Building a Market Without Borders: An interview with Maxx Ginane
In December, I had an online conversation with Maxx Ginane, the founder of a new e-commerce platform called Market Without Borders. It aims to help people without bank accounts, primarily in emerging markets, sell their wares online. It's an ambitious goal but an important one because it's an easily understandable way for skilled people in poverty who were previously unbanked to enter the banking system. It's very early days, but Maxx took the time to answer a few questions for me:
Please tell me a bit about yourself and your work before setting up Market Without Borders.
My background is as a documentary director and producer. I ran my own production company and made prime time films for broadcasters like BBC and Channel 4.
Making a big independent film is very similar to being a start-up founder – you have the vision and bootstrap it into existence as you secure exclusive access to impossible-to-reach people. For example, I had to secure world exclusive access to Caster Semenya after she won the world championship and became the centre of a sex testing controversy. At the time she was the biggest news story in the world. Every journalist was chasing her and she was in hiding. In the end it came down to me and Oprah Winfrey, and she chose me!
After that is the hard bit. You have to pitch to broadcasters to get the funding, pull together a crew of the best people and run a shoot in ridiculously difficult circumstances somewhere in the world where you have no friends. After that you bring it home, spend day and night for weeks or months in an edit suite negotiating with all your stakeholders as you make creative decisions, craft a story and try to bring to life the vision in your head. All while staying within legal regulations and budget and time constraints. Then you exit the production as it sails off into the world, hopefully to rapturous acclaim and social impact.
I think most founders will find that this sounds familiar!
What motivated you to start Market Without Borders - what was the issue with the unbanked that made you feel you'd like to tackle this through retail?
I had met some people on Facebook called Team No Sleep through mutual friends. They were a group of LGBT+ refugees living in Nairobi who had fled homophobic violence in their home in Uganda. There were mainly homeless, as the refugee camps are dangerous for LGBT+ people. One of them, Henry, was a bagmaker and he started teaching the group how to sew. They started a business they called Team No Sleep, making bags, homewares, bow-ties and jewellery.
I wanted to buy a bag but it was difficult so I offered to set an Etsy shop up for them. I discovered I couldn’t because they didn’t have a bank account and couldn’t access online payment systems. I realised that if I could help solve this problem for Henry, I might be able to solve it for many people. So the idea for an online marketplace that caters to everyone, including the 2 billion people in the world without bank accounts, was born.
MwB will not just be a destination for people who want to shop in a socially impactful way (although it is definitely that). It is also the place where the most unique and skilled craftspeople, designers, and fashion in the world are hosted, whatever the circumstances of the makers.
What is your opinion on the fintech industry at the moment - what in your opinion are interesting banking options for the unbanked around the world, and why do you think Market Without Borders does something none of those can?
Fintech is an incredibly exciting place at the moment. The link between financial inclusion and poverty is widely understood and lots of incredibly exciting and innovative tech solutions are trying to address it.
The banking sector is having a transformative moment. The rise of mobile money and digital wallets, the possibilities of blockchain and a growing attitude that traditional banks no longer hold all the cards, especially in regards to inclusion and technology, is opening up banking options for the unbanked. There is also a realisation that ignoring the financial market needs of 2 billion people – 2 billion potential customers - is not good economic sense.
Two billion people are excluded from trading online because they can’t access online payment systems. MwB is something that is a cross between Etsy and Crowdfunder, but that brings this huge population of financially excluded people on board. Like the early days Etsy, we are an artisan-based community market-place. Like Crowdfunder, we are a place to invest in inspiring narratives and creativity. Our payment system allows payments to be made as easily as if you are shopping on Ebay, but with payment delivered to the seller’s mobile money account, bank account or even as a cash pick-up in, for example, a kiosk in Kenya.
But more than just providing the financially and market-excluded an opportunity to trade online, MwB generates a credit rating and access to supply chain finance for the sellers as they trade, providing a path towards financial inclusion.
At its heart MwB is about craft, fashion and design, and their communities. Exclusion from online trading means that unique products are not making it to market, exciting voices are not being heard, and talent is not being developed and rewarded. Which means we are all missing out.
Our products are unique and special. Partly because lots of them have never made it to market before and can’t be found anywhere else. And partly because we hunt down the most original craftspeople, designers and creatives in the world. We want them on MwB, whatever their circumstances.
Could you tell me a bit about how you plan to find the sellers to feature on your shops - which parts of the world are they from, and how do you approach them to be a part of Market Without Borders?
We are collaborating with local and global NGO’s, the LGBT community, refugee groups and anti-poverty initiatives. We have several exciting partnerships in negotiation that we will be announcing in the new year.
We also have strong links to the design community and several social influencers are generously throwing their support behind us. We have a sharp eye on design and craft originators that we are and will be approaching. MwB is for everyone - we have our eye on artisan talent already trading online as well as those who haven’t been able to make it to market yet.
Our first market is Kenya. Kenya has the most developed mobile money market. Vodafone M-Pesa is the world’s biggest mobile money provider and we are working with them to launch in Kenya – their biggest market - and then scale globally. This is nice for us because Kenya is also where MwB had its genesis – Team No Sleep are in Nairobi.
I can imagine that this might take quite a bit of regulation! What sort of relationship do you have with financial regulators, and what has their reaction been to your company so far?
There is a lot of regulatory work to be done in setting up an e-commerce, especially when tackling issues of financial exclusion, and especially with the upcoming GDPR regulations around data. We are lucky in that we are building from the ground catering to these regulations rather than having to re-build our system to adjust to it.
An effect of high-level regulatory compliance is that it strongly influenced my choice of payment partners and their experience and level of compliance with these regulatory requirements. (partnership announcements are coming!)
And, slightly as an aside, it also led me to looking at machine learning for fraud prevention.
Could you tell me a bit about your team?
I’m looking for a co-founder so I’ll take this opportunity to put the word out!
My ideal co-founder has experience in founding or being a key person in a successful start-up. Ideal skill sets are e-commerce, building 2-sided markets, KYC, GDPR & MLRO compliance, social enterprise, fintech and/or paytech. She understands the importance of and issues surrounding financial inclusion and is interested and motivated by both tech for good and creating a diverse global business. A knowledge and love of craft and design is a plus.
My co-founder would need to be London based. If she comes from, has family background in, or has intimate knowledge of an emerging market country, especially Sub-Sahara Africa, it’s an advantage. And women get extra points.
Obviously this is just a guide, anyone who thinks they might fit the part, please get in touch. And if you are inspired by the idea of MwB and think you have something to bring to us in any form, drop me a line.
I have brilliant advisors such as Jane Lucy, founder CEO of energy fintech Labrador Ltd, who has been an amazing cheerleader since day one, having very successfully trodden this start-up minefield herself. And Jenny Millar, head of strategy at Ebay has brought incredible top shelf e-commerce experience, sound advice and industry know-how to the table.
When do you plan to launch?
Launch is imminent. Setting up an international payment system catering to the unbanked was a big challenge but we’ve cracked it and we are ready to go. Very early 2018.
Who are your current supporters, financially and otherwise?
MwB has been bootstrapped into existence. Virgin kindly selected me to be part of their StartUp StepUp mini accelerator. I am looking for seed funding as our first market is about to launch and am in talks with several VCs and incubators. Very happy to hear from potential funding partners.
What is the vision for Market Without Borders - what would you like to achieve 10 years from now?
I would like Market without Borders to be an impact unicorn and a successful global business. All while hosting the most unique, gorgeous and creative crafts and products.