Startup Spotlight: Former Microsoftie taps African roots to transform money transfers

CoinFling founder and CEO Musse Roble

CoinFling founder and CEO Musse Roble

CoinFling co-founder and CEO Musse Roble is looking to change the way people transfer money — driven by his own personal frustrations sending money to relatives in Africa. The former Microsoft manager was tired of the travel, fees, and difficulty of the traditional monetary transfer system. His frustration led to CoinFling, a soon-to-be-released app that allows users to transfer money across continents from their smartphones.

With its initial focus on Africa, specifically Kenya, this “mobile centric money transfer service” has already generated huge support from the immigrant community in Seattle. Unable to raise capital through traditional angel investment circles, Roble turned to his potential customers in the East African community, which stepped up with about $300,000 in initial funds.

“This was almost like Kickstarter without the web tool,” said Roble, a former corporate finance manager at Microsoft who co-founded CoinFling with Zillow’s Mohammed Sarhan and Farmer Insurance Group’s Abdi Fayoke.

“I think one of our biggest assets is that we are immigrants and have used money transfer services for many years,” he said. “So we have a unique perspective when it comes to the problem we are trying to address and the solutions we will be proposing.” The company also has inked partnership deals with Gulf African Bank and Airtel, the latter being the world’s fourth largest wireless carrier with 261 million subscribers in 20 countries in Africa and Asia.

CoinFling isn’t the only startup in Seattle looking to upend the money transfer business. TechStars grad Remitly —  backed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos; Google chairman Eric Schmidt; Isilon co-founder Sujal Patel and John Stanton’s Trilogy Equity Partnership — is focusing its efforts on the Philippines. Other players in the space include Western Union, Moneygram and Xoom.

In this installment of Startup Spotlight, we caught up with Roble to find out more about what makes CoinFling tick.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Cross continent P2P mobile money transfer.”

Coinfling FINAL LogoInspiration hit us when: “I had this powerful smartphone in my hand that can do everything except cook my dinner and I still had to drive for miles to access my money transfer provider. While there are online options like Western Union, I preferred the cash based money transfer companies because of their competitive prices. We set out to create a user friendly and price competitive service offering via mobile applications.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We started off bootstrapping but we later got some funding from the immigrant community that we were targeting for our service, you can call it crowdfunding without the fancy tools. We first approached the community to get feedback on the prototype we built, but we were surprised with the level of interest they had in investing in the company. They believed so much in the idea and its potential, that they were willing to put their hard-earned money to make it a reality. As we transition from the beta phase we will be looking for angel or VC funding.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We are not burdened with a legacy brick and mortar infrastructure like Western Union and we look to add additional services that will redefine the relationship immigrants have with their money transmitters.”

CoinFling mobile app

CoinFling mobile app

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Adopting to our circumstances and finding smart ways to push the agenda forward. We learned to be extremely efficient in applying our limited resources to meeting our primary objectives. What we have been able to achieve with the limited funding we had i.e. building a world class, scalable money transfer platform using the latest cloud technology, and securing top regional partners is truly astounding.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “I’m sure we have made quite a few mistakes commonly made by first time founders, but there isn’t one I can call major. The one that I can reflect on is the importance of getting the right mix of founders early on that are wholly and completely committed to the project. We probably wasted quite a bit of time earlier on because of this.”

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “I’ll cheat and say none of the above. They have all achieved great things but I would like to have Elon Musk in my corner. I believe he is probably one of the most dynamic entrepreneurs of our time. He could have easily taken it easy after selling PayPal but he jumped right back in, risking everything to disrupt other arcane industries and push human development and progress forward. Making the dream of an electric car a reality with Tesla and changing the way we go to space with SpaceX.”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “The first user sends money to their loved one using CoinFling’s app. We guarantee a great experience. But we also seek to redefine the relationship between the immigrant and their money transmitter.”

Rivals should fear us because: “We are lean, and focused on the course we have charted.”

We are truly unique because: “Our vision for this industry.”

CoinFling Team

CoinFling Team

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Regulation! Regulation! Regulation! Licensing and monitoring of money transmitters is controlled by the states and each state has its own rules. Also, with increased enforcement of anti-money laundering violations by Federal agencies, banks are more reluctant to extend banking facilities to money transmitters especially upstarts with no history.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Always keep an eye on the long term vision but focus on achieving your short term goals. One of the hardest things as an entrepreneur is prioritizing and identifying the key objectives you need to accomplish.”

Here’s an overview of how CoinFling works:

Startup Spotlight is an occasional look at a Pacific Northwest startup company. Have an interesting new venture you want spotlighted in GeekWire? Fill out this questionnaire in a fun and engaging style that shows off your startup’s culture. (Remember to upload photos). Past profiles can be found here.

  • SirLiddy Liddy

    Rich, Creative and Awesome idea!!!

  • Kent W.

    Great cause! Great idea! Great article!

  • MaryAnn Wellington

    Amazing article. What will they think up next!

  • kb

    Great idea can’t wait for the App to release.