The Pawapay company has announced that it has closed $9 million in seed funding to scale its operational presence, recruit talent and expand into new markets.
U.K. based fund 88mph co-led the round with China-based MSA Capital, with participation from Zagadat Capital, Kepple Ventures and Vunani Capital.
PawaPay started last year from online sports betting company betPawa. The company is led by CEO Nikolai Barnwell, betPawa’s former head of New Markets, Africa. He also sits on the board of 88mph.
For Zagadat Capital, here’s what founder Oluwatosin Ajibade also known as Mr Eazi, a singer-songwriter and entrepreneur popular in Africa’s music scene, who also sits on pawaPay’s board, had to say about the investment;
“Being investors hugely focused on Africa and very familiar with the landscape, we believe that mobile money-focused fintech is not just one of the most exciting places to invest but also one of the most important bridges to ensuring financial inclusion of the billions of people across the continent. The kicker for us was that we believe in the clear mission, vision and strategy and we are confident that the pawaPay team is the best team to achieve it“.
According to Nikolai, pawaPay was started to help people send and receive money internationally using mobile money.
PawaPay wants to position itself as a market leader in high-volume mobile money payments while delivering reliability and transparency for merchants. Its API allows these merchants to access telecom operators’ mobile money systems to receive and send payments to millions of mobile money accounts.
“We’re making a very heavy bet on the rise of mobile money and all the complexities that arise out of mobile money and all the infrastructure that needs to be built around payments with mobile money at its core,” Barnwell told TechCrunch.
“And the way we’re looking at the continent, we’re looking at adoption rates for mobile money growing at an insane speed. It has become quite obvious that this is a very significant financial infrastructure and there’s a lot of it that’s been missing if you want to work serious volume and businesses on mobile money.”
PawaPay handles local operations, compliance, regulatory cover and bank accounts, making it simple to receive payments in a new market.
The company claims to be handling over 10 million transactions on its rails per week, with beta operations in 10 African countries — Cameroon, DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
Barnwell tells TechCrunch that although these transaction volumes look impressive, pawaPay would have done more if not for regulatory hurdles and licensing approaches in each market.
“In each country, we’ve had to start from scratch with the right data to understand how they look at the space, at the licensing sheets, what kind of companies they want to license, what kind of requirements they’re looking for, how we can work quite closely with them to make sure that they’re comfortable with us,” he said.
However, the CEO states that while regulation slows down processes, it’s important for pawaPay because many unregulated companies operate without licenses and unstable technologies, some with the intention to commit fraud.
“We’ve gone in and decided we want to be completely regulated. We want to be completely covered in all the markets, with full licensing and be a very stable reliable premium product in these markets,” he added.
There are various payment gateways facilitating payments for businesses in Africa, like Flutterwave, DPO Group, Yoco, MFS Africa and Paystack. But in terms of pure mobile money play, MFS Africa is a clear competitor to pawaPay. Both platforms are largely focused on addressing the unique challenges accompanying mobile money, while the others drive innovation around bank and card payments.