BitPesa: Kenya’s million dollar bitcoin startup is taking over Africa

Africa’s reputation as a gigantic incubator for experiments in cryptocurrency got another boost this week when Kenyan startup BitPesa announced that it is expanding into neighbouring Tanzania, just one year after its launch.

The mobile-friendly digital currency exchange has already raised $1.8 million from international investors and is expected to continue to spread across Africa into the melting pot of the continent’s other emerging markets.

BitPesa’s CEO Elizabeth Rossiello recently espoused her company’s emergence at the Bitcoin Africa Conference in Cape Town, highlighting how the continent’s financial services sector is ripe for integration with bitcoin-based tech.

“We’re the first company on the planet to link mobile money with bitcoin,” she said. “About 97% of the people in Kenya use mobile money. In Tanzania it’s even better. We call it mobile money 2.0 where they have three key operators using it instead of one company.

“Instead of sending bitcoin to another bank account or bitcoin wallet, you can actually send bitcoin to someone’s mobile wallet using their contact number in real-time.”

The BitPesa expansion into Tanzania means that users can now make an instant payment to any Tanzanian mobile money number from anywhere in the world at the cost of a 3% transaction fee.

Ventureburn’s Jacques Coetzee has blogged about what makes BitPesa’s expansion special:

What really makes this expansion unique is the fact that, unlike in Kenya where Safaricom’s M-Pesa is the dominant mobile wallet provider, Tanzania’s general population relies on four different operators. The BitPesa integration is therefore significant as it highlights the powerful scalability of its services in environments where the demand for necessary financial services are surpassing the supply.

Rossiello is obviously feeling confident and it seems only a matter of time before BitPesa is facilitating international transactions to countries right across Africa.

“Banking infrastructure has fallen behind and money transfer services like Western Union have filled the void,” Rossiello said. “The bitcoin technology is in the cloud, which means that everyone has access to world-class infrastructures. For us it’s a very convenient, cheap, scalable, robust piece of software.”

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