Exuus - The Birth Of An African Blockchain Star
The 30-years-old Rwandan fintech entrepreneur Steve Shema is revolutionizing the traditional community saving and lending schemes in the 12 million people African country.
In 5 years, he developed a digital SAVE app, transforming the lives of the millions living in rural Rwanda.
But that's not all: he also founded a leading blockchain company which is currently on track to reach a regional market of billion users. Its decentralized credit scoring algorithm and a prospect to financially support current and future African startups made Steve one of the most popular Rwandans.
The story of how Steve grew his fintech company augments the opportunities for millions of people. Read it here:
The Beginnings Of Steve Shema
Steve grew up in the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. The country was going through turbulent and violent times in his youth, but he was an active and hyper-curious boy who liked to spend his time hanging out with his friends, playing basketball and football.
Ever since his youth, Steve was keen on technology and math. Having been raised in a place of mainly arable land and unique landscapes, he was drawn towards studying geography and environmental management. Although excellent in handling geographical information technology and land-related research projects, he was insatiably pursuing his passion that was beyond a defined profession.
"I was fighting the idea to seek a job despite all adversities. I felt like a job would distract me from seeking and finding my passion," says Steve.
He tried the shoes of an independent consultant, and worked as coordinator of charity initiatives and youth activists groups. During this period, he refined his talent in presenting ideas that could have a great impact on the quality of living and working in Rwanda.
He cared for improved counties' policies, as his interests were lining up with the urge to alleviate poverty, raise equality, and provide room for entrepreneurship. He invested himself selflessly, yet remained unconvinced in the effectiveness of his efforts - until one day, he met a young mother whose story changed his life!
The Village Saving Groups - Supporting Lives In Africa
Like any ordinary day, Steve was on the field, doing research for his next presentation on ideas that could enhance youth entrepreneurship. Many of the unemployed young people in Rwanda are women, so his inquisitive search led him to a village nearby Kigali, where most women made their living from agriculture.
He met a young mother named Shantel who was part of the local community-saving group, which is a traditional custom for mutual help in achieving certain goals, be it simply buying livestock, financing a special life event, or starting a new small business. For Shantel, this popular and sole access to finance was the only way to realize her dreams for financial independence and resilience.
Steve was allowed to participate in one of the group's meetings and his mind was blown away by the flood of ideas he got that day. He had so many questions: how much time would these people save if the meetings were online, or if the bookkeeping was digitized? All of them had a mobile phone and held a solution for highly more effective communication, accounting, lending, and borrowing of the saved money.
This is how it all started, the plethora of thoughts and questions touched the well of the passion, and he finally saw an opportunity to realize his entrepreneurial call.
The Start and The First Investment In Exuus
Steve established Exuus in 2014 and started from scratch with his talent for pitching, his competence in research, technology skills, and the vision to digitize the processes of the traditional village saving and loan associations. Initially, he presented to the National Bank of Rwanda his idea to elaborate research on these questions.
In the following two years, he did the most extensive countrywide survey on the scope of the saving groups, and documented 1 million individuals without access to bank services. His research showed that only 3 million out of the 12 million inhabitants have a registered bank account, while the near totality of the population possessed a mobile phone.
In 2018, he took the challenge to participate in a pitching event organized by Leapfrog Ventures, owned by a young Japanese who moved to Africa to start fostering the local start-ups and got his first investment of $50,000. It was just the minimum sum to pursue the first phase for the development of his soon-to-be new mobile application.
Living The Dream - Expanding Opportunities
Steve's thorough research on the saving groups was valuable information for a lot of stakeholders, among which was a US-based company named DreamStart Labs. It was established in 2016 by a handful of former Silicon Valley tech savvies, and their mission was complementary to Steves' vision. They recognized Steves' valuable local knowledge and teamed up with him on their company board to develop the first mobile app under the brand SAVE.
As soon as the app was launched, it was promoted and made available to the users through the work of the relentless Exuus team.
Their SAVE app saw new subscribers daily, as the users quickly noticed the benefits of the digitized support. The app was built to support the groups and the users by defining their saving and investment goals, to prevent errors, tampering, and fraud through calculations.
After launching, their decisions were much quicker, as the users started defining their objectives for enhancing their craft businesses or equipping their homes for their newborns in much clearer and more structured ways.
Nonprofit organizations were also included in the SAVE app services, such as the Rwandan GoFundMe initiative.
The saving app has so far been accepted by nearly 500,000 users, or 76% of the saving groups in various Rwandan districts. The everyday life and very often the health care needs have increased especially during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Being connected in a group that can provide financial support in crises in a quick responsive way, or even life-saving importance, was of great benefit to all its users. This is one of the crucial points Exuus wanted to hit, to ease the way to get social funding in acute situations, when time was of the essence!
Hundreds of personal stories are shared through Twitter and Instagram portraying the impact technology is making in the economically undeveloped regions, and Exuus deserves a spot as being one of the most impactful among them.
Steve always believed that the networking and sharing of ideas regardless if the person is a skillful individual, tech-savvy, or a supportive business partner, is pivotal for sustainable development - and he was right!
His line of business thought aligned with the model of business based on the social impact it brings to the local communities and the ways it improves their everyday lives. From what Steve and his DreamStart Lab partners have achieved so far, it's clear that an app that positively intervenes in otherwise inaccessible areas for the mainstream businesses can make a huge impact and difference on a wide scale.
"Designing products for people in mud huts may feel radically different than serving customers in glass skyscrapers, but the secret to success is the same. It's about waking up each day thinking about how to make others around you successful. Conventional wisdom says that's crazy. I say it's the key to everything," says CEO and founder of DreamStart labs, Wes Wasson.
Soon, Steve's unprecedented pitching talent brought Exuus an additional $500,000 from the Swiss Seedstars investment group. Another crucial event took place in 2019 when the American social impact technology startup DreamStart Labs acquired a majority interest in Exuus.
This shaped the next chapter for Steve and his team. Exuus is currently working on upgrading their old features to the wallet service and adding new ones to set the path for connecting the individuals and groups in the unbanked rural areas, with the banks currently starting to acquire more and more business loans.
Exuus is upgrading its saving app with a decentralized credit scoring algorithm for both saving groups and individuals, as a way to ease their access to the bank system. In other words, blockchain!
Steve's plans enhanced with the DreamStart Labs technology don't stop with Rwanda. The success in reaching users and impacting their quality of life, as well as promoting gender equality in managing finances is opening ever-higher prospects for Exuus. Steves' milestone is to achieve one billion users among the saving communities across Sub-Saharan Africa in Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia.
His motto is "Work hard and party harder!", and his passionate work has started giving its fruits. He says: "Exuus is ready for A series investment next year!" With this pace and his talent in pitching and network, Steve and his team are tracing the path for a promising African blockchain company.