Team work makes the dream work: How 6 entrepreneurs are building an e-commerce empire

The Fintech space is gradually but firmly gaining attention in the Ethiopian Market. When 6 innovative developers identify the e-commerce gap in Ethiopia, with combined efforts, they establish an online payment company known as YenePay. They do this even though many deemed such a venture impossible to thrive in Ethiopia. However, this team of 6 was on a mission to generate endless new possibilities through new and thought of businesses, financial services, ecommerce and digital products. Different market elements have proved they were right because various services have now started operating in Ethiopia following their example. We spoke to two of the business’ Co-founders Ermias Haileyesus and Nurhassen Mensur who took us through YenePay’s exciting experience in establishing an e-commerce business in Ethiopia.

YenePay is the first financial technology company to be engaged in providing online payment services in the Ethiopian market. Its founders, a team of 6, discovered a gap in the Ethiopian market which was comprised of two major e-commerce elements; lack of payment solutions and logistics as well as delivery services. As a team they decided to develop a payment solution because they had the technical capability and no one was addressing the problem. They developed YenePay online payment service for their own customers in their previous venture called Balesuk ( which is an ecommerce site similar to eBay but customized to the Ethiopian market. Thereafter, many businesses began to show interest in their payment solution and after they had carried out adequate research they learnt that many people in Ethiopia were in need of this financial technology solution. They also discovered that the offline merchants didn’t have the technology capacity to sell their products online. The feedback from the market prompted them to engage with different industry players including the government and banks.The great minds behind this disruptive venture are Sisay Getnet, Tinsae Mekbib, Dawit Bahre, Natan Tadesse, Ermias Haileyesus and Nurhassen Mensur.

Today YenePay is aggregating offline merchants who use their platform to transact items on e-commercial websites including, a product of YenePay. YenePay has four different financial products under the YenePay umbrella, namely;

  1. Yenepay ecommerce- this is YenePay’s core product and it is directed to ecommerce businesses
  2. YenePay mobile – this caters for mobile payment services for mobile users
  3. YenePay e-invoice – this is mainly directed to businesses and individuals that want to collect payments through issuing of invoices
  4. YenePay bulk pay – it is directed to businesses and individuals who make large amounts of disbursements to a large number of people at a time

The e-commerce ecosystem is still a new concept in Ethiopia but there is a high demand for e-commerce platforms especially in the cities. More and more people are becoming quite busy and commuting within the city to access different market places is proving to be very difficult. This is quickly becoming a common trend especially for urban lifestyle.  YenePay’s digital platform addresses the need for an alternative means that customers can use to access these services thus simplifying their shopping and billing experience. YenePay’s customer target group is made up of young adults between the ages of 18 – 45 because they are affluent with mobile technology and they also have a fast-rising need to access online markets. YenePay discovered that these young adults had previously tested different e-commerce platforms using Social Media platforms such as Facebook, Viber, WhatsApp and Telegram as a medium to sell and buy products and services. To market their business to the consumers and other stakeholders, YenePay’s team rely on public relations and engaging stakeholders regarding the function and usability of the platform. They also depend on consultative marketing to create awareness and generate sales lead. Different media outlets like TV and Radio, digital and print media have also played a key role in creating awareness and in assessing new potential users thus increasing their credibility within the market.

To finance their venture, the 6 founders began by investing from their savings and later through angel investors within their social network who helped them raise $20,000. They mentioned that currently, they are still seeking investment. Their advice to entrepreneurs looking for capital is; they should focus on what they are passionate about and what they want to accomplish with the business and they should first invest with their savings which shows commitment thus making it easier for people to invest in their business. “If the entrepreneurs can’t sacrifice what they have, it is difficult to convince others to invest in their business.” Nurhassen stated.

The YenePay team is most proud of the team’s accomplishment in successfully running an e-commerce business in Ethiopia. Most people deemed it impossible to start an online payment system in Ethiopia due to the highly regulated economic attributes in the Ethiopian market but they successfully moved past the loop holes and today, they have managed to convince different stakeholders to engage with them in realising this service within the market. “Our service is the first of its kind in the market and nobody knew that a local team would develop such a service and penetrate through the markets and that sense of ownership and belongingness proves that things can be made within the Ethiopian and more so in the African market.” Ermias stated.

What makes YenePay unique is its ability to provide customers with an end-to-end electronically integrated payment platform that they can use to collect payments remotely from the end users, track the status of their collected payments and get notified electronically the instant a payment has been cleared. This has created convenience for both the end users and the businesses. On top of that, their platform has the capacity and the goal to provide interoperability by connecting with all the financial service providers to enable the end user to make payments from their preferred bank or mobile wallet service. Moreover, they also provide a complimentary digital market place service (ecommerce site) for businesses operating in physical shops so that they can also operate digitally and broaden their market access.The idea was initiated by the founder, Sisay Getnet.

Over the years, YenePay has experienced strategic changes in its general approach when recruiting stakeholders as well as in the initial concept of the product. They had to be very selective in approaching their core financial service providers because they had very limited resources. This meant that any contacts they made needed to bring them success for the business. When they developed the product, it was based on improving them internally. In the beginning, they didn’t make assessment of the overall legal infrastructure of the country so once they engaged actively with stakeholders they had to make changes on the product features they were presenting. To navigate the legal system in the country, they signed with a local legal firm which enabled them to successfully design acceptable platform and become operational.

Every business has its fair share of challenges and for YenePay, convincing the stakeholders in the financial industry more so the banks and regulators is a major challenge. This is due to the high regulations in the fintech sector. Another major challenge is access to finance for expansion of the business to the local and international markets. The team at YenePay is currently coming up with solutions to solve the challenge of convincing the stakeholders. To help them access finance, they are working with different financial and investment advisors to help them raise the financial support they need.

The e-commerce industry in Ethiopia in general faces the challenge of navigating the legal infrastructure. The Ethiopian financial sector is highly regulated therefore companies operating in this sector will find it difficult to accommodate foreign investment. Moreover the minimum allowed foreign investment is relatively lower than what the average startup company operating in Ethiopia is typically looking for, especially during the early stages. This leaves the entrepreneur to look for local investors who understand the business and are willing to put money on the table. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many local investors with such exposure and attitude to invest in startups especially tech startups. Alternatively, the entrepreneur can opt to get a bank loan. The challenge with this however is that accessing loans from banks or MFIs requires collateral with a considerable value, which the entrepreneur at an early stage will probably not have. The biggest difficulty therefore remains the fact that the startup community or ecosystem is at its very early stage in Ethiopia which makes it difficult to find financiers with the understanding to support the community.

Their advice to entrepreneurs is that they need to find the right team with the right technical capability as well people who can meet the business objectives to take the business to the next level. They also emphasised timing to be crucial for any business to succeed in any market.  Entrepreneurs also need to be patient with themselves. In the next three years YenePay hopes to grow into a business with the ability to engage more than 5000 businesses on their platform. They hope that by the time they reach this target they will have generated 7 million USD in net value.