Valuing the independent mobile money provider at $1.7 billion, the landmark Series A round was led by Sequoia Heritage, Founders Fund, Stripe and Ribbit.
While similar in functionality to PayPal, the Wave App does not require that customers have a bank account and instead runs a network of 'agents' (small local businesses) who use their on-hand cash to service Wave users.
On the announcement, CEO and founder Drew Durbin commented: “From day one, we’ve been relentlessly focused on building mobile money that's easy-to-use and radically affordable. We've built something people love in Senegal, but that's only the beginning -- our mission is to bring a modern financial network to everyone in Africa.”
Despite being founded in just 2018, Wave is already the largest mobile money player in Senegal, and is showing strong growth in Côte d’Ivoire.
Africa's newest unicorn sets itself apart from other telecom-led providers in two key ways. First, all deposits and withdrawals at Wave agents are free. Wave users pay only 1% to send money -- about 70% less than telecom-led mobile money.
Second, users without a smartphone, Wave provides a free QR-card that allows anyone to transact with an agent.
Speaking with TechCrunch, Durbin argued that this approach is 70% cheaper than telecom-led mobile money, and, in contrast to slow incumbents, when there is a transfer problem refunds are made instantly.
Durbin also explained that Wave’s technology also differs from telecom-led mobile money: "By building its own infrastructure full-stack — agent network, agent and consumer applications, QR cards, business collections, and disbursements — Wave has been able to fuel its growth to several million monthly active users and billions of dollars in annual volume."
The company aims to expand into new African markets such as Uganda and Mali on the back of the fundraise, deepen its existing presence, and enhance digital offerings and operations.
Former Y-Combinator CEO and Partech Africa investor Sam Altman added: "Wave is solving the root problem with financial services in Africa by making it easy and affordable for anyone to save and send money. They’ve built a product that millions of users love, and the engagement is on par with the top consumer tech companies in the world."
“Since 2018 we've supported Wave because we were convinced mobile money is still an unsolved problem in Africa. Wave has great product design, stellar execution and a strong financial trajectory. We are proud to see it become the first unicorn from Senegal. This funding is a game changer in helping Wave bring a better mobile money service across Africa,” said Tidjane Deme, Partech general partner and Africa Fund co-lead.