Towards the end of our conversation, Kenneth Ntende, co-founder of 2 startups—Uganda-based payment company Dusupay and enterprise software company Monkeypesa—tells me that he loves to teach; he teaches “a bit of marketing” on a Youtube channel under the name of his second company, Monkeypesa.
He always knew he would become an entrepreneur. While studying economics at Makerere University, he had run 3 fast food eateries.
After graduating from Makere, he did a 3-month stint with the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics before jumping straight into entrepreneurship in 2014 and founding Fxtrader, a platform where people could buy local and international stocks. In order to purchase stocks, Fxtrader customers had to deposit money in their trading accounts; but making these cross-border payments proved difficult. So, Ntende started travelling to various African countries to integrate existing local payment methods to Fxtrader.
After solving this payment problem for Fxtrader, Ntende set up Dusupay to help other global businesses accept local payments. Dusupay provides infrastructure that allows global businesses to make and accept mobile payments across Africa.
Ntende founded Dusupay with his long-term friend, John Kigonya Ssambwa. “We’ve known each other since we were 14,” Ntende tells me. He confessed that their contrasting personalities are complementary for the effective running of Dusupay. “I’m more of an implementer,” he says.
“I’m the person who says ‘We need to grow from point 1 to point 2’ and gets it done. Whereas John is the innovative one. He’s the one who comes to me with ideas of how we should evolve the business.”
Ntende and Ssambwa met at Namilyango College, a Catholic school founded in 1902 by missionary priests and presently Uganda’s oldest secondary school. Over the years, the co-founders maintained a close friendship that extended to their relationship with each other’s families.
Early days, early learnings
Dusupay’s payments localisation project across countries involved a lot of paperwork and travelling for Ntende and Ssambwa. In each country, they encountered varying regulations and licensing processes and tax policies, which made the entire process cumbersome and time-consuming.
“It was our greatest challenge and biggest learning curve,” Ntende recalls. “We weren’t prepared for how much it would cost us to scale a company across the continent.”
And how could they have been?
The year was 2014: internet penetration in Africa wasn’t what it is today. So, while Ntende found some useful information online on processes, regulations, and registration, most of the localisation work required their physical presence at government offices and living out of suitcases for weeks.
From the beginning, Ntende’s vision has been to build global companies. “In my opinion, innovators must build tech good enough for the world,” he says. “That way, Africa simply becomes one of many global consumers using your solution.”
Dusupay is registered in 18 countries but active in 11. The startup had to scale down its growth in Sudan because its economy was too small, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo because its banking system is “a bit of a mess”.
Last year, Dusupay processed over $200 million in transaction volume, Ntende reveals. The company has, since 2018, begun building cultural capital on the Ugandan scene, supporting local sports, with plans to invest in the local music industry soon.
Meanwhile, Ntende, is not done using tech to solve problems he cares about, for Africa. After running Dusupay for 7 years, he decided to found another company, this time one tackling a problem under-solved in Africa.
One good startup deserves another
“We had reached a point, at Dusupay, where everything had stabilised, and we knew what to expect through the years,” Ntende explains about his decision to found Monkeypesa.
Now, ignoring Ntende’s business history and the brand-name similarity between his new company and mobile phone-based money transfer service M-Pesa, Monkeypesa is not a payment solution. It is an enterprise software platform that provides a range of software to companies to help them manage various aspects of their business, such as management, sales, marketing, and human resources.
Running 2 major startups is a daunting task he doesn’t have to take on—so, why do it? I ask.
But Ntende has a question of his own for me: “If I asked you what software you use to run your business, what would you say?”
“I don’t run any business,” I say, rather cleverly. “What’s the answer?”
“Enterprise software is a virgin landscape,” he says, “but no one is paying attention to it because everyone is focused on fintech. Of every 10 new startups in Africa, 7–8 are in fintech. But when you look at the enterprise software world, there’s almost nobody there. I want to be in a space where I can win.”
Monkeypesa has onboarded 200 companies onto its platform, as of today.
To found Monkeypesa, Ntende and Ssambwa reconfigured their partnership. While Ssambwa continues to lead product direction, strategy, and expansion at Dusupay, he however is not co-founding with Ntende at Monkeypesa. “This time, I needed a more technical co-founder,” Ntende tells me about his decision to co-found Monkeypesa with Apollo Kalibala.
A journey that didn’t begin today
It’s been many years now since Ntende started a forex business that would later morph into a thriving payment company serving 11 countries. It’s been a while, too, since his first foray into entrepreneurship, running 3 eateries out of a prestigious university campus, a venture he describes now as “not a big deal”.
I don’t agree: “Doing business while in school is a big deal,” I say. “Food will always be an important solution.”
But he replies, “Not like tech!”
My Life in Tech (MLIT) is a biweekly column that profiles innovators, leaders, and shapers in the African tech ecosystem, with the intention of putting a human face to the startups and innovations they build. A new episode drops every other Wednesday at 3 PM (WAT). If you think your story will interest MLIT readers, please fill out this form.