Interview with hela.money Co-Founder and CTO, Kebaya Mwamba
Hela Money: We Want to Be the MPESA Of Blockchain
In July 2022, Nairobi became an International Financial Centre. The centre that had been long coming since it was first mooted in 2008 as part of the Vision 2030 program could not have come at a more opportune moment.
Presently, Nairobi enjoys an elite status in Finance and innovation across Africa. Only Nigeria as a country is ahead of Kenya. Nairobi has become the home and the host of several Finance and technology (Fintech) startups, ranging from digital lenders, payment options, international money transfers, personal Finance, insurance, equity financing, and blockchain technologies, among other services that stem from innovation in the finance sector.
Nairobi is now a financial hub that will attract private equity firms, financial services focusing on Fintech and green Finance, private equity, venture capital firms, and asset managers.
Hela.Money is one of the startups breaking the mold in the fintech circles in Nairobi. HelaMoney is a blockchain fintech company that seeks to transform how Africa trades with itself as the world shifts from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0. The Fintech Association of Kenya’s Silas Nyanchwani sat down with Kebaya Mwamba, the Chief Technology Officer and a co-founder at Hela.Money to understand how they are changing the game.
Would you tell us in layman’s language what Hela.Money is?
We are a blockchain fintech based here in Nairobi, Kenya. We are building the first blockchain platform that seeks to change how Africa trades with itself. The world has moved from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0, meaning the underlying technologies that support these industries have changed. So, we are enabling businesses to integrate blockchain into their ecosystem.
So, your focus is in Africa?
We have a Pan-African vision. We see that Web 3.0 will break all the barriers to trade and Finance in the continent, and blockchain will fully integrate the African economy.
Hela Money was recently taken up with Google For Startups; what does this mean to you?
First, we thank Google for accepting us into this startup program. Google is the leader in cloud technology, and our solution is also cloud-based. We are looking to leverage the experience that Google has in scaling continental projects like ours. Hela.Money is an African project, and we seek to run African businesses on blockchain, and we believe that Google is the best partner for this.
And What is the general status of Blockchain Fintechs in Kenya and Africa?
Kenyans are very creative and passionate. I want to thank the government for the support they have granted us. Kenyans created MPESA, and many other companies and projects, and it is a testament to our ingenuity and our talent in tech.
We are thankful to our Nigerian brothers in Africa for breaking many barriers for us as Africans. As Einstein says, I see far because I stand on the shoulders of giants, so we, as Hela, see far because of the people who have come ahead of us. As M-PESA is famous in Africa, our vision is also to make Hela.Money famous in Africa as MPESA is.
You have mentioned Nigeria as a leader in Africa; what do you think they have done differently from us?
Our Nigerian brothers are very hard-working. They possess a lot of grit, are good networkers, know how to build relationships, and have a very healthy curiosity. They always seek solutions toAfrican problems, and that is the same mindset prevalent across Africa—that Africans will solve African problems, and we need to develop African solutions.
And on the Eastern Coast of Africa, Kenya leads the way, what do you think has made Kenya a dominant player in Fintech over here?
Like Nigerians, we equally have a healthy curiosity. We like to experiment when a new technology comes, and when we learn more about it, we find a way to incorporate it in our daily life. We now have a ton of blockchain developers coming out of Kenya.
How did you come up with the name Hela Money?
Hela Money! Divine inspiration. Haa! Haa! I think the name resonates across Africa, and it cuts across many languages. In Arabic, Hela means something similar to what it means in Swahili; hence can be understood across many countries.
In simplest terms, could you tell us how you intend to bridge traditional and digital Finance?
We now have digital assets, blockchain, and traditional Finance. What Hela does is develop the bridge where traditional Finance and digital assets can intersect. With Web 3.0, our president wants us to be leaders in blockchain. As Hela we’ve taken up this responsibility to lead Kenya and Africa into this new economy.
You have talked of government support, but the outgoing Central Bank Governor, Patrick Njoroge, was considered by many to be conservative. With the new governor set to be appointed, what kind of changes would you like to see him implement?
It might not be known, but Njoroge was very progressive. With any new technology, you need to understand it and test it out. During his tenure, we actually came up with a blockchain framework. There was a Discussion Paper on Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). All these were under his tenure, and I believe the incoming governor is going to pick up the momentum that the previous governor built.
