INTERVIEW: We processed over £140 Million for 2,000 Global Companies, expanded to 18 African countries – Kenneth Ntende, DusuPay CEO & Co-founder

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Last year, DusuPay facilitated over £140,000,000 for “over 2,000 Global Businesses.” In the same year, the payments gateway startup which was started in 2015 with the aim of “simplifying the way the world does business with Africa expanded to 18 African countries – with the 18th being South Africa.

In a conversation with Kenneth Ntende, a co-founder and CEO of Dusupay, he was able to tell us more about the journey.

Startup Digest Africa: This sounds a little bit generic but I will ask it anyway, why did you start DusuPay?

Kenneth Ntende: My background is typically in Economics. Therefore, as an Economist, I think the African economy is a bit broken down. You [in Uganda] can easily have clients in Kenya but how do you actually get money out of those clients?

So, we are building a platform that makes finance seamless. In that, regardless of where the payment is coming from or where it is going, a business can easily collect the funds as well as pay out people regardless of where they’re on the African continent.

Yes, one would say that Visa and Mastercard are good. But, they’re only covering 2-3% of the market. How about the other 97+ percent? How are they getting involved in the entire payments ecosystem? That’s what we are trying to address.

SDA: You talked about Visa & Mastercard and I agree with you that they’re not satisfying the market need. But, there’s Flutterwave. What makes you different from them?

KN: Flutterwave is a good company. I know the CEO and he’s my personal friend. They’re good in Nigeria. But, we are a company that has more coverage. You also have to understand that we started from a mobile money economy. So, it is hard for someone that has come from the U.S to build infrastructure for an African continent.

They’re built out of an economy that’s fully banking. It’s like someone coming from the U.S to make a product to cater for people in Busia [Uganda]. I think someone based out of that [Busia] region would have more strengths in putting that [product] to life than an outsider.

SDA: Talking about that, do you think it is now up to people that have been in Africa longer to develop solutions for Africa?

KN: I definitely think so. No one comes to your home and makes [perfect] products for you. So, it makes more sense [to have people that have lived in Africa longer develop these products].

What Africa is forgetting is that we need to make products for Africa. Because no one else in the world is going to make products for Africa. They also have their own problems. So, why would they come down to Africa to solve your problems?

SDA: But people that have been in Africa longer may know the problems and challenges they’re going through. They probably have the solution, yet as you may know, they are facing challenges when it comes to developing those solutions and bring them to market. There’s expertise, funding, a narrow network and others. How can one hack through that?

KN: People say those problems are [only] in Africa but even the people in the other parts of the world had similar problems. They are not looking at businesses in China and the U.S that had to go through that.

Even the people from Google had to first hassle down the road to start from garages to make their products come to life. So, I don’t think it is an Africa [only] problem. I think it is an actual global problem. So, it is just a matter of how you work through it. Just like everyone else in the world.

SDA: But, someone would argue that China has grown mainly because of the government support. Similar case for the U.S., something you can hardly say about Africa.

KN: I don’t think that’s the case. What people are looking at is what is happening right now. Have they looked at what was happening in the U.S at the time Google and Facebook were taking shape?

[At] the time Alibaba was taking shape, was the government [of China] supportive? The government only came in after seeing that “you know what, actually there are some people that have put something out there that are literally making sense.”

So, what they shouldn’t focus on is the now after things have taken shape in all those varying economies. But rather what, it was back then. And, Africa is at that same time just like 1994 when everyone was just getting started. That is the time Africa is at.

So, you don’t expect your government to come and show a lot of support before there’s proof of concept. That’s what it was back then in all those economies before any government and a private investor came in.

SDA: Then, I think I will go fast forward to last year. How was it for DusuPay, in brief?

KN: Last year was good. We processed around £148 Million pounds. But we are just getting started. So, we are quickly trying to get to about a billion pounds. We are trying to position ourselves as the guys that every multi-million dollar corporation comes to when they’re transacting with Africa.

So, you start with one betting company. You go to another money remittance company and then after some time, the rest will also realize that Visa and Mastercard don’t work fine for Africa.

The only other service provider they have is either us or Flutterwave. Considering the scale and the mileage we have [present in 18 African countries] and Flutterwave [present in 3]. So, there’s a huge distinction. That’s why many people are now starting to move from Flutterwave to DusuPay. Like I said, there are not so many players. So it is just one of the two.

SDA: But then someone would argue that Flutterwave has taken the biggest chunk of the market. Because, last year they handled over $2 Billion, and 90% of that came from the Nigerian Market. What do you think?

KN: A short-sighted person would look at it that way. DusuPay has only gotten into its concept in 2016. Yet, Flutterwave started with backing from Y Combinator. So they had that early traction and luckily they closed Uber.

Uber is the company that is bringing in the bulk of their revenues. So, if someone is looking over time, the person that has more countries, more coverage is the one that’ll count. Yes, they’re big in Nigeria. But we have entered the Nigerian market [in 2017] and already giving them a run for their money, in their own country.

