UNICORNS-Chipper Cash: A Chip Off The Old Block

Forbes Africa
Published 1 month ago
Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled by Ethan Pines for Forbes 130L-03-0027
Photo by Ethan Pines for Forbes

“I hope it will serve to show others that this is actually a really big opportunity. I think we’re still in the early innings.”

Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled
CEO and President (respectively), ChipperCash

By Marie Shabaya

THE UGANDAN-BORN CEO OF FINTECH unicorn, Chipper Cash, Ham Serunjogi, grew up watching his
parents solve problems. Today, overcoming challenges is a daily routine and forms a culture of thought inherited from his upbringing.

“As an African, you’re in problem-solving mode all the time. For me, it was [multiplied] by ten, my parents were both self-employed, solo entrepreneurs, and [they had] a continuous problem-solving mindset,” recalls Serunjogi, speaking with FORBES AFRICA from San Francisco, California.

Serunjogi fondly recalls the early memories that shaped his own entrepreneurial stature.

“We grew up on a farm so initially [my parents] were trying to figure out how to get the farm going. Eventually, they had a dairy business and they had to figure out how to get that going. My dad is a computer scientist by training and he had an IT firm as well and he had to figure out how to get that going and how to manage a small team…it left such a strong mark on me. I always wanted to do something of my own when I grew up.”

After completing high school in Kenya, Serunjogi made his way to the US to study at Grinnell College, a private liberal arts institution in Iowa State. It was here that he would meet his long-time friend and co-founder, Maijid Moujaled, from Ghana.

Moujaled who is now President of Chipper Cash was, like Serunjogi’s father, a computer scientist and had started a popular coding club at Grinnell. The two struck it off immediately noticing that they both saw the world from a similar vantage point.

“When I met Maijid, he was of a very similar mindset around the fact that there were so many opportunities in Africa for us to make a positive impact. We happened to be among the few [Africans] who got to go on and get educated in the US and we saw that as a privilege and an opportunity to learn in a new place and see how people solve problems in that area. For us, payments [in Africa] was [where] we felt that we could make a positive contribution,” he explains.

“When I met Maijid, he was of a very similar mindset around the fact that there were so many opportunities in Africa for us to make a positive impact. We happened to be among the few [Africans] who got to go on and get educated in the US and we saw that as a privilege and an opportunity to learn in a new place and see how people solve problems in that area. For us, payments [in Africa] was [where] we felt that we could make a positive contribution,” he explains.

During their time at Grinnell, the two men began conversations around building a money transfer app that would enable Africans to easily make cross-border financial transactions; a gap which the antiquated continental banking system struggled to address for decades. They went on to establish ChipperCash in 2018, with combined savings of $30,000, launching a Beta version of the app in July that year. The service was simple but revolutionary, initially allowing users to send money between Uganda and Ghana, for free. It was a game-changer, not only was it easy-to-use it also overcame the cost hurdles presented by other alternatives available on the continent. In November 2018, they received their first injection of investor capital after 500 Startups, the San Francisco-based early-stage venture fund, agreed to put in $150,000.

Raising funds wasn’t easy. The founders had pitched to 50 VC outfits before the 500 Startups investment and many of the investors they had been in contact with were wary of an African prospect. Serunjogi, in an interview with Forbes earlier this year, notes that some of them were not just apprehensive but even averse to the idea of investing in an African startup with one investor reportedly telling Serunjogi, “regardless of what the metrics are, I have to apply a discount to this business because it’s in Africa”.

“With the pain we’ve gone through trying to raise money in a space where there has historically been no one [from the continent] raising money and the trauma of being overlooked that comes with going against those odds, I hope it will serve to show others that this is actually a really big opportunity. I think we’re still in the early innings,” he now reflects.

Today, ChipperCash is imbued with the spirit of its founders and has more than overcome initial hurdles. The company is highly-rated among investors, riding high with a $2.2 billion valuation after raising a total of $300 million to date with backing from noteworthy titans like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and a roster of blue chip VCs. Their most recent funding round closed in late 2021.

ChipperCash employs 350 people spread across their San Francisco headquarters and Africa offices in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Their impressive growth, over the last four years, has enabled them to support a growing client base of 5 million in seven African countries. In addition to low-cost money transfers, they have also expanded their product stable with a crypto-trading service and a platform where their continental customers can purchase US stocks. Last year, the company’s revenues were well over $75 million up from $18 million in 2020.

However, for ChipperCash, reaching unicorn status was never the objective. While it remains a great vote of confidence from the market, signaling early success, the founders’ sights remain fixed on their initial motivations for founding the business, insists Serunjogi.

“Our task is to provide a platform that can help people move their money easily, invest in assets across the world easily, [and] interact with the online economy easily. Essentially, meet people at the fabric of their financial lives in Africa.”

Nevertheless, surpassing the $1 billion valuation mark is a feat for any business, African or otherwise, and very few from the continent have managed to scale such heights. The fact remains that Serunjogi and Moujaled have shifted the needle on what is possible for Africa’s innovators and entrepreneurs, establishing themselves as trailblazers in the fintech arena.

“If nothing else, I hope that ChipperCash can serve to show that there is a massive opportunity in Africa and maybe even pave the way for others who are more talented, more capable than Maijid and myself to come and do even more important work,” says Serunjogi.

“Africa offers the last great opportunity for exciting innovation in the world today.”