Ham Serunjogi and Majid Moujaled are from Uganda and Ghana respectively, and they are founders of Chipper Cash, a Silicon Valley unicorn fintech that allows Africans to receive money from outside the continent and to send money across the continent.
The pair met at Grinnell College in Iowa. A few conversations and some time spent together produced, not just a friendship, but a spirited bond with the vision to create an impact in Africa. These days, that bond has turned Africa’s cross-border payment systems into a billion-dollar business with presence in nearly two dozen countries on the continent.
Speaking on how Chipper Cash was founded, Serunjogi said:
Maijid and I met during college at Grinnell College in Iowa, and that’s where our paths first crossed. We worked really well together on a number of projects and always wanted to do something together that leveraged the fact that we’re both born and bred in Africa. We’ve also had the fortune of being educated and trained in the U.S., so we knew that if we could find a way to marry those two subsets of skills, we could build something impactful at scale.
At Grinnell, Serunjogi and Moujaled developed a voice messaging app that allowed users to send short, encrypted voice recordings that would self-destruct after they were played. The project was successful, but it didn’t create the impact that the founders sought. By the time Serunjogi graduated in 2016 (Moujaled had graduated in 2014), the two men had tried to build two companies that had not worked.
Serunjogi went on to work at Facebook while Moujaled worked at the image sharing and hosting company Imgur. But the duo kept in touch to brainstorm and developed idea after idea. It soon became apparent that they were going to expand on a financial tech idea, in the midst of cryptocurrency boom of the late 2010s.
Coming from Africa, the founders knew the challenges associated with sending and receiving money within Africa and saw an opportunity to bridge the gap. They then set out to develop Chipper Cash, the first platform to allow cross-border mobile payment in Africa.
“Almost every country has a free payment system, but Africa as a whole didn’t until we came along. In the long run, even if it’s not Chipper that fills this need for Africa, someone is going to do it. The turning point for our career paths was deciding that we’d rather do something meaningful and more long term. We want to leave a legacy behind,” Moujaled said in an interview.
Alongside the usual challenges of starting a business, Serunjogi and Moujaled had to contend with additional obstacles because they are not Americans. Moujaled tried to unsuccessfully get a visa while working at Yahoo and Imgur, and visa-related issues also forced Serunjogi to leave the country and work at Facebook in Dublin. Apart from that, their access to capital, talent, and other elements hinged on staying in the United States.
But after almost two years of trying to get their fintech dream off the ground, they received their green cards and could then confidently grow Chipper Cash in 2018.
With $ 60,000, the duo began to work on their idea. Moujaled was tasked with building the product and Serunjogi bringing in investors. Raising capital turned out to be an uphill task as a series of investor pitches were rejected. They eventually received $150,000 from their first investor and were able to turn around the startup. A small team and more people wanting to invest came in to accelerate Chipper Cash’s growth.
Serunjogi remembers how US immigration laws threatened to upend their dreams.
“One of the things that I wanted to emphasize was the sadness that we felt when leaving the U.S. Having moved from Africa to Iowa and spending most of our time in the U.S., we already invested so much in making America our new home. The connections we built, the people that we loved, there was just a lot to be optimistic about here in the states. Coming to the realization that we had to leave and go through the immigration process again was really scary,” the 29-year-old said.
Chipper Cash launched its initial operations in Uganda and soon expanded to Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Nigeria. It’s headquartered in San Francisco but retains a small office in New York, while the majority of the team is based in Nairobi, Kenya. Chipper Cash started as a cross-border product and has grown to become a lifestyle payment platform. The platform currently serves more than 5 million customers.
In 2021, Chipper Cash raised $150 million in a Series C extension round. The funding brought its valuation to over $2 billion.
The company has consistently pursued aggressive expansion into new markets and products. It has ventured into the United Kingdom and United States where it’s competing with already established companies. Chipper Cash received a US license that allows users to buy shares on the US stock exchange. It has a partnership with Visa and recently launched a Chipper Card product.