While the internet has given people globally the opportunity to consume content and use services like Netflix, Facebook, Spotify, and PlayStation Plus, we can't mistake the presence of internet connectivity for access.
For many Africans paying for an Apple Music subscription isn't as simple as entering their debit card’s 16-digit number, expiration date, and security code.
As many of these foreign-based services reject locally issued credit and debit cards. And while mobile money has revolutionized money transfer and payments across the African continent, most international companies don't offer the option to pay via mobile money.
FYATU, the virtual card issuing platform, however is giving Africans the ability to transact with the rest of the world. Not only for the banked but also the unbanked by linking mobile money with traditional card payment methods.
With FYATU, users can create virtual cards, withdraw money from Paypal & Perfect Money, conduct Peer-to-Peer transfers, and more.
I spoke with Félix Maroy, founder of MerciPro, the software development company behind FYATU, about building the platform, the challenges he faced, and his thoughts on tech in the DRC.
Meet Félix Maroy
I'm Félix Maroy, and I am a full-stack developer and entrepreneur. My tech journey started in 2008 when I began teaching myself how to code using OpenClassrooms.com, formerly SiteDuZero.com, Udemy, and Free CodeCamp. By 2011 I was building solutions for companies. My first major project was creating a website for our National Park so tourists visiting Congo could buy their tickets online.
Then, I launched my software development company MerciPro, which specializes in FinTech and building APIs. Because of our work, MerciPro gained some popularity, and my name became famous in the country. In 2018, I was recognized as one of 50 Young Congolese Influencers by Kivuzik Magazine and again in 2020.
Currently, I'm building FYATU, which is a virtual card issuing platform.
What is FYATU, and what value does it provide?
FYATU is a fintech solution, and we offer the following services:
Create virtual cards:
With FYATU, users can create a virtual card without a bank account and use it for online shopping or subscriptions. Users can fund their FYATU wallet in their local currency using a bank-issued card or mobile money.
FYATU allows interoperability between online wallets and mobile money accounts. Users can move money from one wallet to another or from one mobile money account to another.
Withdraw from Paypal & Perfect Money:
FYATU helps Africans with online businesses withdraw their money from PayPal & Perfect Money. As you know, you can't withdraw money from PayPal in Africa. You can spend the money shopping online or paying for other services but if you want to use the money locally, you can't withdraw. With FYATU, you can transfer money from PayPal and Perfect Money to your FYATU wallet and vice-versa.
FYATU offers free P2P transferring, which allows users to send and receive money.
World Wide Mobile Recharge (TOPUP):
With FYATU, users can top up their phone number with calling credit or a data bundle from over 4000 mobile operators in 170+ countries around the world with their FYATU balance.
Share the journey to building FYATU?
My initial plan was to build a payment gateway and sell it online through CodeCanyon or Codester. While there was a need for a payment gateway in the market, I felt the project was too big to do it myself. In January 2020, I started building the app, and in three months, it was done. I submitted it for review on CodeCanyon, but it was rejected five times.
Disappointed but unwilling to give up, I decided to take another angle and began looking for tech companies in Burundi willing to buy the product and develop it for their profit. I contacted some developers in Burundi who had a payment gateway and presented the solution, but things didn't work out. I then reached out to four microfinance companies to adopt the project, but none were interested.
Unwilling to throw in the towel after seven months of development, I decided to take on the project myself. But seeing that no one was interested in purchasing the app, I knew I had to spend some additional time diagnosing the real problem.
While in discovery, I ran into a payment issue. When I tried to host my mobile app on the Google Play Store, they rejected my local Visa card because I didn't have a valid billing address connected to my debit card.
Encountering this issue, I realized that building a payment gateway didn't solve the real problem, which was that my local Visa card had limits on what I could do online. That's when I got the idea to create a virtual credit card issuing platform similar to iCard, Privacy, and AstroPay.
It took another three months to develop the current version of FYATU, and in October 2020, I launched. Today, the platform has grown organically to 9,000+ users, without any ads or big companies behind the product.
Top 5 countries:
What were the challenges you faced building FYATU?
When I was ready to launch, I went to the National Bank to get a license to legally operate as a wallet, but they rejected my application. FYATU was registered as a SARLU (LLC), and my business structure had to be an SA (corporation) to get licensed.
Right now, I'm operating as a merchant under my partner's license, who is PCI DSS compliant. But as a merchant, there are limits to what I can do. I can't perform remittances — transferring money across countries, and I can only do peer-to-peer transfers for users inside the app.
Access to mobile network providers APIs:
I tried to get access to the APIs of the mobile network operators, but to no avail, as many operators are unwilling to give access to their infrastructure to new startups. To make FYATU possible without integrating with the mobile network providers, I used Hover's SDK for USSD automation on Android devices, and for the web, I used an old-school technique.
As a FinTech solution, security is very important. We constantly scan, monitor, and verify that the app is compliant with the most recent security rules and that it's using the most powerful tools to ensure the platform's security. We also test it with injections and do reverse engineering to ensure hackers can't compromise the application easily.
Operationally, how it works is that transactions are automated when coming in, but every transaction out must be settled manually. Users can make a deposit automatically, but we must validate the transaction if they want to withdraw money. This is similar to how banks operate where the door is open for money to enter, but the door is closed when money tries to leave.
We made some small technical mistakes that could have been a major issue if we had a lot more transaction volume. To minimize mistakes/ bugs, we've created a testing, staging, and production environments
Built In Africa? What does that mean to you?
Built In Africa means products made by Africans, for the use and profit of Africans, to promote the values of Africa, and to take the continent to another level.
When I think about Built In Africa, I also include every product, concept, and solution where Africa is the source. To me, today's smartphones are Built In Africa. While they may be assembled in China or America, it's Built In Africa because cobalt is used in almost every electronic device, and more than 60% of the world's supply is mined in the DRC.
Thoughts on tech in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
Congolese people are talented in so many domains. However, the state of tech in the DRC isn’t as progressive as it could be. Not because we cannot create companies and be entrepreneurs. Instead, the politics in our country makes it difficult to thrive. They doesn't allow talented young people to show what they can offer or encourage us to build the future.
They prefer to hire someone from outside Congo to build their solutions. Sadly, if people want to show their talents, they have to leave. I'm an example; to build FYATU, I had to leave the country. But despite the challenges, I know Congolese people can change the world if only we had a place to show our talent.
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