So, over time, I think the person that will win the battle is the person that has more scale and has grown better, faster and more effectively. In the short run, I would say yes, they processed more money than us in Nigeria but we are not looking at short term. We are looking at how do we dominate the African continent and I think we have a strong chance of doing that.

SDA: Talking about your incorporation. Are you incorporated in Uganda or the UK?

KN: We are incorporated in every country we are operating in. We opened up in Nigeria, and we had to register, we are in South Africa [going live in South Africa this week] and also registered there. So, every local subsidiary must have a local organization. We must have local operations.

But, just to govern the whole entity, we have a UK enterprise that owns all the varying local subsidiaries. So, if it is DusuPay Uganda it is owned by our UK entity.

Typically, we are born in Uganda but it is just for governance purposes and investor relations that we chose the UK for the governing enterprise. But ideally, we are a Ugandan company. We are born here. Most of the team is here.

SDA: So, where would you say your headquarters are?

KN: I think that’s a question we can’t answer now. Because we are also still contemplating where best to put it. Every economy has its advantages.

For example, we have the UK because of the Investor relations, South Africa because every other organization we work with, from Nedbank to MTN, is based out of South Africa. Uganda also has its own relevance, because it is where we started from.

[Though] we are maintaining all of them, but yet to choose where the ideal headquarters will be. At the moment, we have South Africa, Uganda, and the UK as our three bases of operation.

SDA: Talking about investor relations. What are some of the benefits that come with being registered in the UK?

KN: People trust the UK. Yes, I know we love our Uganda, but also [need to] understand what the political climate is. Some investors are under the impression that they will give you £10 Million and the government just takes it away. Therefore, they need an economy they would rely on and know that if the funds are there, it would be safe and no one would come to tamper with that.

You have to understand that our economies are not so wealthy. Our GDP [as Uganda] is just $25 Billion. So, they are also worried about sending money in an economy that’s poor because of just what could happen to that money just in case it is sent.

SDA: So, do you think this is likely to change over time? Where African governments will have a more investor-friendly climate.

KN: I think it will. Because we are seeing some economies already pulling some strides towards this. An economy like Rwanda is pulling some milestones to make their economy more investors friendly. It is evolving. But at the end of the day, there are so many factors that need to align in order for it to make sense.

SDA: You also talked about the fact that you facilitated over £148 Million pounds last year, what are some of the companies that contributed to this figure?

KN: Most of them are betting companies. The biggest is 1X Bet. We also have Hollywood Bets – the company that sponsors the Hollywood Bets Dolphins, 138.com, Africabet, Africabetnow and many more.

For the money remittance companies, we had Richard Branson’s Transferwise, Sendvalue from Switzerland. In e-commerce, we had DHgate in China. They are using us across 8 countries in Africa now.

For tours and travel, we only have one – which is Trip Advisor and in the forex world, we have eToro, Ticknail, and a couple of other Forex brokerage companies.

SDA: How about telecoms, do you have any?

KN: The telecoms are not our clients. I would call them our enablers.

SDA: What are the markets that contributed the biggest percentage of the amount?

KN: The biggest was Kenya, followed by Nigeria. But now South Africa has started. So I am hoping it could surpass both of these combined. Ghana is also really relatively big, and then the rest follow suit.

SDA: Are you looking at expanding to all 54 African countries?

KN: At the moment, yes. That’s our priority. We are trying to synchronize Africa with the rest of the world. If you are trying to add Africa to the rest of the world, it means you have to get all the 54 countries. We started with East Africa, went to West and then the Southern part. So our priority now is a few countries in North Africa and then we will pick it up from there.

SDA: You’re talking about expansion but you can’t do that without funds. How are you financing this expansion?

KN: Currently, we have two investors that I prefer not to disclose. They have given us over £2.5 Million. So, that is giving us runway. But initially, it was all about the hard work. You try to get partners, make some money. After you have made some bit of money, you use that same money to get into another country and then get into the next. But after some time, it begins to make sense.

SDA: Talking about employment, how many people are you employing currently?

KN: Currently, the total is about 120. But we are trying to get that down because of the more automation we are doing. [The number high] because whatever new country we get in, we need to get some people to work there. To deal with legal and compliance issues.

Ideally, we don’t need so many but it is because of the fragmentation of the African continent. That’s why we are ending up with so many people.

SDA: What are you looking at in 2018, especially the Nigerian market that you entered last year?

KN: The first target we had set ourselves was to see if we had that capability of processing at least a million pound a month [in Nigeria]. Luckily, we already surpassed that. We are doing almost 4-5x that. So, in the next few months, I believe the Nigerian market will be one of our largest markets.

Honestly, what I like about the Nigerian market is that people are more aware of what is happening. People are more willing to pay. We are not yet properly operational there but the moment we stabilize we shall give Flutterwave a run for their money in their own country.

SDA: Any last words?

KN: At the moment, we are building not a payment gateway but a utility. We are envisioning the African economy as a single playing field. The same way anyone can pay using their card in the western world, that hasn’t been possible in Africa yet because of so many mobile money wallets. It has so much fragmentation. Our goal is to synchronize all those.

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