Solid steps of the African fintech-startup

13.06.2022 | 18:01 Home / News / Fintech /
#Chipper Chash #Ham Serunjogi #Maijid Moujaled
This s a story about a pair of twentysomethings from Uganda and Ghana who thought there was a fortune to be made bringing transnational financial services to Africa’s 1.2 billion people. With 5 million users, San Francisco-based Chipper Cash is just getting started.

Russian Forbes writes that 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.

The idea for Chipper Cash was seeded when high-school-age Ham Serunjogi saw the problems his father encountered trying to move money through Africa’s ossified banking system. In 2010, Serunjogi, then 16, made the Ugandan Youth Olympic team. After having problems completing a bank transfer, his father was forced to fly to South Africa with an envelope full of cash to pay his son’s swim coach while they were training there.

After high school, Serunjogi followed his older brother to Grinnell, a small liberal arts college in Iowa known for its strong academics. At Grinnell he met Maijid Moujaled, a Ghanaian computer science major who had started a popular student coding group. Almost immediately, the two began talking about developing an African money transfer app. But first they wanted real-world tech experience and needed work visas. So during his junior year Serunjogi sent cold emails to Mark Zuckerberg and snagged an internship with Facebook, which turned into a full-time job in Dublin after he graduated in 2016.

In the spring of 2018, Serunjogi texted Moujaled, who was working as a software engineer in San Francisco, to say it was time to get going. Serunjogi quit his job and moved into Moujaled’s studio apartment, sleeping on an air mattress in the kitchenette. The two used their combined savings of less than $30,000 and Moujaled’s ongoing salary as seed capital. They launched a test version of their app in July 2018, letting customers send money from Uganda to Ghana for free.

They took pitches to more than 50 VC firms until, in November 2018, 500 Startups agreed to invest $150,000. Before the papers were signed, Sheel Mohnot wired $40,000 to Chipper after Serunjogi told him he was about to miss rent. “I will be eternally grateful to him for that,” Serunjogi says.

Chipper’s free, easy-to-use app was a big improvement over the available alternatives. For example, Kenya’s M-Pesa, which launched in 2007, charges 1% to 2% for many domestic transfers.

By mid-2019, Chipper Cash was available in Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. It soon expanded to Nigeria, Africa’s biggest market with more than 200 million people, and by the end of the year, it had 600,000 customers. It also introduced a foreign-exchange markup fee of 2% to 5% to start generating revenue. As bitcoin rose from $14,000 to $20,000 in the fall of 2020, Chipper began to let users buy and sell bitcoin and ether, establishing a second lucrative line of business: trading fees.

It reached a $2.2 billion valuation in late 2021, with investment from firms including Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX, Ribbit Capital and Bezos Expeditions. Transactions grew from $200 million in the first quarter of 2021 to $1.6 billion 12 months later.

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.

For now, Serunjogi is focused on maintaining Chipper’s steep growth, moving to profitability - and helping Africans while doing so. Customers benefit, he says, when they can move money easily and have new ways to invest and build wealth. “I’m a deep believer in the role of entrepreneurship and capitalism in improving the lives of people who live in developing countries.”

Per CB Insights, venture capitalists invested $1.5 billion in African fintech companies last year, up sevenfold from 2020. Sub-Saharan Africans today have 605 million registered mobile money accounts - with which they can send cash via text message - up from 469 million in 2018. That makes the area fertile ground for more advanced consumer financial apps.

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