Moving money across Africa is still a challenge that not even mobile money has been able to solve. Where it has attempted to, the costs have been ridiculous. And yet this is what Chipper Cash wants to solve, according to Ham Serunjogi, the co-founder, and CEO.
Chipper Cash is a platform that allows you to send and receive any amount of money across the East African region (for now) for free.
"We do not charge any fees at all and there is no minimum amount so you can send any amount," says Chipper Cash.
According to Ham, as a continent, we have come far with financial innovation. Yet, that is not enough. He believes that the finance industry is still lacking and lagging when it comes to innovation.
"If you think of how the pace of progress in the financial industry has been quite slow, it is unacceptable," he told me in an interview.
Currently, the existing options for sending and receiving money across the continent have their own limitations. These range from a small area covered by a service to ridiculous costs involved. Issues that Ham believes Chipper Cash takes into account.
"There is no reason why someone who is on MTN has to go and get cash to send to someone who is on Airtel," Ham wonders.
He relates what Chipper is trying to do to what WhatsApp did to texting. "Years ago, people were very cautious on how long a text message would be. But today, with Whatsapp, you type as freely as you want," Ham said.
That is why he maintains that Chipper Cash will be free.
"Chipper is free and it always will be," he pointed out. Though declined to reveal how they will make money saying that their "business model takes that into account".
"We are careful about not divulging all the details about it [but] we have built a very sound and sustainable business model around providing a free service."
Launched in July 2018, Chipper Cash is currently live in Uganda and Tanzania.
"So if you happen to have a friend in Tanzania, you can send them money today, right now [from Uganda]," Ham told me. Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana are set to follow in the next "few months".
The way it is, anyone in Uganda can move money around without any charges except MTN Mobile Money and Airtel money charges. This applies to everything including moving money from MTN Mobile Money to Airtel Money wallets. As long as they are doing that using the Chipper Cash wallet.
When I signed up for the service, I received UGx. 500 on my mobile money and Ham also sent me UGx. 1500 directly to my Mobile Money through the service from San Francisco.
[caption id="attachment_5487" align="aligncenter" width="2048"] Ham (standing) and his co-founder Maijid. Photo: Ham Serunjogi[/caption]
When asked about the traction they have gained so far, Ham described it as "quite positive". Adding that "we see the use cases that we had envisioned are exactly what people are using it for."
He attributes this to the fact that "people get the benefits of the platform right away."
Ham and his team aren't the first people looking to solve the issue of moving money across the African continent.
Stone Atwine has been flirting with the idea on the internet for the biggest part of 2018 with his startup Eversend. However, they haven't gone live yet - despite promising to launch in July 2018 in an interview I had with him.
He points out that they are aware of the interest coming from different directions.
"We are aware that people have spoken about doing something in this space," he said. Though he added that "no one has done it yet." Attributing this to the fact that its a tough challenge.
"I think that speaks to the difficulty of the problem. If it is easy to solve, then someone would have already done it. And so the fact that nobody has done it yet shows how difficult it is."
A former Facebook employee, Ham quit the company a "few months ago" to focus 100% on Chipper Cash as the CEO.
The team is currently spread across four cities and mainly comprised of Maijid Moujaled, a co-founder and President as well as Patrick Triest, the CTO. This will grow up to at least 40 people by close of the year.
"We have a global team currently spread out across four locations - San Francisco, New York, Nairobi, and Accra. We will have a team of about 40 people across the world by the end of this year."
So far, Ham says the startup has raised some external funding but that is not yet public information. Though they will share it at the right time, which he says will be in the next few weeks.