The year is 2016. Idris Marcial Monthe has just graduated from the Abidjan Founders Institute. An amazing three months of learning from the best and Monthe was feeling quite confident.
He and Daniel Dindji had just launched their payment gateway, CinetPay in the same year with little to no experience in the financial sector. The duo had met each other while studying Computer Science at the New Superior School of Engineering and Technology (ENSIT), Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
This is not their first rodeo, though. In 2009, Monthe and Dindji created CinetCore, a platform specialising in the sale of domain names. But they soon encountered a problem — payments.
“In our region, you have 80% of people with a mobile money account, while the remaining 10 to 20% have a bank account and a card to pay online,” Monthe tells Techpoint Africa.
They tried to open several PayPal accounts to get their payments but they were blocked because Cote d’Ivoire — like many African countries — has limited usability on PayPal and is unofficially said to be on a blacklist.
“We saw that we have a good opportunity with mobile money because many people have mobile money accounts. But, the problem with mobile money is that, all the 80% are spread between three or five operators and it’s not easy for a merchant to open four accounts, integrate four APIs, manage four reconciliation, and deal with four partners, just for collection of payments.”
So, they decided to build a gateway for their website, connecting all of these mobile money operators in one place. But soon, clients were asking, “How can we recreate this for ourselves?” And CinetPay was born.
The journey to getting funded
In December 2021, CinetPay announced a $2.4 million seed round led by 4DX Ventures and African payment gateway unicorn, Flutterwave.
CinetPay has been Flutterwave’s Francophone Africa partner since 2019.
“I think Flutterwave was looking for a strong partner in Francophone Africa to explore the market, check if we have the capacity to help them in our region and that is how the partnership started. Flutterwave had a customer in Cameroon and wanted to serve this customer with a mobile money solution and when they looked in Cameroon, they saw that their best partner would be CinetPay.”
For Monthe, it has been a very good partnership, helping both companies share information and experience.
When Techpoint Africa asks Monthe if bootstrapping was a deliberate choice, he says, “It is not our choice. We are in a region where fundraising is very low, and many investors don’t have information about our region, our market, our environment. If we had a choice, we would have raised money since 2017.”
Compared to Africa’s big four — South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Egypt — funding in Francophone Africa is quite low. However, this year has been a good year for the region, with several startups raising some impressive rounds and a unicorn emerging.
Monthe believes that this is good news for them as more investors get interested in Francophone Africa.
A little bit more detail about CinetPay
CinetPay helps merchants in the Francophone Africa region accept and collect online payments from mobile money wallets in nine countries.
“Just to give you an example, if you are an eCommerce website and you want to launch your website in nine countries in Francophone Africa, you need to create 9 companies, you need to sign 36 contracts with each operator present in our region, you need to integrate 36 APIs, and you need to deal with 36 services for reconciliation, which is not very easy.”
What CinetPay does is aggregate all these means of payments in one gateway — a Flutterwave or Paystack, but for mobile money wallets.
The company is present in Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Guinea, and Benin.
Monthe believes CinetPay’s geographical presence among other things has helped the company stand out.
“We are present in more countries than our competitors in Francophone Africa. We also have a large number of methods of payment —130 — on our website. Our payment page is very simple and seamless; you have just one or two steps to processing payments.
“Another thing is that we have the capacity to help big companies or institutions and public services. And we help these services to build a great solution. We don’t just provide payment services, but we help our partners to digitise their services.”
With over 350 merchants on the platform, CinetPay serves public services, schools, banks, financial institutions, eCommerce websites among others.
The company charges a commission on each transaction, with all merchants paying a $20 subscription fee annually.
Challenges, conquests, and plans
When Dindji and Monthe first started, with no idea of how a payment infrastructure works, they began to attend a lot of incubators and accelerators, searching for helpful knowledge.
After getting into the Abidjan Founder Institute, they also got into Seedstars. They’ve also made it into several government and private incubators. A chance he believes has helped them grow CinetPay.
Interestingly, Monthe didn’t see their lack of experience as a challenge. It became a passion for him.
“I am very passionate about innovation, So I don’t care about learning anything innovation, I like it. I don’t see it as a challenge, but a passion. My goal is to impact the lives of many people in Francophone Africa.”
The trick was practicing everyday what he had learnt at all the incubators and accelerators.
Intriguingly, Monthe wants to create a non-profit organisation to help females gain access to education.
According to the Francophone Africa and the Equality Challenge 2019 Report by the University of Chester Area Studies Research Group, female literacy rates in Francophone Africa have not been growing consistently, with outdated datasets being used for policy making and decision making.
“I think that the world will be better if many women are educated. The capacity of women to do many things like earn profit, to work hard is very high compared totge capacity of the men. This is my passion and my challenge and in the next five, ten years, this is something that I will launch.”
He also jokes about being a farmer if he hadn’t started CinetPay.
There’s also the problem of trust. To solve this, Monthe says the team has had to adopt a transparency in communication and collaboration. Of course, when dealing with people’s money, this is important.
“We give the best product because if you cause losses, you lose trust. We work hard to give the merchants the best experience of payment in West Africa. 99% of transactions are in cash; you need to build trust to combat cash.”
With the challenge of building and retaining talent, Monthe reveals an interesting strategy.
“We signed a partnership with a high school to help us to recruit the best people, one year before the end of their degree.”
Essentially, building a pipeline of talent at an early stage.
The plan for now, though, is to focus on consolidating their hold in Francophone Africa. CinetPay is working on a regulatory sandbox with the Ministry of Finance. Building bridges and important connections as they grow.
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