Ayannah wants to bring e-payments to the unbanked in emerging markets, beginning with the Philippines


Ayannah logoA Q&A with Ayannah founder and CEO Mikko Perez. The Laguna Hills, California and Pasig City, Philippines-based startup, which offers an e-commerce and payment platform for migrants and the unbanked, closed a $1 million Angel funding round in mid-June led by Siemer Ventures and Golden Gate Ventures. It was founded in 2008 and previously raised $2 million in Seed funding.

SUB: Please describe Ayannah and your primary innovation.

Perez: Ayannah aims to be the leading provider of digital commerce and payment services to migrants in OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries and the unbanked in emerging markets. We have two main services: Sendah, a digital commerce and payment service that gives migrants a better way to stay connected and support their families in their home countries, and Sendah Direct: a digital transaction platform for enterprises and entrepreneurs who want to serve the unbanked in emerging markets and migrants in OECD countries. Sendah Direct gives the unbanked better access to financial services and income opportunities to improve quality of life and to increase financial literacy and inclusion.

SUB: Who are your target markets and users?

Perez: We target the large and underserved market of over 200 million migrants living in OECD countries who send over $400 billion yearly to their families in emerging markets. We also target the large and underserved market of the unbanked in emerging markets who have limited access to financial services and income opportunities.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?

Perez: Our indirect competitors are online money transfer services and online gift services. There are other non-digital service providers who provide segments of the suite of services we are offering to our customers.

SUB: What differentiates Ayannah from the competition?

Perez: We believe that we offer a unified suite of services that better serves the needs of migrants and the unbanked. We are also rapidly building up a network of partner merchants, banks and telcos that further strengthens the bond we have built with our community of customers.

SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?

Perez: The company was born from the ashes of another startup in 2008, right after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. We had to build a cross-functional team of developers and product managers with a mix of various disciplines. We had to build the ‘plumbing,’ or the infrastructure to support our intended transaction volume and that will scale globally. Then, we built the ‘UIX’ or the human-machine interfaces that allow our customers and channel partners to do secure, reliable and convenient transactions. We launched in open beta in early-2010.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Ayannah? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?

Perez: It was a gradual unfolding and perhaps culmination of mine and my partners’ real life experiences growing up in an emerging market—the Philippines—and making it as migrants in the United States. I started my professional career as a community organizer in the rural Philippines, and had first-hand immersion in the lives of the unbanked. I then worked in industry in both operational and financial roles. More recently, I saw the potential of the social and mobile web to solve problems of migrants living away from their families and also to better serve the unbanked, especially the rural and urban poor in emerging markets like the Philippines.

SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?

Perez: We wanted a URL that was easy to remember and which we could make into a global brand. As we were brainstorming in the office, we thought of ‘Ayan nah!’ which means ‘Here it is!’ in colloquial Filipino. We thought that kind of captured the essence of what we do—enabling transactions across distances. Then we checked with friends in other countries and found out that it had no negative connotations. Ayannah means ‘a beautiful flower’ in Swahili. It also means ‘innocent’ in Sanskrit. Phonetically, ‘ai’ and ‘an’ mean ‘love’ and ‘peace’ in Chinese. So, that is how we decided on ‘Ayannah.’ The ‘Sendah’ URL was also available, so we decided to make that the brand for all our products.

SUB: You recently raised $1 million in Angel funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?

Perez: It is never easy to raise funding, especially since we are very much outside the ‘magic circle,’ or the 30 mile radius from Sand Hill Road. We are a technology and new media-enabled startup with the founding team based in an emerging market. It took us eight months to raise $1 million and only because we have shown some respectable traction. I also believe we were helped along with renewed investor interest in the Philippines. It did not hurt that we were raising money around the time that the Philippine economy has shown solid fundamentals and strong growth momentum.

SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional funding in the near future?

Perez: We hope to raise our next round before end of year.

SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?

Perez: Since much of the stuff we are doing is fairly new, it’s hard to find people with the right mix of enthusiasm, experience, expertise and entrepreneurial spirit. We do have a great team of seasoned professional and young innovators, but the talent pool is small compared to that of Silicon Valley. Luckily, the talent pool is slowly growing.

SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?

Perez: For Sendah, we generate B2C revenues selling products and services to our customers all over the world and the web. For Sendah Direct, we generate B2B revenues through our channel partners and agents.

SUB: What are your goals for Ayannah over the next year or so?

Perez: Maintain and accelerate revenue growth, achieve escape velocity, expand to new markets.

Ayannah – www.ayannah.com

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