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Founded in 2009, the Zambian startup Zoona is now in full expansion. Like all venture capital-backed startups, Zoona has been through its fair share of ups and downs. Its founder Mike Quinn gives us his personal account of these decisive steps.

In February 2012, I wrote a lengthy essay called “My Mobile Transactions Story” which detailed my startup journey from stumbling upon founding entrepreneurs Brad and Brett Magrath to closing a $4m Series A venture capital investment. I shared many of the challenges we overcame to achieve that milestone. It’s now six years later and that story is due for an update.

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In the beginning there was Brad and Brett, two entrepreneurial brothers from Kitwe, Zambia, who dreamt of a cashless Africa where companies, small businesses and consumers conducted all of their business via mobile transactions. Brett was in his early thirties, married in Cape Town after quitting his cushy job at JP Morgan in London, while Brad, several years older, was married in Zambia and looking to get off the corporate ladder. They tried a few ventures that all started out promising but left them both broke and nearly broken.

The dream of a cashless Africa

One night in Lusaka, Brad was out with an American colleague from USAID talking about his vision when the spark occurred. He sent Brett the ‘now-famous’ text message that he had an idea for their next venture and that it was going to be big. A few months later, the brothers had a $200,000 grant from USAID to launch a pilot to digitise cash payments in the cotton sector. At this time, it was common to see trucks full of cash with armed guards carrying AK-47s driving down horrible rural roads. An international cotton company invested in the brothers, they applied for and received a Bank of Zambia payments’ licence, and they set up a company called Mobile Transactions.

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