Meet the Entrepreneur: Tatenda Furusa and Sanmi Akinmusire, ImaliPay
At FINCA Ventures, we look for entrepreneurs leveraging market-based solutions to create large-scale, lasting social impact. In this series, “Meet the Entrepreneur,” we’ll be taking you into the minds of the intrepid leaders at our portfolio companies who boldly venture into markets in need of positive disruption.
The African gig economy is comprised of 80 million gig workers on the continent. Yet, more than 50 percent of gig workers are under-served by traditional financial institutions, lacking a safety net of savings and unable to access productive finance due to the lack of basic documentation requirements such as pay slips. In this interview, we spoke with Tatenda Furusa and Sanmi Akinmusire, co-founders of ImaliPay, to discover how the company is promoting the financial inclusion of gig economy workers on the continent. ImaliPay provides tailored marketplace products and services to help gig economy workers improve productivity and income potential, build credit through savings and timely repayments, and create a financial safety net.
You’ve both worked in the fintech and financial inclusion sector for more than 20 years. What about your experiences led you to launch ImaliPay?
Tatenda: Sanmi and I have both worked for multinational companies and have been active in numerous start-ups around the world. My genesis was rooted in e-commerce and e-loyalty applications in the United States out of college. Sanmi had a lot of global experience from MTN West Africa and Samsung West Africa, which led to us meeting at Cellulant, which offers a wide range of digital payments solutions and services and has served up to 14 million farmers in Nigeria. Digital banking products and services, bill payments, and super app solutions were available in the rest of Africa.
We brainstormed and asked ourselves, ‘What are the other opportunities that can drive deeper financial inclusion for last-mile customers?’. For us, the answer was the gig economy, where we discovered people who were underbanked in terms of their access to loans, investments, and other financial services. In Sanmi’s role as Chief Commercial Officer, and in my role as Technical Advisor to the Co-CEO, we also learned a lot from previous managers who truly inspired our vision. We were able to forge the idea to come together and do something great thanks to their leadership and guidance.
As a founding team, you live in two different countries (Tatenda lives in Nairobi, Kenya and Sanmi lives in Lagos, Nigeria). What are some best practices that have made this partnership successful, especially during COVID-19?
Sanmi: Technology has become a significant aid in keeping us connected. But, before we get into the technology, we need to talk about how we’ve kept each other accountable. We’ve been able to rely on one another to accomplish our objectives and really stick to them until they’ve been met. In terms of best practices, I would highlight our regular scrums, which occur most often first thing in the morning and last thing at night, during which we discuss our top priorities and strategy. We do so using a variety of useful technology resources, such as Google Meet and Google Drive, which helps us to work on documents together. The key to our partnership’s success is a combination of technology and the right mindset and respect for one another which have allowed us to interact with one another without difficulty.
Tell us more about the growing gig economy in Africa, why financial inclusion has become such a challenge for this group, and how ImaliPay is tackling these inequalities to ensure that gig workers are not left out of existing financial services.
Sanmi: Africa’s gig economy continues to expand year after year. When looking at the entire continent, Africa is said to have the world’s youngest population, yet it has the highest unemployment rates. Every year, approximately 6 million people are forced into the labor market, but there are no jobs open to them. The present and the future of work is not what we are used to, and it is not found in traditional 9-to-5 jobs. In turn, it means that everyone can start becoming innovative, that opportunities to make a living are increasing, and that the gig economy is not just online, but also offline.
We have chosen to focus on the gig economy, which accounts for most of the continent’s economy, and financial inclusion within this sector. because financial institutions are not designed to meet the needs of gig workers or those who work in the informal sector. Conventional financial institutions are built to cater to people who work from 9 to 5. So, at ImaliPay, we’re working toward the creation of bespoke financial solutions that are aimed at these individuals in their workplace and meet their day-to-day needs. We want to provide financial solutions that consider where they are, where they came from, and what they need. Through our integrated financial strategy, we will accommodate both those who have a long-standing banking relationship and those who do not.
How did you go about designing this platform to meet workers where they are in terms of literacy level, phone usage, etc.?
