Payments-led fintech startup in Côte d’Ivoire July has extended his round before Serie A with 5 million dollars. The company, which facilitates B2B payments for businesses in Francophone West Africa, primarily through mobile money channels, has raised a total of $7 million in the funding round.
In 2019, West Africa reported the liveliest mobile money services in every region, with 56 million active accounts. In Côte d’Ivoire, one of the largest mobile money markets in Francophone Africa, 75% of the population has a mobile money account compared to 20% who have bank accounts. That’s why Julaya launched its services in the West African country and has since expanded to Senegal, where mobile market penetration is around 80%, as well as other countries in UEMOA (West African Economic and Monetary Union), where the use of mobile money also predominates.
Small to large businesses in these countries can use the Julaya platform to make bulk payments to other businesses and their employees without banking services through existing mobile money channels. But they now have access to more services, such as the startup’s prepaid card — issued by Mastercard — for corporate expense management. The cards are tailored to business needs for travel, other online spending and easy import of transactions into their accounting systems, CEO Mathias Leopoldi said TechCrunch in an interview.
“Our point or strategy with the cards is to provide a full range of services. Because if you only have cards, I don’t think you could build a great startup with a lot of traction like you would like in the US, for example,” said the CEO, who founded the company with Charles Talbot. “The card payment industry, except in South Africa, maybe Nigeria and a bit in Egypt, is growing and although you might be able to grow a business with it, it’s almost impossible in our region [Francophone Africa].”
Léopoldie said offering cards — most of which are physical (on customer request) — is not Julaya’s main strategy for revenue growth. It’s a spend-switching strategy that he says sets fintech apart from rivals like the YC-backed, which see cards as the primary driver.
More than 40% of Julaya’s 500 small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), startups, large corporations and government institutions use the enterprise spend management feature. While the most significant volumes come from medium to large enterprises, fintech has surprisingly seen greater adoption from its traditional and non-digital small customers, Leopoldi noted.
Over the past year, the Ivorian and French startup has expanded its product range to include a “Cash & Collect” solution that enables “quick and secure” cash collection, particularly in the FMCG sector. Here, businesses can deposit their cash from physical and field sales into their Julaya account through a mobile money agent branch without going to a bank.
Last July, Léopoldie said fintech was processing more than 1.5 million dollars per month. Those numbers have increased fivefold to more than $7.5 million, with revenue seeing identical growth of more than 500% year-on-year. Brands like Jumia and Sendy are some of Julaya’s clients.
European venture capital fund Speedinvest led Julaya’s extended round ahead of Series A. EQ2 Ventures, Kibo Ventures, angel syndicates Unpopular Ventures and Jedar Capital, existing investors Orange Ventures, Saviu, 50 Partners and Ivorian business angel Mohamed Diaby and professional footballer Eduard Mendy also invested in the round.
Mendy’s involvement – his first in Africa and second globally – highlights the growing involvement of athletes in Africa’s venture capital scene. This week, TechCrunch presented Build Ventures, a $15 million fund targeting African fintech. A striking observation from the news was the number of athletes listed as limited partners of the firm; some have also made direct investments from various reports. Mendy is African, unlike the others who are mostly European. While he may be one of the first African athletes to back startups, Leopoldi suggests there will be more examples in the foreseeable future.
“I think he’s a little bit ahead of the curve. We are seeing football stars or high net worth individuals in the sports industry begin to understand that they need to invest in venture capital for two reasons. The first is that although it is a risky asset, it carries a high return. And secondly, they should use their image to show that they are not only interested in their sports career, but want to be an inspiration for their country. It mattered to Edouard Mendy because he is Senegalese.
Julaya also received investment from its CFO and country manager in Senegal. Proceeds from this funding round will aid the fintech in further expansion plans in Francophone West Africa as it plans to open offices in Benin, Togo and Burkina Faso, hire talent and drive product development.
Enrique Martinez-Hausman, director of lead investor Speedinvest, said the firm’s portfolio company is changing the way businesses operate in a complex francophone payment environment that also has big-name players such as CinetPay and Bizao. “As we look forward, the potential of Julaya’s technology goes beyond its payment capabilities, with the opportunity to become a close banking partner for companies in West Africa,” noted Martinez-Hausman.