Q & A With Ugandan Luke Kyohere, The Changing Face Of Mobile Money Payments

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Written by Dana Sanchez

This is the second of a two-part series. You can read Part 1 about Beyonic and its partnership with a U.S. company at AFKInsider.

Ugandan tech entrepreneur Luke Kyohere, 32, is the CEO and co-founder of Beyonic, a mobile money aggregator that aims to eliminate the use of cash in emerging markets by enabling companies to manage mobile money payments.

Thanks to a partnership announced today with U.S. company Mobile Accord — parent of market research firm, GeoPoll — Beyonic is expanding its unifying mobile payment platform to 27 African countries.

The mobile money aggregator allows businesses to make mobile payments to multiple carriers through a single online system.

The platform is used in Uganda and Kenya, where it is integrated with MTN, Airtel and Safaricom.

The partnership will make Beyonic the largest mobile money aggregator in Africa, according to Mobile Accord.

Kyohere has focused on building solutions for emerging markets. He spent a lot of his career designing technology for nonprofits and microfinance industries, working extensively in the international development sector.

Before leading Beyonic, Kyohere led SaaS (software as a service) and mobile technology expansion efforts in Africa and South America for Grameen Foundation, one of the world’s leading technology non­profits. Kyohere also co-founded BeMobile, a mobile value-added services company that he sold in 2009.

Earning a degree in electrical engineering from Makerere University in Uganda, Kyohere worked for several years in software and Internet companies in New York and Uganda. He became senior software developer for a Danish company that handled online and microcredit services. More recently, he worked in Uganda for mobile online financial companies. That’s where he got the idea for Beyonic, according to SiliconHillsNews.

Kyohere met Beyonic co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Dan Kleinbaum at the McCombs School of Business in Austin where Kyohere earned a master’s degree in technology commercialization.

Luke Kyohere and Dan Kleinbaum
Luke Kyohere, CEO and co-founder of Beyonic, right, with Beyonic COO Dan Kleinbaum. Photo provided by Mobile Accord.

Beyonic operated out of Austin Technology Incubator and racked up awards including second place in the Global Venture Labs competition; first place in the SXSW Longhorn Startup Showcase Pitch Contest and first place in the IBM Global Entrepreneur Pitch Competition, according to SiliconHills.

Kyohere’s work with Grameen, and later with BeMobile, gave him a glimpse of the potential in using mobile platforms for payment, according to a report in Forbes. He just wasn’t sure how to fine-tune his approach. For a class project, he and Kleinbaum did research on who would like to use a mobile money aggregator. “We asked anyone who would listen, is this useful to you?” Kleinbaum told Forbes.

A lot of people were interested, it turns out — people who made lots of payments, especially in rural areas in developing countries. Usually payments are a huge headache, time consuming and unreliable, Forbes reported. They’re also expensive.

For every dollar you move from cash to electronic payment, you increase efficiency by 20 percent, Kleinbaum said. Plus, “with electronic payments, they’re easy to track.”

Kyohere spoke to AFKInsider about Beyonic, and how it fits in to the African mobile payments landscape. Some of the questions below are attributed to Roxana Elliott, director of communications for Mobile Accord.

1) AFKInsider: Beyonic is integrated with M-Pesa. How is it different from M-Pesa? 

Luke Kyohere: Beyonic is a mobile money aggregator, rather than a mobile money system itself. That means Beyonic is connected with multiple mobile money services such as M-Pesa, and Beyonic clients can log on to our platform and send money through M-Pesa without being directly connected to M-Pesa themselves.

M-Pesa is great at peer-to-peer and merchant payments. Beyonic adds in a missing piece by making it easy for any business to make a payment to a large number of mobile money customers at once.

2) AFKInsiderHow will Beyonic compete with other mobile money services that were there first? 

Luke Kyohere: Beyonic’s strength is in our relationships and connectivity with other mobile money services. We aren’t competing with established mobile money networks, instead we are connecting with them in a way which makes it easier for businesses to make payments across multiple mobile money services in more than one country.

Right now, businesses would need to connect themselves to each mobile money service to do this.

3) AFKInsider: How can Beyonic help an Ethiopian who lives and works in Minneapolis and sends money home to Ethiopia? 

Luke Kyohere: Beyonic’s focus is on business-to-business transactions, because businesses and NGOs run into the most difficulty when trying to send money to multiple mobile carriers. While remittances through mobile money do save individuals money over traditional banking transfers, Beyonic’s system is currently focused on enabling businesses to make payments over mobile money.

4) AFKInsider: How can Beyonic help a company based in Cape Town that has customers in Mozambique and suppliers in Miami? 

Luke Kyohere: A more relevant example would be, how could it help a company based in Uganda with employees in Kenya and vendors in Tanzania? That company would be able to login to Beyonic’s online platform and make, track, and manage payments to both their employees’ individual mobile money accounts, and to the mobile money accounts of various vendors. Mobile money systems vary by country, and by carrier within each country.  Without a mobile money aggregator such as Beyonic, the Ugandan-based company would have to integrate themselves with every mobile money system their employees and vendors use, which is time-consuming and difficult.

5) AFKInsider: Why does this partnership make sense for Mobile Accord and GeoPoll? 

Roxana Elliott: Mobile Accord is a mobile platform company with an expertise in building scalable mobile solutions in emerging markets. Mobile money is a growing industry, especially in Africa, and we see great potential for the type of platform Beyonic has built. We look forward to working with them to expand their presence over the coming years.

6) AFKInsider: Who is Beyonic competing with? 

Luke Kyohere: Since Beyonic is a mobile money aggregator, we are looking to bring mobile money services on board with our platform rather than competing with them. Our system is beneficial for the mobile money services as well, since Beyonic opens up mobile money for business expenses.

Other aggregators may compete with Beyonic in one country, but none has the reach that Beyonic and Mobile Accord are bringing across leading mobile carriers in key African markets.

7) AFKInsider: What is Mobile Accord’s/GeoPoll’s role in the partnership?

Roxana Elliott: Mobile Accord and Beyonic are entering a strategic partnership in which Mobile Accord will leverage their existing connections with mobile network operators to enable Beyonic to rapidly expand into additional countries. Mobile Accord also brings a strong knowledge of scaling mobile solutions, having already expanded their mobile survey platform GeoPoll to over 20 countries in Africa and Asia.

8) AFKInsider: How much will the service cost customers?

Luke Kyohere: In general, businesses save $10 for every $1 spent by using Beyonic’s services vs. using cash. Exact costs will depend on specific per-network contracts, but cost parity with other payment methods is important to us – the aim is to have a lifetime cost that is less than cash, and about the same as other modes of enterprise payments.