Zepz, the cross-border payment platform founded by Somalia’s Ismail Ahmed, has sent shockwaves in the digital finance space after successfully securing more than $800 million in debt and equity financing from various investors.
The company has seen its total funding increase from $600 million to $800 within two years thanks to investors like Accel, TCV, and Leapfrog, a private investment firm specializing in high-growth financial services and healthcare companies, according to Billionaires Africa.
Zepz, which operates two market-leading brands, WorldRemit and Sendwave, with over 11 million users across over 150 countries, achieved a valuation of $5 billion after raising $292 million in new primary financing. Zepz was created as a parent company after WorldRemit acquired Africa-focused remittance app Sendwave in a $500 million deal in 2021. In 2020 alone, Zepz’s brands facilitated more than 4.5m monthly transactions on its platform generating almost $10bn of Gross Send Volumes and $338 million of revenues, according to a statement from WorldRemit.
How Zepz started
While in London to study, Ahmed faced a series of challenges in sending money back home. He was frustrated by the inconvenience and cost of transferring money through traditional agents. In a bid to find a better and more efficient way of transferring money, using compensation from the UN for exposing alleged corruption, Ahmed set up WorldRemit in 2010.
He designed WorldRemit to help migrants send money back to their friends and families. In December 2018, the company was valued at $900 million, after raising more than $375 million in investment and seeing its global workforce grow to 600 employees. Today, WorldRemit (Zepz) operates in 150 countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Somaliland, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Belgium.
Before becoming a migrant, Ahmed had his fair share of challenges that stemmed from the civil war in Somalia in the 1980s. He witnessed the deaths and destructions caused by the war.
He journeyed arduously for a month and a half to the neighboring country Djibouti and he was smuggled out in a truck to the UK. To fund his education, he had to pick fruits. “It was one of the toughest job I’ve ever done,” he said in an interview. Recounting how tough his first day of strawberry picking was, he said: “I went back to my hostel. I fell asleep without eating or even thinking of my muddy shoes because I was so tired.”
Like many other migrants, he had multiple jobs in addition to his full-time education, but what kept him going was his decision to remain positive in the face of challenges. He kept many jobs so he could send money back home to his family. While doing so he learned how difficult it was to send money back and that sparked his curiosity. He started to think of better ways of sending money home at a relatively lower cost with ease hence the birth of WorldRemit.
For Ahmed, the digitization of mobile money is important because of its huge success, especially in Africa where there are over 400 million mobile money accounts.
“Today migrants can just send money by just taps on their phone. There are countries that suffer hyperinflation where sometimes carrying an equivalent of $100 requires a wheel barrow,” he told BBC community affairs correspondent, Adina Campbell.
In 2020, Ahmed was named the most influential Black Briton on the Powerlist 2020, which highlights the most powerful people of African and African Caribbean heritage in the UK.