Vahid Monadjem is the founder and CEO of Nomanini, a South African-based payments platform provider that enables transactions in the cash-based informal retail sector. He is a trained engineer with extensive innovation and product design experience.
Before founding Nomanini, he was McKinsey & Company’s Global fellow for emerging market product development. He has worked in Africa, South East Asia, North America and Europe within a wide range of industries, including, technical services, design, consumer goods, state-owned utilities, petrochemicals and telecommunications. Based in Cape Town, Vahid regularly travels around the world meeting partners and scoping out new opportunities to introduce Nomanini’s payments platform to enterprises servicing cash-based informal markets.
In this e-mail interview with FT Africa, Vahid sheds light on the meaning of Nomanini and the company’s value propositions.
FT AFRICA: What is the meaning of Nomanini and does it relate to payment services? Does M-Pesa influence you in anyway in the choice of your name?
VAHID MONADJEM: Nomanini means “anytime” in siSwati. It alludes to the convenience and ubiquity of technology that all consumers should enjoy. The choice of name was not influenced by M-Pesa in any way.
FT AFRICA: The informal sector in South Africa is not that huge compared to other countries in the sub-Saharan Africa. What informed your choice of providing payment services to this segment of the market?
VAHID MONADJEM: Informal retail in South Africa may not be as large as in the rest of the continent, but it remains significant. Our ambition was always to set our focus wider than just South Africa. In Africa and the emerging South, informal retail is a huge market; after agriculture, it is the largest sector, accounting for large numbers of people who are relatively under-served.
However, we have to acknowledge that there is a reason that these markets are under-served. They represent relatively low-income consumers (compared to global standards) and are not the first destinations for multi-nationals. Businesses that are able to work in these markets, with these margins need to be the most lean and efficient in the world. This is why we believe that businesses that succeed in Africa will present models that can be competitive globally.
FT AFRICA: What are your main value propositions? What are the key elements that separate you from the traditional payment firms?
VAHID MONADJEM: The payments ecosystem has been evolving and has become more sophisticated with companies starting to specialise within niches. We focus on a particular niche within a niche. Our market niche is transactions at informal points of sales such as retail merchants and informal retail banking agents, and within that niche, we focus on the parts of the transactions that happen between people. Between consumer and merchant/agent, and between the agent/merchant and the field representative serving them. Our value proposition is making those transactions happen faster, more reliably and more often.
FT AFRICA: What are your Pan-African expansion strategies or do you want to remain a South African company servicing only South Africa and the region?
VAHID MONADJEM: Our main markets are outside of South Africa. We have partners in Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia to name a few. So we’re already Pan-African and absolutely want to grow more.
FT AFRICA: Your growth has been phenomenal in recent times. What are the variables responsible for the growth?
VAHID MONADJEM: As a business-to-business company, our partners are essential to our growth. They are key to scaling in markets where we do not have as much local context. What we look for in partners is integrity, capability and a close fit of culture and values. Everything else is secondary to finding partners with these qualities and building a mutually beneficial partnership with them.