Ham Serunjogi is the Ugandan-born, Grinnell-educated, one-time Olympian who’s currently making big waves with Chipper Cash, a financial services start-up that facilitates free, instant cross-border mobile money transfers that makes the process of paying for services as easy as sending a text. Further to a recent Series C funding round that pushed the total raised by the company to $152. 2 million, Chipper Cash now ranks as one of the most successful and high-profile start-ups in Africa. Find out more about the man driving its success with these 10 things you didn’t know about Ham Serunjogi.
1. He’s an Olympian
Serunjogi was raised in Uganda. A natural-born athlete, he was already swimming competitively by the age of 6. Keen to keep his education as broad as possible, his parents encouraged him to balance his athletics with his academic studies, something he clearly had no problem doing. In 2010, he won a place at the prestigious Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, Kenya. That same year, he was awarded the title of Athlete of the Year after competing in the Youth Olympics in Singapore. It was at Aga Khan Academy that he began to develop his leadership skills – he even served as the president of the AKA Student Representative Council.
2. He studied at Grinnell College
Serunjogi’s time at Aga Khan Academy didn’t go to waste. By the time he graduated, he’d earned a name for himself as a high achiever, along with a much-coveted scholarship to study in the US. After successfully applying to Grinnell College, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in Economics. While studying at Grinnell, Serunjogi demonstrated a flair for spotting problems and developing creative ways around them. At one point, he even developed an app that allowed users to send encrypted voice recordings that would automatically wipe after they were played – a clever solution to both privacy concerns and the absence of voicemail systems in certain areas of Africa.
3. He’s great with money
The CEO of a company needs to keep a tight hold of the pursestrings. Fortunately, Serunjogi’s time at Grinnell College taught him how to balance incomings and outgoings and keep an eagle eye on the budget. From April 2014 to January 2015, he served as the Assistant Treasurer on the cabinet of the Grinnell College SGA, working closely alongside the Treasurer to allocate and manage an annual budget of over $400,000. He clearly impressed, as the following year he was promoted to the position of Treasurer, overseeing and allocating an annual budget of $420,000. During his time with the college, he also served as part of the Grinnell College Board of Trustees Finance Committee and the Grinnell College Budget Planning Committee.
4. He has an unorthodox approach to job hunting
As Serunjogi prepared to graduate from Grinnell College, he started to turn his thoughts to the future. Not for him a small-time job in a small-time firm – he wanted something bigger and better than anything his contemporaries could even dream of. Speaking to agakhanacademies.org about his ambition to work for the biggest social media giant he could find, he outlined his somewhat unusual attitude to job hunting. “I took an unorthodox approach,” he explained. “Instead of applying online, I sent an email directly to Sheryl Sandberg.” Weirdly, it worked: within just a few hours of sending the email, he received one back urging him to apply online. Pretty soon, recruiters were queuing around the block to set up interviews, with the result that he landed a plum internship at Facebook’s Global Accounts Team in New York the summer before his final year at Grinnell’s.
5. He began his career at Facebook
Serunjogi’s internship at Facebook clearly impressed the powers-that-be, as almost immediately after graduating from Grinnell’s in 2016, he was offered a position at their international headquarters in Dublin as a Client Manager for the UK. During his time in the role, he was responsible for the partner relationship with some of Facebook’s biggest UK advertisers.
6. He launched Chipper Cash in 2018
After 2 years at Facebook, Serunjogi decided the time was ripe to follow his own path. He quit the business, joined forces with fellow Grinnell graduate Maijid Moujaled and founded Chipper Cash, a venture-capital-backed Fin-Tech company that develops software that provides solutions for merchants to process online and in-store payments, in addition to developing software that enables instant, zero-fee, cross-border money transfers.
7. Inspiration for Chipper came during a road trip
It may have taken Serunjogi until 2018 to launch Chipper Cash, but the seeds had actually been sown several years prior. In 2016, he and Chipper co-founder Maijid Moujaled took a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. During the trip, they talked about the cryptocurrency space and financial technology. Speaking to akdn.org, he explained how their discussions led to the development of Chipper. “Part of our excitement about cryptocurrencies and the fintech space came from our frustration over how hard and expensive it is to send money (especially across borders) from one person to another in Africa, given the many different currencies across the continent,” he explained. “This is how the idea of Chipper was born in our minds.”
8. He knows how to make news headlines
Chipper Cash may only have been around for 3 years, but it’s already made the kind of waves that spark news coverage – not least because of how much investment it’s managed to secure. Described by TechCrunch as the most valuable startup in Africa, it raised $8.4 million in 2 seed rounds, $13.8 million in a Series A round, $30 million in a Series B round, and $100m in Series C funding. The total raised to date is a very impressive $152. 2 million.
9. He’s got the richest man in the world on speed-dial
Serunjogi doesn’t just know how to attract investors, he knows how to attract the kind of investors that guarantee others will jump on board simply by virtue of having their own name attached to such major players. The biggest investor to show their faith in Chipper so far is the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos. According to AfroTech, Chipper Cash is the first African investment for Bezos’ personal VC fund.
10. He’s not chasing unicorns
Despite the massive amount of investment Chipper Cash has received over the past few years, Serunjogi has so far declined to comment on whether the start-up’s valuation now pushes it into the exclusive billion-dollar Unicorn club. Asked by TechCrunch to clarify, he remained coy, saying “We’re not commenting on the size of our valuation publicly. The valuation of our company has not been a focus for us. It’s not a goal we’re aspiring to achieve. For us, the thing that drives us is that we have a product that is impactful to our users.”