Drew Durbin is the co-founder and CEO of Wave, a digital mobile money platform helping Africa build extremely affordable financial infrastructure. The company prides itself on being Africa’s biggest startup-diaspora community.
The Senegalese-born Durbin started Wave in 2018 with Lincoln Quirk, his American schoolmate. The pair met at Brown University, an ivy league private institution in Rhode Island, United States. Both of them also co-founded Sendwave, the money remittance company that WorldRemit acquired in 2020.
Destined partnership and aligned vision
Drew and Lincoln became friends because they shared a passion for creating simple products with a social impact. And with Wave, they believe they can make Africa the first cashless continent.
“We are deeply committed to developing products that users love. Our technological background, combined with our living experience in some African countries like Tanzania and Senegal, was the ideal combination for developing a technology-first solution to address the challenges of domestic money transfer in Senegal,” Quirk says.
Drew Durbin and his partner focused on cross-border payments in 2014 after Drew became frustrated with the difficulties of sending money to his Tanzanian NGO.
“This prompted us to create a no-fee instant remittances app that allows users to send money from North America and Europe to East and West Africa,” Drew says.
After launching that, they realised that mobile money provided by telcos was expensive and provided a poor user experience.
According to them, “Besides, the technology (USSD) was out of date, and the customer experience and agent liquidity were both lacking. So, in 2018, we launched Wave Mobile Money, our second company, in Senegal.”
Interestingly, in 2021, WorldRemit, a digital, global cross-border payments company, completed a $500 million cash and stock acquisition of SendWave in 2021.
Durbin said Wave was piloted in Senegal from within the Sendwave ecosystem. Partech invested in Wave in 2018 before spinning it off because “Wave has executed superbly from a proof of concept level,” Tidjane Dème, the firm’s general partner, told Quartz.
In the past, Drew Durbin has been associated with four companies, according to public records. The companies were formed over six years, the most recent being incorporated one year ago in May of 2021. Two of the companies are still active, while the remaining two are now listed as inactive.
The competition woes
As an independent company, Wave aimed to compete against telecom companies like Orange, also a mainstay of mobile money in Francophone West Africa.
Both companies have had at least one commercial disagreement so far: Orange refused to allow Wave to sell Orange airtime to users. The issue has been referred to Senegalese regulators.
While that is resolved, Wave looks set to march on to compete for territory in other telco-dominated mobile money markets. Its intention to launch in Uganda suggests new competition for MTN and Safaricom’s Mpesa – the continent’s flagship mobile money juggernaut.
Becoming one of Africa’s tech unicorns
According to Durbin, when mobile money succeeded in Kenya, it lifted about a million people out of poverty. And yet, over ten years later, most Africans still lack access to affordable ways to save, transfer or borrow the money they need to build businesses or provide for their families.
In 2021, Drew Durbin’s Wave became Africa’s one of Africa’s tech unicorns after a $200-million Series-A funding round. The platform was valued at $1.7 billion.
TechCrunch reported the investment as the largest-ever Series-A funding round raised by an Africa-based startup. The investment was led by top Sequoia Heritage, a subsidiary of the Sequoia brand, Founders Fund, Stripe and Ribbit Capital.
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