While many African fintechs struggle to scale, Blaaiz, a cross-border payment and remittance platform, is successfully capitalizing on a promising niche. Within five months of operation, the early-stage startup secured $1.5 million in funding to address the unique opportunities presented by intra-continental remittances. “We are building an ecosystem that is not just about receiving money, but also accessing the opportunities that this money can serve Africans,” says Ifelade Ayodele, CEO and Founder of Blaaiz.

At its core, Blaaiz facilitates remittances, manages foreign accounts, and enables cross-border payments. Their goal is to do more than just facilitate transactions. They aim to catalyze profound change, nurture prosperity, and leave an indelible mark on homeland communities. Blaaiz leverages technology to provide real-time transactions, competitive rates, and comprehensive tracking, ensuring customers receive the best possible service. Currently launching in Canada, Blaaiz is on a mission to transform lives across emerging markets by leveraging innovative remittance and payment solutions.

Ayodele’s journey with Blaaiz began quite literally with a journey. Before founding Blaaiz, Ayodele worked as a leader in the management consulting arena at Accenture UK. He also got to work in other industries and companies, which allowed him to travel extensively. During his trips, he noticed a consistent problem. “Every time I traveled, both within and outside Africa, I realized there were few trusted providers for moving money across African currencies or from stronger currencies to African ones,” he recalls. The exchange rates were often unfair, not reflecting the true market value. This frustration would be the first of three key motivations that led Ayodele to build Blaaiz.

Ifelade Ayodele, CEO of Blaaiz

Historically, remittances have been a critical financial lifeline for millions of families worldwide. Beyond individuals, these transfers often represent a significant portion of the recipient country’s GDP, cushioning economies against external shocks and contributing to economic resilience. As a student, Ayodele himself, benefited from remittances, often receiving small amounts of money from family members abroad. “Then, $10 was nothing to them. But it meant a lot to me due to the exchange rate,” he recalls. “I bought my first laptop with money sent by a cousin.” Ayodele realized how these transfers, even small amounts, could significantly impact lives. However, the challenge of not owning foreign accounts lurked in the background. Many families did not have access to the best solutions.

Hence, Ayodele’s vision for Blaaiz expanded beyond personal convenience. “We wanted to build something that would empower future generations to achieve social mobility through access to better financial tools,” he says. His third motivation was to provide businesses with solutions that enable them to receive USD payments without the need for a traditional bank account. This would allow businesses to access better exchange rates and manage their finances more effectively.

70% of African migration occurs within Africa itself. The number of intra-African migrants residing within the continent surpassed 20.7 million, eclipsing the combined total of 15 million migrants across the US, UK, Canada, and Europe—the top destinations for Africans leaving the continent. This trend mirrors remittance flows. Remittances from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Senegal alone contribute 62% of total remittances to sub-Saharan Africa.

More precisely, within Africa, remittances are most significant in specific regions. Intra-West Africa, for example, sees high remittance flows, particularly between Nigeria and countries like Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire. In Southern Africa, South Africa and Zimbabwe experience substantial remittance activity. East Africa also has significant remittance corridors, especially between Uganda and Kenya. In the north, Ethiopia and Sudan see large volumes of remittances. “While there are remittance corridors between regions, such as East to West or North to South, we’ve observed that remittances are more prevalent within these regions themselves,” Ayodele notes.

Yet, navigating intra-African trade and finance can be complex. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), this fragmentation leads to an estimated loss of around $34 billion annually. This is why in 2018, the African Union created the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to promote regulatory harmonization and facilitate easier cross-border transactions by reducing tariffs and addressing non-tariff barriers.

Similarly, intra-African remittances are fraught with challenges. According to the World Bank, the average cost of sending $200 within Africa is about 8.9%, significantly higher than the global average of 6.8%. Each African nation has its own set of banking regulations, currency controls, and financial policies, creating a complex environment for intra-African remittances. However, nothing truly prepared Ayodele and his team for what they would encounter building a solution for intra-African remittances. “I expected it to be tough. But it was more unpredictable than expected,” he says. “It’s not like a regular job where you get a paycheck regardless of sales.”

