How Two Africans Overcame Bias To Build A Startup Worth Billions

A pair of twentysomethings from Uganda and Ghana thought there was a fortune to be made bringing transnational financial services to Africa’s 1.2 billion people. With 5 million users, San Francisco-based Chipper Cash is just getting started.

It was the summer of 2018, and Ham Serunjogi, a 24-year-old Ugandan immigrant, thought the pitch he was making to a Palo Alto venture capi­tal firm was going well. He had explained how his fintech startup, Chipper Cash, would enable African consumers to send money to each other, across national borders, more cheaply and easily than the antiquated banking system—a sort of Venmo for the continent.

Then came a question from one of the partners: “Why don’t you go look for donations and grants to fund this?” Because, Serunjogi replied, this will be a profit-making business. The clueless partner persisted: “Why don’t you talk to Unicef or an impact investing firm?” Serunjogi discreetly declines to name the firm, or to say which VC later told him that “regardless of what the metrics are, I have to apply a discount to this business because it’s in Africa.”

Those memories still sting, even though Chipper Cash has now raised $300 million from a roster of blue-chip VCs, most recently in November at a $2.2 billion valuation. “These were things I’d have to take with a straight face. But it was outrageous, and it still is,” Serunjogi says from the San Francisco office where he, cofounder Maijid Moujaled and nearly a fifth of the company’s 350 employees are based. The two founders each have an estimated 10% stake in Chipper, translating into paper fortunes north of $200 million.

Sheel Mohnot, a former partner at 500 Startups—Chipper Cash’s first backer—chalks up some early investor resistance to ignorance about Africa. “No…

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