Mejero Emmanuella Kunu has always been a business head. When she was just 8 years old, She saw a gap in her immediate environment and convinced her mother to permit her to run a summer business selling sweets, biscuits and ice water to kids attending a summer lesson at the school just opposite her house. Even up to secondary school, her mates knew her as someone who was always selling something.
It’s little wonder that she eventually ended up in business. As a fintech founder, the only surprising element is her venturing into tech. Mejero told me that she never had any interest in the sciences or anything related to tech while in school.
“I honestly wasn’t really looking to get into tech, I wasn’t even sensitized about the tech ecosystem and all those terms, I was already in tech before I even realized what it meant and even began to know some popular tech products, that’s to tell you how the whole getting into tech thing didn’t really occur to me”, she said.
In this episode of women in tech, Mejoro Emmanuella Kunu, Co-founder and CEO at Pennee speaks on how her passion for business has led her to become a tech sis and fintech startup founder and the many learning points between.
You should read this…
How it started
Mejero never thought she would dabble into tech, not more into fintech. Before delving into fintech, she was a manager in a fashion warehouse that produced clothes for fashion brands in bulk while consulting for small businesses at the same time.
“I used to consult for small businesses in terms of venture development, marketing strategies, basically planning the business and helping with execution. I also ran a small business of my own where I procured imported cars.”
It was in the course of helping small business owners with their problems that Mejero identified a gap that needs filling.
“I was working with small businesses I realized that a bunch of these businesses were grossly limited by capital. So what I did was talk to a few people who had the resources that this other business needed and I would connect both of them while I stand as the guarantor for them. The business pays the money to me and when it’s complete I would transfer it to the owner. So, I did this a couple of times and spoke to my co-founder with the idea that I believed we could reach more people and make more by leveraging tech”, she explained.
At the initial stage, she was limited to the capital she was able to secure from trusting friends for her unique peer-to-peer model. But after running this model for about 13 months, she realized that her focus was gradually shifting to finding investors for small businesses.
Another challenge was that investors were demanding high returns in a short period of time which meant that the interest rate for business owners was really high. This is coupled with the fact that they were expected to pack back within the short term.
This was contrary to her goal of providing running capital for small businesses with reasonable interest and payback time. At this point, she had to design a better model.
Speaking on why she chose to leverage tech to provide the solution of making credit available to small businesses, Mejero says “it just happened to be that tech was the best channel to make this solution available to a large number of people. We had already commenced operations before It really dawned on me that by using technology, we could scale the service.”
The name Peenee (pronounced penny), she tells me, was a suggestion from her brother when she was trying to come up with a name for the business.
“ I was trying to come up with a name for the company and one day my brother just said since your solution has to do with money why not use penny? That just clicked and we went with it while tweaking the spelling to make it more original” she revealed.
After launching in 2020, Mejero and her team had to restrategize so they can return to their earlier model of taking helping small businesses acquire credit.
“We took some time to re-strategise and pivot after which we relaunched in august 2021. Now, we can offer them better credit at very good rates for longer periods which is more sustainable for their businesses. We currently offer between 2% to 4% per month which is not the best rate we want to offer but it is the best that market realities enables” She explained.
Having credible data is one of the challenges Penee faces. Mejero tells me that as a new company they constantly need data. But, accessing credible data is always a daunting challenge.
Another big challenge is loan recovery. “While we currently have a recovery rate of 98.7 % but there is nothing stopping us from making it better”, she told me.
And another major challenge for Mejero and her team is having enough money to give to every entrepreneur that is genuinely seeking. She explains: “Because we are a lending company, as we grow we need more money to lend to more people and that can be quite a challenge.”
As a woman in the tech space, Mejero told me that there are challenges that are peculiar to being a woman. This ranges from people underrating your ability to some other women issues.
“I have personally observed that female founders are typically never seen as founders but as women but the quality of treatment male founders receive isn’t always there”, she says.
“There is also the challenge of breaking into the strong boys club in the space and I have realized that most times it is not even malicious, you are not just their guy. This is still a challenge for us as female founders because profitable relationships are built in these gatherings and sometimes deals are closed”, she adds.
Mejero tells me she handles these challenges by not dwelling on them. Rather, she accepts this is the reality of being a female founder and tries not to consider the limitations. Instead, she acknowledges what is available to her and makes the best of it.
“ I really love hearing our users share how much the services we provide to their business have changed their lives and impacted them is one of the memorable moments for me on this journey. Sometimes you need to hear them talk about it and you realize you are really giving them a choice, bringing happiness, growth and freedom to these people and that is really cool. Also, the team we have built and the kind of relationship we have as a team is really heartwarming”– Mejero Kunu
Mejero Emmanuella Kunu has this advice to give to women:
“Just do it. If you want to start a company or join tech, just do it… Women should stop overthinking things and just execute. I have observed that women tend to second guess themselves a lot and try to be good enough. I want more women to be bold to put themselves out there and let people see what they are capable of and make their choice not waiting for everything to be great before they start anything!”
Emmanuella tells me she hasn’t really thought about what she would want to do in the next five years as all her thoughts have been focused on building Penee.
She, however, tells me of some future plans:
“In the next five years we will definitely be doing more, I am looking forward to a future where in a single year we support business we over 100 million dollars. In this past year, we supported business with about a million dollars and I am looking forward to us doing 5 or 10 times that amount in the coming year.”
Get the best of Africa’s daily tech to your inbox – first thing every morning.
Join the community now!