The biggest hurdle they encountered was obtaining licenses, a common challenge in most developing markets. “These things can take months,” says Ayodele. “You believe you’ve submitted a solid application, having covered all the online requirements. However, it gets sent back because it’s missing a requirement that wasn’t even listed online.” About three weeks ago, Blaaiz finally received its principal license for International Money Transfer Operators (IMTO) from the Central Bank,”You could spend six months on a process, only to hit a roadblock and have to start over from scratch. Essentially, you’ve wasted two to three months. It’s frustrating. It’s annoying and sometimes it makes you doubt yourself and start to ask unnecessary questions,” Ayodele admits.

Overcoming these challenges has built resilience within the team. “I had to get comfortable asking questions unashamedly, ensuring I knew what I was optimizing for at each moment to avoid wasting time,” he adds. This approach has also led Blaaiz to be intentional about building a diverse team. While Ayodele acknowledges that it’s not feasible to have representatives from each of the 54 African countries, they have made efforts to debunk the perception that they lack local knowledge. This strategy has helped them navigate various markets effectively. “We understand that different countries have different requirements, and we are learning and fulfilling them as we go. In cases where the process takes too long or seems unlikely to succeed soon, we partner with existing local players and agree on mutually beneficial commercial terms,” Ayodele explains.

Blaaiz is big on partnering with Telcos. Moving money in Africa has become simpler and easier with mobile money. Across several African countries, there is evidence of this. In Ghana, there’s MoMo; in Côte d’Ivoire, MoMo; and in Kenya, it’s M-Pesa. The telcos are the ones that have driven this market. “We have to collaborate with them,” Ayodele says. “They have the telecom infrastructure, and we excel in moving money. By leveraging our platforms, we can meet the needs of the people,” For markets like Nigeria, where mobile money barely exists, bank accounts are the way to go. “We try to understand the local preferences. We want to be like a tree with branches, adapting our approach to each market’s infrastructure,” he says. However, “we’re open to changes. For example, if mobile money becomes more widely desired in Nigeria, we will adapt to offer that option too,” Ayodele notes.

Blaaiz isn’t just focused on becoming a dominant player in the market; it aims to be a leader by building critical infrastructure, particularly for serving the last mile. “We recognize that more players will likely enter this market. Instead of viewing them as competition, we want to build infrastructure so that when other players come in, we would have already done the groundwork for them,” Ayodele notes. Newcomers can integrate into Blaaiz’s established systems, allowing them to concentrate on customer acquisition while Blaaiz provides essential behind-the-scenes support. “Their success at that point would be our success. We can operate from the infrastructure side for any new entrants into the field, effectively enabling Blaaiz 2.0,” Ayodele says.

Beyond telcos, Blaaiz is building a network of young users, starting with a hackathon partnership at the University of Lagos (Unilag) later this month. Typically, Family and friends are a common source of financial aid for students. With Blaaiz, these students can easily receive funding into a USD wallet via payment links or Interac in Canada. “If a student at Unilag needs $20 from an aunt in Canada, they can request it through the app. The aunt gets notified, approves the transaction, and the money goes straight to the student’s account. The student can then choose to keep the funds in CAD or convert them to Naira. The same process applies to the USD wallet,” Ayodele explains. “It’s about promoting intra-generational mobility,” he adds.

Blaaiz’s vision helped it secure funding in just five months, mainly from individuals who shared in its ambitions. “It wasn’t just about numbers or short-term gains. Investors saw that we weren’t just another business focused on profit. We stand on principles leading to long-term sustainability,” Ayodele notes. He describes his team as big thinkers from diverse backgrounds—banking, venture capital, and various industries across Africa, Europe, London, and Asia. “It’s this combination of experiences that makes us strong. Do we have the right drive, competency, and capabilities? The answer is yes, as shown by our track record,” he says.

Intra-African remittances offer unique advantages. According to the World Bank, remittances to sub-Saharan Africa are expected to increase by 2.5% in 2024, reaching around $50 billion. Blaaiz’s market entry is equally timely, as the AfCFTA is gaining traction across Africa. In October, Blaaiz is headlining a conference alongside businesses like Visa to discuss the role of digital technology in Africa’s future in an event that will gather ICT leaders and ministers from across Africa. The last edition had 30 ICT ministers in attendance. “That’s a conversation I am looking forward to,” says Ayodele. “One of our taglines is facilitating cash to solve problems that governments want to address and markets can’t. We facilitate cash transfers while giving our customers the ecosystem to see the possibilities that cash can do for them. We are your remittance partner next door.”

Elsewhere on Ventures

Triangle arrow