Sanmi: Given our Fintech experience and some of the projects we’ve completed while working with companies like Cellulant, one thing we wanted to address right away was ensuring that we were providing our services through the appropriate channels. The best outlet for gig workers is one that is both accessible and familiar to them. Today, we’re making our services available to gig workers through WhatsApp, which they can use on their smartphones. WhatsApp is the most downloaded app in the world. When you ask gig workers if they’ve used WhatsApp, they’ll tell you that it’s their favorite method of communication. So, we decided to build our service around WhatsApp bots, and it’s been very fruitful for us. It’s easy for them to register and use the services, and it’s a platform that they are familiar with. We’ll be releasing our own app in the coming months, and we’re pleased to report that we got off to a good start and that it has a simple and user-friendly channel.
To scale, ImaliPay will need to continue to partner with gig economy platforms on the continent. How exactly do you partner with these organizations and what problems are you helping them solve?
Tatenda: The gig economy spans across five to six sectors and it’s crucial to understand which of these platforms are driving Africa’s economies. You’ll come across some of the world’s most well-known companies, such as Uber and Bolt, as well as regional networks like Safe Boda, Glovo and others. Then you engage them and say, “we’re a Fintech that assists in driving and propelling your marketplace forward.” That is, we help to attract and maintain gig workers on your platform by providing them with flexible working capital or short-term finance in the form of tools of trade, fuel, bike parts, car parts, smartphones, and other financial education and literacy-related areas.
We’re empowering the gig workers who are laser-focused on their jobs and have little or no time off to deal with life’s mishaps. So, instead of being out of commission for three to five days every month as a Boda captain if their car breaks down, they can use the ImaliPay WhatsApp feature to get back up and running. That’s an example of how we partner, engage, and collaborate with various platforms. We’re committed to providing financial inclusion to these gig workers and assist the platforms in providing financial services through an embedded financial platform that can be accessed via an API or a channel. We do the heavy lifting, and they simply tap into our ecosystem and begin assisting their customers in obtaining financial services.
ImaliPay is still in the early stages of growth, having just recently launched a financial marketplace platform. Imagine that ImaliPay is making international headlines five years from now. What would the headline say and why?
Tatenda: We imagine the headline to be something along the lines of, “How ImaliPay Was Able to Build One of the Largest Interconnected Financial Marketplaces for Africa’s Gig Economy.” So that’s the headline: how we did it, how we created a marketplace and an integrated ecosystem that fueled or activated the African gig economy. We want to be able to demonstrate how we’ve overcome barriers, hurdles, and obstacles related to regulation, technology, and consumer adoption to develop this vast ecosystem and community of gig workers. Gig employees can get simple and convenient financing that is disruptive and creative while also improving their lives. Even today, we’re getting great reviews from our customers in Nigeria and Kenya. We hear, “Look, guys, you’re on the right track. This is everything we adore. You’re more like a sidekick to us when it comes to getting our job done.”
What are some of the barriers ImaliPay faces in achieving the vision in that headline?
Sanmi: I believe it has everything to do with our lofty goals. We want to help gig workers all over the continent. The fact that Africa is highly divided poses problems in terms of legislation, laws, and even market practices which will be the most significant barrier and obstacle we will face as a company. However, there are workarounds, and luckily, our experience working with Cellulant and covering over 14 countries has prepared us well to tackle this challenge.
Why were you excited to have FINCA Ventures come on-board as an investor?
Sanmi: It’s all about the big picture and the mission. We share FINCA Ventures’ goal of eradicating poverty, especially global poverty. It also helps that FINCA Ventures is willing to invest in young African entrepreneurs like ourselves and bet on our ability to meet this global challenge. Our work, as you can see, is focused on the present and future of work, and our mission is to help more people find their flow, their comfort, their place of work, and a way to make a living in a respectful manner. As a result, our visions are matched, and we’re thrilled to have them on board.
What is one gig economy platform / solution that you cannot live without?
Sanmi: I’ll answer on Tatenda’s behalf. He can’t live without Bolt because he doesn’t have a car to get around in. However, this is a positive for us because this is where it all began. We can connect with people like underbanked or financially neglected drivers working daily and then find the trouble areas for them. It became apparent that there was a great need here and we have a chance to have a positive influence on their lives. Bolt is also my go-to app, as is Airbnb, since I travel a lot and heavily rely on it while I’m on the move.
Tatenda: I agree, Bolt is one of the leading ride-hailing platforms alongside Uber in Africa I’d be stuck without Bolt (and Uber) and would have to walk home or catch a motorcycle otherwise. However, as Sanmi previously said, it holds us close to the customer. Every day when I come to work, I learn a lot from the Boda drivers and their experiences. It helps us to customize our product to meet the needs of our customers, which is fantastic.