It’s impossible to escape the “myth of the garage” in the startup world.
That myth is so embedded in the origin story of companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and HP that it has led to an almost romanticized view of what can come from tinkering with an idea from inside a garage.
Mika Diol started tinkering from his own garage a few years ago on a fintech idea. From the very beginning, he was focused on something big halfway around the world.
Diol is the founder of KaliSpot, a fintech hardware/software startup building the first privately-owned omnichannel ATM network designed specifically for Western and Central Africa.
Around 57% of the population on the African continent does not have a traditional bank account. Mobile money services are much more common, meaning that financial services and checking accounts are opened from a phone.
That creates very specific pain points, said Diol. ATMs are far and few between in Africa (about seven per every 100,000 inhabitants, according to The World Bank). Those that are in operation are mainly for cash withdrawal purposes only, meaning users are not able to deposit cash or access other banking services that are more common within US ATMs. Mobile money users are at the mercy of physical store hours if they need to reload their account or take out money. Long queues are common during business hours at both ATMs and stores that offer mobile money services.
These pain points create a specific market need that Diol is poised to address.
“ATMs that are right now in Western Central Africa are all owned and operated by banks. Historically, it has been this way, but there are no specific rules that say it has to be like that,” he told Hypepotamus. With KaliSpot, he is working to create a network of ATMs in Africa that serve banking customers, mobile money customers, as well as third-party financial institutions looking to increase their footprint across the region.
The goal is to ultimately cover the 14 French-speaking countries in Western and Central Africa. The startup’s first sites are slotted for Dakar, Senegal, and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
In terms of funding, KaliSpot recently raised a pre-seed from 500 Startups, a San Francisco-based VC firm and accelerator.
From A Garage To Building Abroad
Like many other startups, KaliSpot was born in a garage. Diol bought several refurbished ATMs and started developing the hardware and software components necessary to expand their utility.
He has a 22-year technology career under his belt, mostly at multinational corporations like Microsoft, Oracle, and Ericsson with roles that took him across the world.
But building KaliSpot is a bit of a homecoming for the Senegalese entrepreneur.
KaliSpot is getting off the ground as Africa has begun to garner more attention from fintech venture capitalist investors. Researchers at Disrupt Africa report that the African fintech sector raised over $1 billion in 2021, nearly half of all VC funding raised on the continent. Some of the big names in the space include Flutterwave ($250 million Series D), Wave Mobile Money ($200 million Series A), and MFS Africa ($100 million Series C).
But headquartering the business in the fintech hub of Atlanta was strategic for the business moving forward, Diol told Hypepotamus. Diol spends time between the US and Africa as the team prepares to scale.