Tag Archive

We Cash Up aims to be the PayPal of Africa

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

Cedric Atangana

With e-commerce on the continent poised for growth, We Cash Up develops an innovative platform to enable online purchases on phones.

Hoping to ride a wave of innovative online technology and mobile adoption in Africa, the startup We Cash Up has set its sights on becoming the Pay Pal of the continent.

Cedric Atangana, co-founder and CEO of the Marseille-based company Infinity Space, said its We Cash Up network will aim to provide online purchasing power for Africans who do not have bank accounts.

Atangana said as many as 800 million Africans are excluded from internet commerce because they do not have bank accounts. At the same time, most of them have mobile phones.

His solution? A mobile network that enables users to make secure payments via their phones.

A network of businesses and buyers

Small businesses and stores that participate in the network are both a point of deposit and a point of withdrawal so We Cash Up does not have to develop an expensive new infrastructure to manage cash transactions.

We Cash Up says one key feature of We Cash Up is that its developers found a way to communicate across mobile money systems in 54 African countries that enables transactions across borders.

Infinity Space also developed an artificial intelligence that tracks the behavior of mobile users in order to identify risky or fraudulent transactions, the company said.

Infinity Spaces is also developing a We Shop Up platform for participating merchants.

The company operates as a virtual team. Atangana is based in Marseille while other team members work from Kenya or Cameroon.

African e-commerce faces challenges

Atangana sees vast potential both for merchants and buyers and internet use grows in Africa.

Experts agree that the potential to expand e-commerce in Africa exists but it faces key challenges. For example, e-commerce giants including Kalahari and Mocality have invested in Africa and then retrenched after failing to achieve profitability.

Wealthier Africans have not embraced online shopping, for example, because of concerns about fraud. At the same time, many African cultures value their vibrant and plentiful physical marketplaces over online shopping.

Cross-border differences inhibit scaling efficiencies and require duplication of services. The logistics of delivery are complicated.

E-commerce expected to increase

At the same time, the continent appears poised for growth in e-commerce as spending power increases along with internet access. One study predicts e-commerce, now a tiny fraction of the economy, will grow by 40 percent annually during the next decade.

Atangana believes We Cash Up can tap into that growth and change attitudes about online shopping.

Atangana, who holds a degree in engineering from Polytech Marseille, founded Infinity Space in Cameroon in 2010. The company operated in Nairobi, Kenya before Atangana moved its current headquarters to France.

He and Infinity Space chief marketing officer Marcelle Ballow Bekono were named to Forbes list of top 30 African entrepreneurs under 30.

We Cash Up has received several awards in startup competitions, including $20,000 at the 2014 Google Pitch Night.

Friends lacked bank accounts

He said he got the idea for We Cash Up after he had to help friends who did not have credit cards make online purchases.

On separate occasions, he said, friends in Cameroon and Kenya were unable to participate in developer competitions because they could not provide banking details.

“Indeed, one of the conditions for registration was to provide bank details or the majority had no credit card. And it has been very frustrating for me,” he said. “The idea of this project is born from our desire to help these people.”

Atangana said very few similar services are currently available and they seldom cross borders.

Account Nickel offers prepaid cards to people who do not have bank accounts but operates only in France. MPesa is a leading mobile payment platform in East Africa while telecom operators offer prepaid services in other countries.

But Atangana has a bigger vision of mobile e-commerce across international borders.

“This is the Airbnb financial system,” Atangana said.

Read more CEO Ronaldo Mouchawar: Empowering the Middle East through E-commerce

Comments (0) Featured, Leaders, Middle East


Born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, Ronaldo Mouchawar is the co-founder and CEO of the Arab world’s largest online shopping site and a pioneer of e-commerce in the region. He is also an eloquent symbol of a rising trend that’s seeing entrepreneurs reject the, if not saturated then busy, Western market, so long seen as the choice, in favor of using their expertise and innovative spirit to revolutionize and empower the market at home.

Originally trained in the West, Mouchawar was educated at Northeastern University, Boston, where he obtained a Bachelors in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a Masters in Digital Communications. He also spent the early years of his career in the US working in technology and business management, including a role as technical and systems consultant at Electronic Data Systems (EDS).

But in 2000, he returned to the Middle East with a belief he could improve the Arab world by exploiting the empowering possibilities of technology. He first launched a consulting company managing web and e-commerce projects for the local Arab market, before in 2005 joining forces with Maktoob’s Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury to launch online retail site and marketplace for third party sellers,, just as the Arab world began to embrace technology and mobile.

A decade on, Dubai headquartered, known as the Amazon of the Middle East, now operates in the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, and ships to Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain, selling more than 400,000 products from consumer electronics, to fashion, household items, and babywear. And it is growing fast: in the last two years, Souq has expanded ten times over; and in 2014 it saw an annual growth of over 100%. The site sees 30 million unique visitors per month, of which more than 10 million are on mobile. And an app, launched in 2014, has now been downloaded around two million times. There are rumors that Souq is fundraising at a valuation of $1 billion.

It’s some success story. But Mouchawar still considers his company a startup. While in financial terms this cannot be considered true, he says: “If continuing to think of Souq as a startup helps us innovate, then great.”

Innovating the e-commerce model for Arab markets

Certainly, Mouchawar’s ability to innovate has been key to Souq’s success. Originally launched as an auction site modeled on eBay, he quickly redirected the company into a fixed price model, recognizing its potential in the Middle East. And while may now superficially seem like a copycat-Amazon, Mouchawar has transformed that business model for the market: he has localized and arabized e-commerce.

For example, has gone some ways to rebalance the disparity between the availability of Arabic content online (currently just 3% of all content) and the number of Arabic speakers around the world (around half a billion). Arabic content has become a Souq forte, as are localized promotions, partnerships, and exclusive products. Mouchawar has also adapted operations for Middle Eastern challenges. For instance, in Egypt, only about 10% of the population have credit cards, and in countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, 60% of online purchases are still paid for via cash on delivery. Mouchawar has developed prepaid cards which can be purchased in real life (IRL) and used online. He has also overcome an underdeveloped logistics infrastructure by developing a Souq-owned local delivery system offering “last mile” deliveries to places with no mail service or postal address, along with investing in local logistics companies and building relationships with local couriers. Souq teams are also in place in the majority of Souq’s operating countries, to continually innovate local solutions for area-specific problems.

Job creation in the Middle East

But Mouchawar believes his e-commerce solutions can have even further reaching impacts: he believes that e-commerce can empower.

“We believed the Internet and e-commerce specifically could be an empowering tool to support SMEs, and help create a knowledge base economy where we employ as many people and create jobs, as our region needed it,” he says. “It could create badly needed jobs for young people and boost the businesses that are the backbone of Arab economies.” “Imagine the access a merchant can have from a street in Cairo to a customer base in Saudi Arabia, to the UAE. If we can connect all these dots, you will have an incredible customer base.”

The website proudly reveals that it employs 1,000 people directly and has provided jobs for another 6,000 people indirectly through its networks of partners, suppliers, and couriers, “not to mention the 75,000+ sellers, many of whom have built their livelihood via the website”.

Unsurprisingly, Mouchawar has become one of the Middle East’s most prominent entrepreneurs, visible and accessible on the startup circuit, speaking at conferences, and looking to inspire where he can.

Read more