‘Cash-heavy’ Middle East prepares for digital payments shakeup

AROUND FALL 2019, Egyptian digital-payments provider Paymob’s three founders were expecting a year of steady growth. The startup had onboarded about 60 merchants onto their platform that September, and as digital payments grew in popularity, the co-founders were optimistic that they would soon begin adding around 100 merchants a month.

Then the pandemic hit, and the startup quickly found itself dealing with an overwhelming surge in demand. Paymob found itself onboarding around 400 merchants in April 2020, as small business owners rushed to enable digital payments. By September 2020, Paymob says it was onboarding about 4,000 merchants per month. The company now supports over 35,000 merchants to date—but it says scaling at that rate wasn’t easy.

“From April to September we actually had to go back to the drawing board,” explains Paymob CEO Islam Shawky, citing the need to increase capacity and rethink how they onboarded merchants and offered customer support as examples. “The market was there, we just had to capture it in a healthy and economic way.”

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