Blockchain brings a lot of opportunities and benefits to the Kenyan economy as it allows transactions to run in a very secure manner. And with very low fees, we can bring in new digital assets and new ways of making payments and I believe Kenya will lead in this in Africa.
I want to thank President Ruto as he is youth and IT-driven, and he supports blockchain and Hela.
What is the user experience for those who have used your services?
The feedback has been tremendously positive, wow! Five out of five, some would give us ten out of five. We are moving businesses into Web 3.0, and there’s a very big market need for this. We want to make stablecoins, digital assets, and non-fungible tokens (NFT) accessible to the ordinary person on the ground.
There are so many Fintechs in your space, so what sets you apart from the rest?
What makes us different is that we are a bit more agile and creative in our product offering. We are open to collaboration. Even so, I congratulate every Fintech and every founder building in Kenya. We are doing a good job, and we are making Kenya proud.
As a startup, what are some of the challenges you deal with daily?
For us, the biggest challenge was accessing funding.
Piece by piece, we’re overcoming that. We have companies and venture capital keenly interested in us. Challenges make you better and enable you to think creatively. Each challenge is an opportunity. We thank the government of Kenya for putting us into the White Box program, and we learned a lot from them. We were conferred the Fintech of the Year Award by the ministry of ICT.
Online transactions are saddled with so much fraud; what strategies have you adopted to combat the problem?
Blockchain eliminates fraud by 99%. The reason is every data recorded on the blockchain is publicly available to everyone. As Hela, we have very strict know-your-customer (KYC) and very strict Anti-Money-Laundering (AML) protocols. So, any person transacting using Hela and our blockchain platform is guaranteed a very high level of security.
How can Hela Money help African entrepreneurs and businesses to reach their full potential?
Our platform gives businesses tools to integrate blockchain payments into their applications. At Hela you can open your merchant account and instantly sell your products all over Africa. You will receive your payment instantly. This is how we break down this barrier that traditional frameworks have established. So as a business, once you can come to Hela, we will onboard, and instantly get your Hela ID, Hela QR, and any person with the Hela wallet can instantly purchase your goods and services.
Kenya became a Global Financial Centre; what does this mean? Are we exploiting this milestone properly?
That was a huge move Kenya made. Nairobi being the international finance center means we are at par with New York, London, or Tokyo. We should take advantage of this to open up our banking systems, and the many Fintechs will channel a lot of capital traffic into Kenya. Blockchain actually plays a key role in us being a financial center and we are pivoting Kenya through Hela to be the blockchain center of Africa.
The face of startups in Kenya has been criticized for being white, but for Hela, you are all black, more like the Nigerian startup community that is predominantly black. How can we have more black-owned startups?
We are open to partners. We believe that African problems need an African solution. However, that does not mean that we close ourselves to external parties. As we pick up this African pride, let us support each other and support businesses that have black founders. I want to thank the fintech association of Kenya for this opportunity.
So, what inspired you to work in tech and find your way to Fintech?
I have been in IT for the longest 20 years. I was completely hooked when I first saw a computer in 1995 as a child. Hela.Money is actually a team effort of five multi-talented, brilliantly minded Kenyans who came together to form it. The aim is to capitalize on Web 3.0 and to move digital assets within each other and cross-border instantly.
What inspires you to keep on innovating?
The ‘What If It Succeeds?’ That curiosity is what keeps me awake every night. We like to imagine how Hela would be in every country; that drives us and gives us the passion for constantly building and improving our service.
What is your vision about the future of Finance, and what role do you think Hela will play?
My vision is that as we build Hela, we open the doors for other young people who are coming behind us to also build applications and their own companies upon what we’ve already done. We hope to bring in more females and be more inclusive.
To that young person in college, do you think there is a future in Fintech that they can aspire to?
There’s a lot we can still do as Hela. We have something called Hela Labs, where we incubate the ideas of other people. If you have an idea, visit us for incubation and work with other like-minded individuals. You will get the resources and the right mentorship.
Credits: Silas Nyanchwani (Head Of Corporate Communication at FINTAK)