Today’s featured member of the VC4Africa community is entrepreneur Stone Atwine, CEO and co-founder ofRemit Uganda, a new remittance tool raising capital to expand.
What’s the essence of your business and why are you interesting for investors?
“Remit is a platform that enables people from all over the world to transfer money to the mobile wallets of their relatives, friends and associates in Africa. We are faster, more convenient and more affordable than other platforms.
We are helping to bring down the cost of sending money home to Africa from abroad and we bring new levels of convenience to both senders and recipients of money transfers. We have a minimum viable product that is live and operational. We’ve moved tens of thousands of US dollars already and are generating real revenue. The fire is burning and all we need is fuel in terms of funding to make a bigger fire.”
What investments have you already secured and what are you still looking for?
“In all, we are looking for USD 200,000 from investors that are interested in a growing startup with a good team that is working on a project that will make the lives of Africans better. We have interest from a number of investors, for example we are assured of an investment from Jon Gosier of The Appfrica Fund. Investors who are interested in financial services and mobile money will find us perfect. And by bringing down the cost of remittances we are also putting more money into the pockets of the Africans who are using our service.”
Which milestones do you want to reach with your new investments and what do you hope to achieve in the long run?
“This investment will allow us to make our Uganda project fully operational in the next 12 months, we will be cash flow positive quickly and then we can start scaling to other African countries where mobile money is widespread.Remit is not about Uganda, it’s about Africa. We want to do this all over Africa and since the platform is built, all we need now is to scale, which won’t be very hard.”
What’s the story of how you started and grew to where you are now?
“I am one of the co-founders of Remit, the other co-founders are David Madra, the tech guy; TMS Ruge, the marketing guy and Collins Mugume, the operations guy.
Some years ago I connected with TMS on an idea I had to ease and reduce the pricing of remittances to Africa, and it became clear he had actually been thinking of starting the same thing. At that time I was living in Kenya while he was in the United States so we shelved it for a bit.
In 2013, returned to Kampala, I met Collins Mugume and when I told him about this remittance platform I wanted to build, I found out that he and David had actually built a prototype already. I immediately called TMS, who was back in Kampala too and we decided to all join forces. We closed the deal right there and Remit was born that night. In the next week we got all the paperwork done and here we are today.
In the mean time we’ve moved hundreds of millions of shillings (tens of thousands of US dollars) in our closed beta test that we’ve used to prove the business model. We’ve invited friends and family and their friends over 9 months. We are now ready for the big time.”
The remittance market is dominated by very big companies and many alternatives exist already too. How do you plan to beat the competition?
“The big companies you’re talking about have been around for a long time, they have exorbitant pricing and they’re very inconvenient. We are aware of other companies that intend to enter this space but right now no one is doing what we are doing, at least not in Uganda.
Let me give you an example, if someone wants to send money to their relative in Uganda for holidays. He or she will go to the bank, withdraw money, look for brick and mortar agents, fill in forms to send and then the recipient will have to take a bus from a rural area, look for an open agent (usually a bank) and cash out loads of cash that they must carry on the bus trip back home. It’s expensive, inconvenient and insecure.
With Remit, all the sender has to do is pull out their computer or phone, use their VISA or MasterCard online and we deliver the money to the recipient’s mobile money wallet instantly. The receiver can then go to the neighborhood mobile money agent and cash out only the amount needed. Easy, fast, convenient and more affordable. We are entering this ahead of the competition and we intend to stay ahead.”
Can you tell more about remitting directly to mobile wallets?
“Mobile money is of course very popular and widespread in various African countries, especially Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, South Sudan. It’s a convenient, secure and affordable way to store or send money to friends and family using mobile phones. Mobile money can be used by all kinds of phones including feature phones. Telecommunication companies have built the local ecosystem and remit delivers into this existing mobile money ecosystem where recipients can cash out at tens of thousands of existing mobile money agents in most neighborhoods.”
For remittances security is key. Being a small startup, can you guarantee the same security with payments as the big corporates?
“We have leveraged on the best existing security platforms. We use card processing from PCI certified aggregators; the security at the mobile money end has already been beefed up by the telecommunication companies. On top of this we are secured by internationally recognized SSL certificate providers and we built our system from the ground up cognizant of the most recent guidelines, procedures and policies for anti-money laundering and countering of financial terrorism. On top of all this, to give the users peace of mind, we do not store any card information. Just enough secured personal information to fulfill regulations.”
What is your suggestion to other entrepreneurs who wonder what VC4Africa can do for them?
“VC4Africa has been very good to get the word about our platform out there. As soon as we registered we were highlighted in VC4Africa’s newsletter as a Trending Venture and that created buzz and interest in what we are building. Also, VC4Africa has been instrumental in helping to get our startup ready for funding because of the questions asked and preparations made. I would advise any African startup that is looking for traffic or funding to join VC4Africa!”