In 2015, three friends from the American University in Cairo worked on a social commerce platform that allowed people to buy goods and services on Facebook. Islam Shawky, Alain El Hajj, and Mostafa Menessy wanted to combine a payment infrastructure with the e-commerce platform. Banks dominated the payment space in Egypt at the time, and the trio approached several of them.
But after meeting with several banks, the friends noticed the payment solutions banks offered didn’t cater to the digital economy. The solutions had high setup and maintenance fees, and the API was cumbersome.
"We were bullish about the digital economy and wanted to participate in it as an e-commerce player. But we asked ourselves: how can we serve hundreds of thousands of independent merchants trying to sell to their customers, considering the necessary payment infrastructure to enable this was lacking?" said Islam Shawky, CEO and co-founder of Paymob.
Following this realisation, the founders decided to start Paymob, a merchant financial service provider that helps underserved SMEs scale their businesses by allowing them to either disburse funds or accept funds in digital format. It would give merchants a payment gateway to integrate into their website or mobile app.
Paymob faced a number of challenges. At times, the young founders struggled to be taken seriously when they approached banks for partnerships.
Paymob needed to convince local banks to integrate their service into Paymob's platform in a cash-dominated society. It was an uphill battle at the start.
"We were rejected by some of the biggest banks in Egypt. Three people who were still at university were going to bank officials, telling them that the payment solution they had been offering for the last 10 to 15 years wasn't good enough. They needed to change it," Shawky said. "People thought we were crazy. It took some time for them to realise we were serious about what we were doing."
When Paymob met A15, it was operating with minimal resources. With a background in building, scaling and selling companies, A15’s team was committed to supporting the company very early on and anticipating its requirements and needs. Paymob’s co-founders were able to leverage A15’s resources to build and structure its operations, people, finance, legal, and even marketing, sales and business development.
"A15's commitment to come and help us from our premises, continuously thinking ahead of our current requirements to prepare us for what is to come, is unparalleled; they were proactively offloading work to their teams," said Alain El Hajj, COO and co-founder of Paymob. "Additionally, strategic mentoring and advice were consistent and always available proactively."
A15, one of Paymob’s early investors, also supported the business with its fundraising efforts. The venture capital firm used its expertise to guide the company through multiple funding rounds with regional and global investors, including Global Ventures and FMO (Dutch Development Bank). Its support has allowed Paymob to focus on operating the business without being distracted by the fundraising process.
The company has raised $68.5 million in funding since starting in 2015. In April 2021, the firm raised an $18.5 million Series A round from investors. Just 13 months later, in May 2022, Paymob raised
$50 million in Series B funding led by PayPal Ventures, New York-based VC Kora Capital, and London-based VC Clay Point, with participation from A15.
Paymob’s platform has gained adoption from merchants over the years. Today, it is a company that processes more than $10 billion of total payment volume and more than 100M transactions yearly.
Demand for Paymob’s services has also skyrocketed over time. In September 2019, the company onboarded 60 merchants a month. By September 2021, the number of onboarded merchants had increased to 6,000 merchants a month. Over 100,000 local Egyptian and global merchants use the firm’s technology.
Following its rapid expansion in its home market of Egypt, Paymob recently announced its market entry into Pakistan. The market opportunity in Pakistan is significant. It has a population of over 220 million with a range of retail outlets and SME businesses across the country’s cities. Over four million SMEs use just over 80,000 POS terminals and less than 3,000 ecommerce gateways. The market is perfectly suited to Paymob’s ability to bridge the digital financial gap.
Shawky says finding the right partners was critical to Paymob's success. He says entrepreneurs should always work with investors who will support them in the good and bad times.