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Meet Jai Mahtani and Sudeep Ramnani, a Duo Leaving a Mark on Fintech

ai Ashok Mahtani and Sudeep Ramesh Ramnani

In the rapidly evolving world of business, it can be difficult for entrepreneurs to not only succeed in their ventures, but also leave an enduring impact on the industries they touch. Jai Ashok Mahtani and Sudeep Ramesh Ramnani are two such individuals, and they have made their mark through their founding of, and investing in, various financial service companies, fintech startups and mobile payment platforms, in addition to multiple other sectors. Their entrepreneurial journey, characterized by a pursuit of innovation and financial inclusion, has helped to reshape the landscape across multiple emerging markets.

Mahtani says their business success “reached a new level when we established what is now a longstanding partnership.” Together, the pair co-founded and invested in a range of B2C and B2B technology-driven businesses across fintech, media and enterprise software.

The pair learned to focus on scalable online and mobile commerce, with what Mahtani describes as a “blitzscaling Silicon Valley ethos.” Having expanded across regions and continents (including a particular passion for Africa where the pair both spent their childhood years and Latin America where Ramnani says he spent many months backpacking cross-continent on a shoestring budget as a teenager), the duo now manages a robust and diverse portfolio of businesses that they have helped to grow and develop.

Mahtani and Ramnani say they believe their entrepreneurial drive, persistence and hard work are what have brought them success. To break through a founders-and-investors’ scramble in markets that they describe as “organized chaos” is no small feat. Sudeep credits their success to “combining dedication and focus with a broad and ambitious vision based on scalable business models from the outset.”

Ramnani says that he first started to think about mobile financial services as early as 2008. As a student at the London School of Economics and Political Science, he attended a guest lecture that highlighted the unexpected mass adoption of mobile phones across emerging markets, particularly Africa, and raised the possibility of leveraging this phenomenon to drive financial inclusion.

Later in 2011 (before the term “fintech” had become mainstream terminology), Ramnani says he developed and launched unique proprietary pin voucher technology branded as “i-Cash—cash for the internet,” which the pair used to facilitate online payments for their e-commerce projects. Customers were able to purchase vouchers with unique codes at offline locations and redeem them via web, mobile and SMS for goods and services. At the time, it was near impossible to make payments with traditional methods such as Visa and Mastercard in West Africa.

A few years later, Mahtani and Ramnani were early backers of Paystack, one of Africa’s most heralded fintech success stories. The business was labeled as “Stripe for Africa” and was eventually acquired by Stripe itself for more than $200 million.

Mahtani says it was obvious to them at the time that Paystack would succeed: “Its product was simply 10 times better than anything else out there.”

Simultaneously, the pair were conceiving PalmPay, which they say is one of their most successful ventures to date. PalmPay is a licensed mobile money and financial services super app and platform. It was co-founded by Ramnani and Mahtani, as the only individual shareholders, in partnership with a joint venture established between a leading internet company and a global leader in smartphones and mobile devices. Ramnani and Mahtani co-founded this business as a greenfield project, building it from scratch and injecting entrepreneurial spirit into a corporate-backed endeavor.

PalmPay has “provided over [5 million] customers with convenient and affordable digital payments” since its launch in 2019, according to their website—and “for around 20% of them, their PalmPay app is their first formal financial account.”

The project was always centered on “creating financial inclusion as its mission from day one,” Ramnani says. A little-known fact is that the original name of PalmPay’s licensed operating entity was “Net Financial Inclusion Limited,” according to Mahtani and Ramnani, a vehicle they say they had incorporated years earlier.

Ramnani, who has started spending time in Kenya, has seen firsthand from the success of M-PESA, a prominent mobile money service in Africa, the potential of mobile money to create economic value and positive societal impact via mass financial inclusion. Because of this, he says he was able to cultivate a relationship with the duo’s soon-to-be multibillion-dollar corporate partners with his passionate enthusiasm.

Through PalmPay’s platform, Mahtani and Ramnani bridged the gap between technology and financial services. PalmPay itself has become a catalyst for economic growth and financial empowerment in West Africa. Mahtani and Ramnani, as businessmen and feeling that their contribution had been made, say they were fortunate enough to fully exit their shareholding in PalmPay with a financial return in 2021, giving them the time and resources to focus on new projects.

In addition to Paystack and PalmPay, Mahtani says the duo have incubated and/or invested in a wide range of fintechs across the world, including ONE, a regulated UK fintech startup with a global outlook; Unlokk, a Lithuanian-licensed credit institution offering instant mobile lending; and Fin (previously “Finclusion Group”), a credit-first neobank with a Pan-African presence. Furthermore, the pair have invested in and advised multiple fintech-focused venture capitalists, allowing them to create impact globally. It also gives them exposure to and knowledge of global case studies and insights.

Mahtani and Ramnani say they hope to inspire the next generation to leverage technology and innovation to deliver financial services at scale to the bottom of the pyramid. However, interestingly the pair say they are not done as “operators” yet and see the current market downturn as an opportunity.

Ramnani says he believes that “the world of fintech has come back to reality, and that’s healthy and positive for the long-term. The dissipation of hype around the sector and the repair of the distortion that overly cheap capital created, will weed out weaker business models and allow technology-driven financial services companies with sustainable business models who are focused on a long-term vision to come to the forefront again.”

This has encouraged the pair to more aggressively move forward with their plans to take their ambition to the next level. They plan to launch a mobile financial platform and super app across emerging markets.

They insist that the business will be solely funded and owned by them (and their team) and built as a long-term, sustainable financial services business that leverages technology. They also say they will not accept any of the traditional venture capital funding that they believe can sometimes misguide entrepreneurs’ decision-making and long-term thinking.

Mahtani says they have built a team of experienced and dynamic product managers, designers and engineers. That team has developed a core-banking system with omnichannel offerings, including native mobile apps and AI-driven chatbot functionality, from scratch with a multimillion-dollar investment on just research and development over the last 2 years.

The pair say they are in the process of obtaining multiple licenses from various central banks. They also plan to leverage their existing independent online and mobile commerce, entertainment and media businesses to deliver an exciting mobile internet ecosystem that will offer incremental value to potentially “tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of customers.”


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