to each other, across national borders, more cheaply and easily than the antiquated banking system—a sort of Venmo for the continent.

Then came a question from one of the [clueless] partners:

“Why don’t you go look for donations and grants to fund this?”

“Why don’t you talk to Unicef or an impact investing firm?” 

“Regardless of what the metrics are, I have to apply a discount to this business because it’s in Africa.”

Those memories still sting, even though Chipper Cash has now raised $300 million from a roster of blue-chip VCs, most recently in November at a $2.2 billion valuation. “These were things I’d have to take with a straight face. But it was outrageous, and it still is,” Serunjogi says from the San Francisco office where he, cofounder Maijid Moujaled and nearly a fifth of the company’s 350 employees are based. The two founders each have an estimated 10% stake in Chipper, translating into paper fortunes north of $200 million.

Four years after its founding, Chipper Cash has 5 million registered users in seven countries, including Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria. It offers not only low-cost money transfers but bill payment, crypto trading and the ability to buy U.S. stocks. Excluding crypto transactions, it booked more than $75 million in revenue in 2021, compared with $18 million in 2020.

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All that growth comes with added high-stakes challenges. One is liquidity: Chipper needs to make sure it has enough funds in each country to support instant transfers. When it doesn’t, transaction times can slow to a full day or longer. Money can solve that problem. A bigger worry is competition.

 

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