NEVER GIVE UP

“When I decided to start my own business, I didn’t have a penny in my bank account,” But now I am the Founder and CEO of QuickCash, a Côte d’Ivoire based-Company providing financial services for rural areas in 4 countries in West Africa.

“I remember that I started from scratch with a second-hand very slow desktop that I bought at around US$100 and a mobile phone that cost me around US$17”. In addition, I even had to borrow money from my friends and family to pay for the attorney fees so as to incorporate the company.

Fortunately, today my money transfer company is flourishing and there are plans to take it to the next level across Africa. Chris Guillebaud was right to say that we can just build a Startup with less than $100 (see his book entitled “The $100 Startup”)

The secret of my success

I started my entrepreneurial journey alongside my mother. During the holidays when I was in primary school, I used to accompany my mother from village to village in Côte d’Ivoire selling goods and that’s how I learnt the basics of commerce. I sold fruit juices (ginger and tamarind), plastic buckets, children’s clothes, school supplies and phone cards.

My passion for business was obvious all the way to the university. During my studies, I sold just about everything on the campus, from “attiéké” (the traditional cassava-based Ivorian best meal) and plantains to cosmetics and jewelries.

In 1999, I graduated from the University of Ouagadougou at the Faculty of Law and Political Science in Burkina Faso where I got a Master’s degree in business Law. But then, like many young graduates in Africa, I had to face the harsh reality of scarce employment.

Then my mother decided to make me run her small shop. I decided to take over her business activities. Three years later my uncle asked me to help him set up a money transfer business for a well-known multinational, together with a local bank.

“That’s how I first got involved in the money transfer world. “In 2006, I went on to set up my own company providing money transfer services. It wasn’t a huge success, but it taught me a lot about the competitive market environment, which made it easier to bounce back.”

Finding a niche market

I noticed early that existing money transfer platforms would not work in rural communities due to some disadvantages such as a lack of electricity supply, internet access, scarcity of public transportation for remote villages and low revenues from rural areas. So, in order to perform a financial transaction, people living in rural areas struggled a lot traveling long distances, at times spending up to two days. In addition, some of the roads were unsafe with a risk to be stolen by armed robbers. This meant that money transfers were considered as something luxurious for rural communities.

To find a solution, I decided to establish QuickCash money Transfer Company in 2011 to make transfers in rural areas easier.

Once again, it was tough to get started: “We couldn’t even rent an office space so we worked in a shed in my home. As you can imagine, I obviously wasn’t earning a salary.”

The new company also had to cope with big competitors. Due to the constraints we were aware of, my team and I divided up our customer’s database, targeting a specific group which they knew well and that was often neglected and guess what, it was the rural communities.

With the support of my dedicated and hardworking team and my family, I also decided to reinvent the way the services were advertised, deciding not to use the same channels like the big money transfer companies did. Then I came up with my own brand identity, which related to rural culture and traditions.

Education — a valuable tool

As it is most common in such endeavors, capacity building, particularly in management, negotiation techniques and social dialogue, was essential.

“Without the necessary tools, you can’t succeed through effort by yourself. That shows the importance of education.”

Zoundi Yao

“During a 3 years period of time in operations, we moved from two employees to around 40. Without the necessary tools, you cannot succeed through effort by yourself. That shows the importance of education,” she explains.

I took part in a social dialogue training course at the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Turin (Italy). This course enabled me to develop good practices and, in particular, to have a more closely knit team supporting her. Later on, I have an opportunity to join SEED Stanford based in Accra (Ghana). The most sigficant outcome of her participation to the program was the starting point of a great vision: Create a prosperous, connected, and active rural communities throughout Africa.

Zoundi Yao also completed other training courses and, since then, obtained the opportunity to share her experiences with other entrepreneurs at international forums.

Today, five years after she founded her company, the young “attiéké” seller has come a long way.

Her company provides mobile financial services for Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Niger and Togo, and she is not willing to stop growing here. Her next goal is to cover all West Africa countries, before expanding and cover the entire African continent.

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