New Podcast: Mike Smits, CFO, Ukheshe Technologies

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Episode 25 of the BIG5D Podcast features a conversation with Mike Smits, who is co-founder and CFO of Ukheshe, a South African fintech that operates largely in the background of Africa’s financial services ecosystem.

Ukheshe was founded in 2018 as a B2C digital banking application with a mission to promote small business financial inclusions in Africa.

But the Johannesburg-based company quickly realized that becoming a platform for other companies to build fintech products was a better path to scale than building a consumer-facing product. The latter would require raising a lot of money and pouring it into customer acquisition.

So in 2019, the company sold its payments product to Telkom (which is now the WhatsApp-based Telkom Pay) and became a platform that now powers fintech solutions from most of South Africa’s banks and telecoms. And its serves as the back end for many fintechs as well. ChipperCash’s recent market entry into South Africa was powered by Ukheshe for example.

Ukheshe also has important commercial relationships with Mastercard and Visa.

In April 2020, Ukheshe joined Mastercard’s Start Path program, “an exclusive startup engagement program for later-stage scaling startups.” The company has since helped Mastercard launch several fintech products into the market. One example is a prepaid payments program with Mastercard and Nedbank.

The decision to pivot to a cloud and API-based platform play has served Ukheshe well. The company hasn’t had to raise any money since raising a US$500,000 seed round in 2019. Until now, that is.

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The BIG5D Podcast · Episode 25: Mike Smits, Ukheshe Technologies

“The business is still majority controlled via the founders, which is great,” Smits said on the podcast. “We are actually on a fundraising drive at the moment. The fundraising drive is to fund expansion into multiple markets. We've got aspirations to be in 40 markets in the next two to three years. And that comes at a cost.”

Had Ukheshe stuck to its original model, its founders would likely be significantly diluted at this stage.

Smits said Ukheshe’s focus is on expanding into emerging markets across the globe — not just in Africa-Middle East. He said the company is already in talks with partners in Southeast Asia. And it has designs on Latin America as well.

Watch the Full Interview

Ukheshe ultimate goal is to be the technology platform that companies in emerging markets worldwide use to launch fintech products.

“We want to commoditize fintech so that it makes it easy for people to be able to launch fintech propositions because it's good for the end-user,” Smits said.

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