The $50,000 question: Why we invested in NALA

CEO of NALA, Benjamin Fernandes (left) during user testing of the mobile money app.

Mobile money in Tanzania has been slow to gain traction in rural areas. The traditional system in place to facilitate mobile payments is USSD, which is a text-based and fairly complicated process, usually with a poorly designed menu, and requires users to enter long strings of numbers which introduces more possibility for errors. With no simpler option available for offline or low internet connections, mobile money isn’t seen as convenient for most purchases, and many in rural Tanzania chose to remain in a cash economy, forgoing the benefits that mobile money can offer.

How does mobile money evolve from the text-based, slow USSD interface that facilitates payments on or offline but is complicated, painful, and slow; to a seven times faster, Venmo-like interface that creates a single, unified wallet for Tanzanian smartphone users which creates access via simplicity?

The answer is NALA, and we at DFS Lab are thrilled to support this innovation. With the accelerated smartphone adoption in Tanzania, NALA is able to sidestep traditional infrastructure providers and work directly with the end user in a perfect over-the-top innovation. They provide a single, unified user experience where there is currently nothing to compare it to. We see NALA as the frontrunner for this emerging mega-trend and believe they have the potential to make mobile money more relevant in people’s everyday lives, with or without a strong internet connection.

Photo credit: Benjamin Fernanades, CEO of NALA

NALA is taking Tanzania by storm with over 42,000 Tanzanians already signed up. It is currently in a private beta on the Google Play Store and has garnered a lot of buzz in the local market, for good reason. Not only does NALA work offline and seven times faster than USSD, but it also provides additional financial services for its users. NALA can host one user’s multiple SIM cards to track all transactions across cards, providing the user with an accurate picture of their spending, giving them more financial control. NALA’s ability to provide information across accounts also helps its users navigate the fees and complexities associated with Tanzania’s interoperable mobile money system. NALA provides transparent, clear information in one place, again putting control into the hands of its users.

They’re also the first live deployment of Hover technology, a member of our first cohort, which allows for a streamlined user interface and user experience to help users achieve their financial goals. Additionally, it allows for transactions to be processed without a data connection over 2G signal which means users in lower income areas will have wider access to mobile money payments.

We have a lot of faith in the NALA team, and are excited to continue working with them to bring easy and elegant mobile money to East Africa and eventually beyond East Africa. Benjamin Fernandes, CEO of NALA, is a recent graduate of Stanford Graduate School of Business. NALA’s CTO Sam Castle is an experienced software developer who has almost completed his PhD in computer science from the University of Washington. We’re glad to welcome them to the DFS Lab community.

Learn more about the other investees of our most recent cohort on our website. Or follow us on Twitter @TheDFSLab or Facebook to learn more.