Ibrahima Soumano – Meet The Next Leader Of Airtime And Mobile Money

Ibrahim Soumano

Ibrahima Soumano is one of the most influential young thinkers with the vision to change the way we send airtime and mobile money to Africa.

He is unassuming but his ideas and vision are inspiring to anyone passionate about seeing African tech entrepreneurs take the centre stage.

Ibrahima Soumano launched Ozaremit five months ago to cash-in on the vast opportunities in the USD3 billion airtime transfer market. Last month, Ozaremit raised fresh funding from a consortium of French investors who as well are backing the company with their expertise in Africa.

In this exclusive interview with PageOne Startup desk, Ibrahim Soumano shared his vision for Ozaremit, issues surrounding tech startups in Africa and the future of mobile money.

Tell us about how it all started?

It came at first from a personal experience. It all started from a trip home in Guinea. I have been home several times before but this one was a bit special as my dad and I visited our village.

It is customary in our tradition to bring gifts to one’s siblings when visiting, especially when you are coming from the capital city Conakry. Buying gifts for everyone was not really practical so we decided to buy 2 millions Guinea Francs worth (about £200) of airtime vouchers – which I distributed to our entire family and the neighbours. I felt the impact that a small gift of a few mobile minutes had on these people. That stayed in my mind the whole time till I travelled back to the UK.

Source: Ozaremit
Source: Ozaremit

On my return, I made it my mission to build a platform to allow millions of others like myself to support their relatives by sending them airtime. My partner Takwana, who is from Zimbabwe, shared the same sentiment as me and we decided to build a company together. As tech entrepreneurs, we immediately saw the huge potential to develop an impactful and competitive remittance platform. We conducted research on international mobile recharge services and markets, and quickly moved from idea to actions. We set up Ozaremit in April this year. The company is only 4-month old but it’s growing very fast. We now cover 140 countries, outreaching to 4,5 billion prepaid users.

You can’t import a concept from “the” Silicon Valley and implement it without any adaptations nor knowledge of the African markets

The ‘Oza’ in ‘Ozaremit’ have a meaning, can you tell us

Ozaremit is a powerful brand name that works internationally. But you are perfectly right to raise that point – Oza is also a name that directly speaks to our continent’s people. It’s a game I used to play back in West Africa.

How big is the mobile and online top up market in Africa in USD estimates?

International airtime transfers is a USD3 billion market with high-speed growth and huge unleashed potential. It is said to reach USD4.4 billion in 2017. There is still a steady progression rate of mobiles worldwide and especially in Africa. Prepaid phones are 80% of mobiles worldwide. Africa has already experienced this unique transformation and is known as “the mobile continent”.

This is a huge leapfrog that has impact on our everyday lives. And Africa will continue its amazing journey, with a tremendous opportunity to become “the startups and tech continent” with a wide array of innovative solutions in agriculture to energy or education. Getting back to the international online top-ups, it’s a natural complement to cash remittances. Airtime transfers are the ideal solution for sending small amounts of ‘value’ to relatives or friends abroad.

There are about 250 million people worldwide working and living in a country other than their own – and Africans represent a significant part of them. There is a growing need within the diasporas or migrant communities of offering airtime to their loved ones in their home country. According to the World Bank, communication expenses in developing economies can represent 4% up to 6% of household incomes.

Do you have some key markets in focus for Ozaremit

Ozaremit cover 140 countries, among which 38 are in Africa. Our largest customer bases top-up mobile phones in Nigeria, India and Pakistan. We have a growing community of users gifting airtime to their loved ones in Zimbabwe, Ghana, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Philippines and South America.

With a global focus, how do intend to coordinate your marketing and sales that will ensure you make something from each market

That’s the magic of digital marketing. You can outreach to various communities of users through different online channels and tailored-made offers. For example, we promoted last week a special 200% bonus for mobile credits sent to Guinea Conakry and we also communicated on our top-ups to Nigeria as we are the cheapest. Next week it could be a promotion for Asia.

It took Netflix more than 18 years to go global, Ozaremit is three months old, Do you think it is too early to go global?

Global is not just operating global, but thinking global from day 1.

How African is your engineering team? Are they as global as Ozaremit?

Our IT experts are as global as Ozaremit – from Asia, Europe and Africa.

There is a fear amongst tech startups that Africans easily get excited over new ideas then, they churn after some time, do you share that fear as well?

From foreign investors perspective, Africa is the new frontier market. For us, African entrepreneurs, we know it for years. Our continent is wide and plural – we got 54 countries which means 54 different culture and markets.

As Africans, we understand better the habits and the needs. I’m also extremely proud of Africa’s vibrant new tech ecosystem and brilliant entrepreneurs who develop African solutions. You can’t import a concept from the Silicon Valley and implement it without any adaptations nor knowledge of the African markets you target. Besides, the paradigm has been shifted.

We don’t wait for solutions coming from abroad. We make them! Africa has already shown the way forward by engaging the mobile revolution at the international level. We lead the way in fintech – and Europe is now developing solutions imported from Africa.

There is a temptation amongst startups to supercharge a new company with marketing without giving chance to organic growth, what is your own approach?

Organic and paid growth come along. The key of success lies in your users experience. They are your best advocates.

You have just secured fresh funding, what will you be using it for apart from marketing?The funds will be also use to improve our platform – with a new website and soon to launch an app, and to diversify our services as we plan to expand our activities to mobile money.

Will you be having boots on the ground in some markets and how many? How many people are on your team and you intend to scale to how many?

Our head office is based in London but we also set up a network of field sales agents. We have also launched this week a referrals program when you can earn £2 for every friend you refer to our platform. There is no limit to the number of people you can refer and so far it works very well.

What is the greatest challenge you face in this business?

Our biggest challenge is to meet a growing demand – which is a perfect challenge every entrepreneur loves! It requires solid knowledge of our markets and to offer a top-notch tech platform to our users, with continuous updates, so as to remain the fastest, simplest and more safe top-ups service.

In the next three years, what is your vision for Ozaremit?

Propel Ozaremit and make it an international leader in airtime and mobile money.

Meet Ibrahim Soumano

Ibrahima Soumano, 34, is CEO and co-founder of Ozaremit. A tech entrepreneur with a strong experience in Internet ventures, he enjoys the challenges of turning ideas into real businesses. In 2012, he launched Tafory, Guinea’s first online property site.

Born in Conakry, Guinea, Ibrahima currently lives in the UK. After business studies at Oxford Brookes University, he immediately embarked on a journey of becoming an entrepreneur which led him to successfully build a family business with activities ranging from transport, real estate, education and agriculture.


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