This story is from January 29, 2022

How an entrepreneur with Delhi roots is making digital payments easier in Africa

Rahul Jain
A digital payments gateway based in Cape Town, South Africa, is supporting online commerce and making digital payment acceptance easier and more accessible across the African continent. Not a venture one would expect an Indian immigrant to be leading. But Peach Payments, which is now looking at expanding its footprint beyond Africa, started with a meeting between Rahul Jain, who is from a business family in Delhi and went to St. Columba’s School, and his German friend Andreas Demleitner. “In 2009, I did a summer internship between the first and second year of my MBA at a boutique venture capital fund in Pretoria, South Africa. During that time, I met many people, including my co-founder Demleitner. After my MBA, we stayed in touch and while I was in Boston in November 2011, he called me to ask if I wanted to join him to start a digital payments business in Africa,” Jain recollects. And that was the start of the journey. He was thinking about the next steps for himself and wanted to do something entrepreneurial and decided to move to South Africa to start Peach Payments.
Entrepreneurship, of course, runs in his blood. “I grew up in a business family in Delhi and ours is the family that made watches in India under the Jayco brand. On my mother’s side, my grandfather pioneered ceramics in India - so business was kind of ingrained in me from a very early age. I always knew I wanted to do something of my own,” Jain told TIMESOFINDIA. He went to IESE Business School in Barcelona for an MBA degree after graduating from R. V. College of Engineering in Bengaluru. An exchange programme at Sloan School of Management at MIT took him to Boston where he stayed on with a strategy consulting job advising large retailers and airlines about e-commerce, marketing and ancillary revenue streams. But nothing quite matched up to the excitement of his own start-up. “I moved to South Africa solely to start Peach Payments. We were accepted into a start-up incubator called Umbono that Google was running in Cape Town and were one of the nine start-ups in that programme. It was a great opportunity and one that was hard to pass on,” says Jain. He had already adapted himself to living abroad, away from home, having spent two years in Barcelona and two more in Boston and hence moving to Cape Town was a challenge he was willing to take on.
Taking the risk has proved worthwhile for Jain, though to start with, the challenge of moving to a new city and country; making new friends, and starting a new life was formidable. Today Peach Payments - which provides online payments solutions to any enterprise that is selling a product or service through a digital channel including websites, apps, phone, email and SMS - has built a solid foundation with the business scaling across Africa. “We are currently active in South Africa, Kenya and Mauritius and will be expanding to two more countries in Africa by the end of this year. We are going to build Africa’s leading payments platform,” Jain says. The pandemic has seen a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour towards digital commerce and has been hugely beneficial to the business. “People who previously had inhibitions about buying online were suddenly forced to do so during various lockdowns. This inspired them to see the benefits of digital commerce and the convenience this brings to their lives. This massive shift in consumer confidence and comfort with digital commerce is a game changer in many ways. It potentially means the death of certain industries and segments whereas it represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many start-ups,” Jain says. Businesses that previously were only considering e-commerce are suddenly going online in a matter of days. And no surprise that Peach Payments has seen record numbers of new accounts in 2020. “Across market segments – from retail, digital learning, fitness, and even traditional financial services – we’ve onboarded new clients in almost every vertical in the past two years. Transaction volumes have grown 4.5x since the start of the pandemic.”
There have been several challenges that Jain has faced both in trying to start a new business in a new country as well as on the personal front. “I had no networks here and no one knew us. It took us a year to convince the first bank in South Africa to work with us. The funding landscape was also very different. It was incredibly hard to raise any venture capital during the first few years. Africa was not a geography where VCs were investing,” he remembers. But things have started changing in the past two years, he adds. “Today you are seeing unicorns emerge in Africa and start-ups regularly raising funding rounds of above $100 million. Back in 2014-15 it was incredibly hard to raise even $1m in funding. So, we were forced to bootstrap the business to a large extent.”
On the personal front, the main challenge has been the distance between home, in India, and Cape Town. “I am on the other end of the world and a trip to India takes 16-17 hours at a minimum. All my family and friends are in India. My wife is from Nepal and her family is also based on the subcontinent. For us the distance is something we feel all the time,” says Jain. The large Indian diaspora spread across Africa is, however, a positive factor that has helped him travel and integrate with ease across various countries in the continent. “Indians are well respected across the continent due to the efforts of our diaspora. In countries such as Kenya you see the Indian diaspora playing a major role in the local economy and welfare,” he says.
Looking at the road ahead, Jain firmly believes that there is a big opportunity for Indian businesses, including Indian tech start-ups, to take their products and services to Africa. “We’re seeing an increasing number of businesses starting to speak to us to help them with payments as they launch in Africa. One of my goals is to make it easier for Indian companies to sell in Africa. At Peach we can process and collect payments for them and repatriate their funds to India making it much easier for them to grow in Africa,” he says.
Get the app