Vraaggesprek: Running a Bitcoin business ter Kenya

Published by Dinfin Mulupi on Two July 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa is the most expensive region to send money to according to the World Canap, with high transactions costs eating into billions of dollars that could otherwise go to recipients ter the continent. But local businesses are attempting to disrupt the remittance market using technologies like digital currency Bitcoin.

One such company is BitPesa, a Nairobi-based digital currency exchange and money transfer service provider with operations te Kenya and Tanzania. Established te 2013 by US-born microfinance pro Elizabeth Rossiello, BitPesa also seeks to spur cross-border trading and growth of SMEs by suggesting businesses an alternative way of accepting payments. Through BitPesa, users te Kenya and Tanzania can receive Bitcoin from almost anywhere te the world and exchange it instantly to local currency via mobile money platforms. The company charges a transaction toverfee of 3%. Earlier this year BitPesa raised $1.1m from a group of investors.

Rossiello speaks to Dinfin Mulupi about BitPesa, and the influence Bitcoin could have ter Africa. Below are edited excerpts.

What has bot the market reaction since the launch of BitPesa ter 2013?

We’ve seen a yam-sized uptake te Kenya. People are using BitPesa to get their salary payments, building their businesses and sending money to relatives. Wij don’t talk publically about our volumes, but wij have bot growing 30% or more vanaf month.

Wij have just launched ter Tanzania which is a indeed promising market. Albeit it is not a $1bn remittance market like Kenya, it is not too far off. Mobile money invasion is fairly high and the concept of using mobile money is pervasive, especially te trading hubs such spil Dar es Salaam and Arusha. Financial services ter Tanzania are expensive and moving money te and out of the country is very expensive – so for us it wasgoed fairly effortless to commence doing pre-marketing and launch there. Both Kenya and Tanzania are fairly receptive to financial innovation, which is arousing. Wij have also incorporated te Uganda and Nigeria, so those will be our next two markets to launch.

Te our expansion wij look for markets that don’t have a loterijlot of competition, where local canap transfer rates are fairly high and money transfer ter and out is also high. Wij went to Arusha (Tanzania), for example, because there are a lotsbestemming of safari companies there. A loterijlot of people there are looking to accept payment from their customers abroad. An independent tour driver can now, for example, use our service to be paid his deposit by tourists based ter Sweden. Wij want to open up trading and make it lighter for puny businesses to thrive, do business outside their country, and get paid lightly.

Africa is experiencing a surge te Bitcoin-related activity with dedicated conferences, more companies setting up, investors funding start-ups and even Bitcoin ATMs. What influence will Bitcoin have ter the continent?

Wij just went to the Kenya USA Diaspora Sacco Conference te Texas to demonstrate what wij do and people were exited to know they won’t have to pay giant amounts to send money huis. A junior high schoolgebouw student te the US can now do a cupcake sale and send the money to relatives ter Kenya without going through a third-party organisation. Global charity BitGive recently collected donations globally through BitPesa to build water wells te western Kenya. Some of the money wasgoed paid spil Bitcoin directly to service providers and the entire project wasgoed treated quickly, efficiently and te a see-through manner with every coin accounted for.

So there are many ways wij can use the Bitcoin technology to convert how different sectors operate. It might show up complicated, but Bitcoin indeed is like mobile money but international. Overheen the last Legal months it has become lighter to buy Bitcoin, and there are now more exchanges that let people pay with mobile money or contant, and get Bitcoin.

Wij are excited to see more companies hop te and join the ecosystem but wij hope everybody takes this earnestly. If you are going to be creating a financial product, you need to go after financial regulation. Wij eyed a similar trend with the micro-finance bubble, where a loterijlot of people joined the industry. Some were taking savings on people’s behalf but they were irresponsible with those savings. So industry players ought to be careful.

Mobile money service providers are beginning to permit cross-country transactions. Does this still leave slagroom for Bitcoin?

Well [Kenya to Tanzania mobile money transfer] is only one snelheid, and it took a long time for that to open. Cross-country mobile money transfer is not global. You can’t do mobile money from Sweden to Kenya or Canada to Kenya. I think there is going to be a lotsbestemming of competition te money transfer moving forward. For a while, there wasgoed not a loterijlot of financial innovation te the cross-border payment and money transfer business. But there have bot a number of entrants from just about the time I got te, or shortly after. So this is an evolving space and you will see much more happening. Wij are excited because wij are a very first mover.

Describe some of the challenges you have faced running the business.

Right now there is a enormous supportive community for this technology te North America and Europe. So funding and assistance te consulting and partnerships requires a loterijlot of travel. I wish there wasgoed a ongezouten flight to North America. What wij are attempting to do is stay here more and build the ecosystem here. Wij have had visits from some of the big global companies, and Kenya is now getting on the schrijfmap te digital currency technology. But it’s taken a loterijlot of travel to persuade people to see what wij are doing, and it has bot grueling.

Wij have learnt a lotsbestemming. You shouldn’t be funked just because you are going into a space that has some indeed big players and you are like a very puny mosquito. Instead waterput your head down and build a good product, give excellent customer service and just keep going. Our motto is to make sure wij understand the environment, but not to get frightened by all the very big incumbents. It is also significant to understand and adhere to regulatory and legal requirements.

Wij attempted to differentiate from everyone else by taking this utterly gravely right from the beginning. Wij have licensing applications te three jurisdictions and wij go after global best practices which are stringent. Wij just hired a very senior compliance and anti-money laundering experienced who graduated from Harvard and worked for seven years at a prestigious law hard.

The lack of women te the Bitcoin industry has bot a hot topic ter latest months. Tell us about your practices.

When I go to conferences I always see more fellows, but it is something I have learnt to overeenkomst with. I came from finance where I always had trouble finding women and went into micro-finance which is often predominated by women, except at the top. There are women te Bitcoin but you have to actively seek them. Ter fact my company is led by women. Four of our top five very first staff members and management team are women and that just happens to be because I knew a lotsbestemming of strong women.

From the beginning wij have actively sought to hire female engineers. You can’t just say there are no women engineers or no women te Bitcoin. If you want to ensure women make up majority or even half your team, you have to actively seek them.

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