BitPesa is an online payment platform that leverages Blockchain settlement to significantly lower the cost and increase the speed of business payments to, from and within sub-Saharan Africa. BitPesa’s clients range from African businesses and multinational companies paying suppliers as far as China and Dubai to international remittance companies using our API services for white-label payments to dozens of bank networks and mobile money operators across Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, and the DRC.
BitPesa was launched on November 1, 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya, and also has offices in Lagos, London, and Dakar. It recently also launched operations in Ghana.
How would you describe your company; how does it work and make money?
BitPesa is a digital foreign exchange and payment platform that leverages blockchain settlement to significantly lower the cost and increase the speed of business payments to and from frontier markets. BitPesa is a market-maker in every major African currency and opens corridors for business payments and trade between frontier markets and the rest of the world. Founded in 2013, BitPesa was the first blockchain company to be licensed by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and follows stringent KYC practices.
BitPesa services frontier market businesses and multinationals paying suppliers as far as China and UAE, as well as cryptocurrency traders. Our API also enables international remittance companies to send white-label payments to dozens of bank networks and mobile money operators across Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, and the DRC.
Launched in Nairobi, BitPesa now has offices in Lagos, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, and Dakar. For more information about BitPesa, visit our website, Twitter or Facebook.
What market gap did you spot that motivated you to start the company?
After working as a rating analyst with some of the biggest microfinance institutions across sub-Saharan Africa, as well as with investors in the space such as Grameen Foundation, Gates Foundation and the Acumen Fund, I saw the difficulties small financial institutions faced finding liquidity in local African currencies. I repeatedly saw funds and institutions have to exit the market because of FX loss or lack of local currency infrastructure. It seemed like such an obvious problem that someone had to be solving it. I was also working with regulators and policymakers on legislation for financial innovations, but that wasn’t enough for me– I knew that I had to do something out of the box and urgently. In 2013, cryptocurrency had just started taking off and I knew that it was the right tech solution for this problem.
How has uptake been like since you launched?
We have had such an eventful 5 years, and we’ve had really great uptake and successes. However, one of things we are most proud of is becoming a market maker for African currencies and really encouraging intra- and inter- Africa business. Our vision is simple: a more financially and commercially connected Africa. In order to keep up with and support Africa’s accelerating development, we cannot rely on just traditional infrastructure– instead we must create hybrid financial infrastructure that is equally accessible and efficient. Africa is playing an increasingly pivotal role in the global economy and BitPesa seeks to empower businesses and entire markets at a level of macroeconomic engagement.
Who is your major competition? What do you do different to distinguish yourself from them? What are some of the biggest challenges you faced since the inception of the company?
As with any innovative technology, there are always early adopters and skeptics. All disruption comes with naysayers, and in our industry we find that the loudest are the ones that are most threatened.
We are a complementary platform that can add value to traditional players like banks, telcos and corporates. We want to work with these institutions to show them how to incorporate blockchain technology and connect more easily with smaller companies or global entrants.
We are trying to push forward a new technology in business, as well as new business models, which are underlying structures and tools that in fact these traditional companies can in fact integrate, rather than seeing it as a threat. Gradually with the right information and forms of collaboration, we feel these companies will realize that when the tide rises, all the boats rise, and it creates value for everyone in the chain.
What advice would you wish to share with aspiring African entrepreneurs?
Stay true to your mission. For example, we’re committed to frontier markets. We are expanding our footprint to move North and South across Africa and then towards the Middle East. We are actively working with banking partners and corporates that want to offer better services to their clients, and reach more customers in new segments. We are planning to build even more innovative financial products that have been created intentionally for frontier markets