(October 14, 2022) If Mastercard’s New Payment Index 2022 is to be believed, 95 percent of consumers in South Africa used at least one emerging digital payment method in the last year and 67 percent of consumers have purchased from an online marketplace. The purpose with which India-born Rahul Jain set up Peach Payments in South Africa in 2013 has now come to fruition, as a decade later, he is happy to be making digital payments easier in the country. “With Peach, we believe that we are building a potential 100-year business. Digital commerce is the future and we’re building the infrastructure on which this future is being built. As opportunities are seized by entrepreneurs across Africa to build digital businesses, we want to be the preferred payment platform to enable their success,” Rahul tells Global Indian.
When Rahul moved to Cape Town from Boston, his focus was South Africa, but Peach Payments has now expanded to Kenya and Mauritius, as “digital commerce has helped democratise many industries.” For someone who is a regular at Youth Pravasi Bhartiya Divas, Africa FinTech Festival, ECOM Africa, and Seamless Africa, Rahul has enabled many businesses to scale, “often from a rough idea into incredible success stories.” Peach Payments was just an idea in 2011 which took a few years to translate into reality. However, it is currently thriving, and how! “We’ve seen apps being built to make it easier for people to buy insurance. New ways of providing credit such as Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) have helped democratise access to credit. Most of these new insurtechs and BNPL players have used Peach to build their businesses. We see our role as enablers and catalysts in helping people solve problems,” adds the entrepreneur.
An internship that changed it all
Born and raised in a business family in Delhi, entrepreneurship runs in his blood. While his paternal family loved carving out watches in India under the Jayco brand, his maternal grandfather pioneered ceramics in India. As a kid, he heard the dinner table conversations and somehow it kind of got “ingrained” in him at a young age. “I always knew I wanted to do something of my own,” he says. This passion led him to pursue an MBA degree from IESE Business School in Barcelona, after completing his degree in engineering from Visvesvaraya Technological University. But little did he know that a summer internship at a boutique venture capital fund in Pretoria, South Africa would introduce him to his German friend, Andreas Demleitner, with whom he would someday launch his own startup.
The two stayed in touch, but life had other plans at that time. Always the first to grab an opportunity, Jain moved to Boston as part of an exchange program at Sloan School of Management at MIT and stayed at the state capital for two years where he worked with a strategy consulting job advising large retailers and airlines about e-commerce and marketing. It was in November 2011 that Rahul got a call from Andreas asking him to join hands in “starting a digital payments business in Africa.”
Taking the risk
It was the perfect chance to dip his toes in entrepreneurship, and that’s when he decided to move to South Africa to start Peach Payments. “We were also accepted into a startup incubator called Umbono that Google was running in Cape Town. We were one of the nine startups in that program. It was a great opportunity and one that was hard to pass up,” explains the entrepreneur. They joined forces with the ambitious goal of revolutionising the online payment space in South Africa. For someone who had lived in Barcelona and Boston, Jain was willing to take the challenge of moving to Cape Town.
Though he feels that he is on the other end of the world and “a trip to India takes 16-17 hours at a minimum,” he is sailing through. “All my family and friends are in India. My wife is from Nepal and her family is also based in the subcontinent. So for us, the distance is something we feel all the time,” reveals the entrepreneur. Moving to a new city and starting a new life with new friends was formidable on a personal front.
Even professionally, it was a challenging task. While Jain’s dream of becoming an entrepreneur was translating into a reality, raising money was an initial hurdle. After one of the seed-funding rounds collapsed at the last moment, they had their backs against the wall. So much so that Jain and his business partner were paying salaries through their savings. “We have faced several challenges. Some of them relate to being a foreigner in a new country and trying to start a new business. I had no networks here and no one knew us,” reveals Jain. However, the entrepreneur remained focused on growing sales and revenues, and it was the small victories that led them to solve the cash crunch.
The ’gamechanging’ pandemic
In the last decade, Peach Payments has rapidly expanded its suite of tools to help online businesses scale. The risk of moving continents for the startup paid off as it provides online payment solutions to any enterprise selling a product through websites, apps, email, and SMS. Currently active in South Africa, Kenya, and Mauritius, Peach Payments “will be expanding to two more countries by the end of the year.” The pandemic led to a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour towards digital commerce, which Jain calls a “gamechanger”. People were suddenly forced to buy online during the lockdown, and it inspired them to see the benefits of digital commerce and the convenience it brought with itself.
“The business mindset also changed at an incredible pace. Businesses that previously were only considering e-commerce are suddenly going online in a matter of days. At Peach Payments, we saw record numbers of new accounts in 2020. Across market segments – from retail, digital learning, fitness, and even traditional financial services – we’ve onboarded new clients in almost every vertical in the past two years,” explains Rahul, who reveals that the transaction volumes grew 4.5 times since the start of the pandemic.
When Jain started Peach Payments, it took him a year to convince the first bank in South Africa to work with them. But the funding landscape is changing now. “It was incredibly hard to raise any venture capital during the first few years. Africa was not where venture capitalists were investing. This has only really changed in the past two years now. Today, you are seeing unicorns emerge in Africa and startups regularly raising funding rounds of more than $100 million. Back in 2014-15, it was incredibly hard to raise even $100k in funding. So, we were forced to bootstrap the business to a large extent.”
Indian diaspora’s help
It was the Indian diaspora largely that helped him travel and integrate with ease across various countries in Africa. He says that Indians are well-respected across the subcontinent, and the diaspora in Kenya especially plays a major role in the local economy and welfare. Jain, who sees a big opportunity in Indian companies, is of the firm belief that such startups should look to expand in Africa. And he has a plan too. “One of my goals is to make it easier for Indian companies to sell in Africa. At Peach, we can process and collect payments for them and repatriate their funds to India making it much easier for them to grow in Africa. I genuinely believe in this and trying to play a role in helping build on this from a digital commerce perspective. I have also recently helped kick off the JITO initiative in South Africa,” adds the entrepreneur.
Rahul, who enjoys the outdoors in Cape Town, spends time in the Winelands, hikes, and plays a sport. “Besides spending time with my 5-year-old daughter, I am passionate about padel, an up-and-coming racquet sport that originated in Mexico and is very popular in Spain and now starting to grow in South Africa as well,” he adds.
Peach Payments has changed the way digital payments are seen in Africa, and it has brought its share of learnings. “Starting and growing Peach Payments has taught me that nothing comes easily. Being a successful start-up is all about grinding away at big obstacles and acknowledging that progress takes time,” the entrepreneur signs off.
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