From cartoonist to fintech founder: breaking barriers through innovation
Emmanuel’s remarkable journey from a cartoonist to the co-founder of a ground-breaking fintech company showcases the power of perseverance, social responsibility, and technological innovation.
Emmanuel’s career trajectory deviated from the conventional path, transitioning from being a hired cartoonist to co-founding a fintech company—an accomplishment that may not impress those who possess a formal education in computer science. Yet, his drive to succeed as an entrepreneur was ignited during his early years when he sold his artwork to earn money for lunch. Remarkably, By the age of 9, Emmanuel took charge of managing his grandmother’s restaurant and successfully steered it towards profit. This formative experience instilled in him a profound comprehension of the significance of customer satisfaction as exemplified by the establishment's motto: ’The Customer is King.’
Emmanuel’s grandmother encompassed compassion and frequently welcomed underprivileged children from the streets into their home to provide them with food, despite their own modest circumstances. She couldn’t resist extending help to those in need. This upbringing profoundly shaped Emmanuel’s approach to conducting business. He articulates that many of his initial ventures were not solely aimed at financial gain but rather driven by the question: “How can I be of help?” Consequently, when he embarked on the journey of opening a restaurant. it was imperative for him that it offered affordable high-quality food.
Regrettably, each of Emmanuel’s previous endeavours met its demise due to a common hurdle: access to necessary financial resources proved elusive. Unfazed by these failures Emmanuel remained resolute in his belief that there had to be a solution. It was during this period that an acquaintance introduced him to the potential role of technology—a notion he initially found somewhat amusing. In 2015, he reconnected with one of his former schoolteachers who had also encountered setbacks in business ventures. Together, they contemplated how technology could prove advantageous for those who had yet to fully embrace its potential rewards. This serendipitous reunion gave birth to ChapChap Africa, with Emmanuel’s former teacher joining him as a co-founder.
ChapChap’s mission was to bring seamless mobile money transfers and accounting tools to the masses, particularly small businesses. They aimed to achieve this through a network of agents who would facilitate online transfers for individuals with limited technological knowledge. Emmanuel humorously highlights the behaviour of his typical customers: ’If I send money to my village, to my parents or grandparents, the first thing they do is withdraw that money. Ironically, they are unaware that they can make purchases using their phones. They simply withdraw the money and visit an agent, saying, ”Pay for me my water bill.’
Emmanuel emphasizes that not only does this typical example of a last-mile customer demonstrate the need for ChapChap’s services, but approximately 60% of low-income Africans are also ready for such a product. He observes that people frequently hand over their phones to agents, instructing them to withdraw money on their behalf. This level of trust creates an ideal opportunity for these agent networks to educate the population about the advantages of financial inclusion. Emmanuel sees the agents as mini-banks for the low-income sector, explaining, ‘You have someone who may not have even received a formal education running a mobile money business. They handle cash in and cash out; they’re essentially mini-banks.’
Emmanuel takes great pride in the financial inclusion ChapChap provides for the poorest individuals in Uganda. He notes that everyonecan conveniently make financial payments through their mobile phones. He jokingly adds, ‘But my grandmother wouldn’t do that!’ Shifting his focus to the present, Emmanuel’s demeanour changes from light-heartedness to confident determination as he shares that his company is preparing to expand into other African countries.
What sets ChapChap apart from other digital apps, according to Emmanuel, is their ability to connect telecommunications companies, insurance providers, and other entities with a much broader customer base that they traditionally overlooked. Furthermore, their app is particularly appealing to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by streamlining the burdensome paperwork and time-consuming reconciliation processes that businesses face. Emmanuel explains, ’When you walk into a business and say, ”I have something that can make you money,“ any business owner will listen to you. But if you approach them with a product to organize their business, they might question the need for it.’
Every transaction made through the ChapChap app is recorded, providing online access to records and freeing businesses from manual account balancing. Moreover, ChapChap plays a crucial role in providing access to credit, a privilege previously unavailable to SMEs. Through the data generated by their app and partnerships with financial institutions, ChapChap can assess creditworthiness and grant access to credit. Emmanuel highlights the staggering competition faced by graduates in Uganda, with approximately 200,000 graduates competing for only 9,000 available jobs. He believes his experience in running informal businesses and recording every transaction gives him a unique perspective on the need for comprehensive solutions provided through a single app.
Emmanuel acknowledges the daily liquidity challenges faced by low-income individuals who have small working capital. However, the fast-paced nature of mobile money presents an opportunity for growth. Emmanuel notes, ‘We started seeing significant transaction volumes with businesses that were previously conducting fewer transactions. Lenders can observe this foot traffic, as each transaction is recorded with the customer’s phone number. This is an advantage even the banks don’t have.’ The ChapChap agent network, utilizing the data they possess, has been able to access credit through their financial partner, amounting to $10 million with a repayment rate approaching 98%.
While ChapChap knew their destination and had a product ready, they needed marketing support to realize their ambitions. A grant from the Innovations Against Poverty (IAP) project arrived at a critical juncture, refining their approach and enabling them to gain significant traction. Thanks to this support, ChapChap expanded their agent network from 500 to 5,000 within a little over 18 months. Furthermore, their social focus ensured that 49% of these agents were women and 89% were youths.
Emmanuel acknowledges that funding remains a challenge, but he believes success depends on which segment of a business they target. Although ChapChap has been cash positive for several years, scaling up through an impactful marketing campaign remains a hurdle. Emmanuel explains, ‘We had to grow in order to offer our services. The people we serve have low incomes and limited purchasing power, which means our profit margins are narrow.’ Nevertheless, he does not view scaling solely as a financial imperative. Instead, ChapChap places greater importance on the data they collect, which will provide insights into their fintech innovation and guide their future expansion. Emmanuel cautions against the sole pursuit of ‘unicorn’ status, emphasizing the necessity of creating genuine impact alongside financial aspirations.
Emmanuel’s commitment to social impact may appear naive to conventional venture capitalists and banking loan officers. He notes, ‘Many people didn’t believe we would surpass a million dollars. However, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, within the first few months, we exceeded $2 million in transactions. This demonstrates the market demand. Lenders can assess the number of transactions an agent conducts in a month and the resulting commissions earned, enabling them to determine the feasibility of recouping their credit or loan.’ The success of ChapChap has caught the attention of banks, potentially serving as a wake-up call for the banking sector to begin supporting entrepreneurs in Africa.
Emmanuel’s remarkable journey from a cartoonist to the co-founder of a ground-breaking fintech company showcases the power of perseverance, social responsibility, and technological innovation. With ChapChap’s expansion into new markets across Africa, Emmanuel’s unwavering confidence and belief in financial inclusion continue to drive the company forward. As he leads the charge, Emmanuel remains dedicated to making a lasting impact on the lives of individuals and small businesses throughout the continent.