Africa remains the sole untapped continent in almost all sectors; however, with the advancement of technology and the easy accessibility of knowledge, that opportunity will vanish very quickly. Mergims is offering simple and free of charge access to an online marketplace. So don’t wait, start looking for unicorns now.
Product / Service Offering: Payment Platform for Remittances
Co-founder Interviewed: Muhire Louis Antoine, Founder
Other Key Management Team Members: Rodolphe Sakindi, Cofounder
This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.
My friends complain always about me being a workaholic. Whatever I start, I have to finish it and finish it well. I will never venture into something that has no positive impact on my life and most importantly on people around me. So, as surprisingly it may sound, I find motivation and pleasure in serving others well!
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
Originally born in Rwanda, I was raised in Canada as a refugee in the 90’s. I realized how stressful and expensive it was to send money back to relatives in Africa so they can have their basic needs met, such as, going to school or medication. Remittance transfers are growing to reach a trillion dollars by 2050 according to the World Bank. As we can see migration is not about to end in the near future, I thought making a platform that would solve these issues. Not only will it be free to use for migrants looking to help their relatives back in emerging countries, but also one that is fast, secure and convenient would be a great venture.
So I quit my well-paid job in Montreal Police to start Mergims in Rwanda.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
Up to now Africa is the sole continent with a low presence of its merchants online. This not only limits possibilities to buy made in Africa products, but worse, limits the potential growth of African merchants. They are only limited to their neighborhood marketplaces. Mergims is offering simple and free of charge access to an online marketplace.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
Our technical infrastructure was made by taking in consideration the general low level of literacy of emerging markets. Mergims has simplified the on-boarding system to a point that even a child can list his lemonade shop on our new platform. We will replace the existing one around May of this year (2017).
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
Finding qualified technicians is the biggest challenge. We are depending on technical assistance from abroad. Mergims is even considering moving a part of our technical production to Eastern Europe, until Africa can offer the technology we need.
Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?
Definitely I suggest to all startups to have their venture listed on university forums. As a result, this enabled us to benefit from free assistance from students looking for summer projects in emerging markets.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
Raising seed funds in emerging markets is extremely hard and expensive. Mergims is trying to be founded by European venture capital, for example, by being incubated in Swiss accelerator programs like Kickstart Accelerator and SeedStars World. And so far, that strategy helped us to raise small amounts and secure some interesting partnerships with Swiss technology companies.
Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
The valuations of startups are highly speculative. A challenge for us is to come up with investors’ wants, since it depends if it is European, Asian or American. Each has a different perspective on technical startup valuations.
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
Raising growth funds, finding qualified technology so we can grow our team and mentorship on emerging markets are all current challenges.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
Tell your startup story every time you are given a chance. Those who fear to be copied by existing competitors or other startups will never be funded; thus, they will definitely die with their idea on a flash key. All useful help and investors I have received were because I told my story to whoever was willing to listen.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?
To all investors out there, Africa is the last chance to see a dramatic growth similar to China. In other words, Africa remains the sole untapped continent in almost all sectors; however, with the advancement of technology and the easy accessibility of knowledge, that opportunity will vanish very quickly. So don’t wait, start looking for unicorns now.
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