Elise Moussa, the Lebanese-American entrepreneur, who’s behind Snapay, a mobile payment solution, didn’t start small, didn’t start at home. She’s currently testing the beta version of her payment solution in over 50 countries.
An international profile, a global project
Moussa, who moved from Lebanon to the US when she was just five years old, and worked in the banking industry, felt personally and professionally unfulfilled. Knowing that the banking industry is a stable, yet monotone one, Moussa, an entrepreneur at heart, decided to work on projects that would positively impact people’s lives, founding several for, and not for profit businesses such as an edtech startup called Whatisbe which provides a platform for people to earn rewards when they learn or teach.
In 2012, while shopping in Beirut during her vacation, Moussa realized she had forgotten her wallet at home and faced a problem at the point of sale. “That’s when I had an idea that people should be able to pay anywhere in the world with their smartphones,” she told Wamda.
Low-tech is the best tech
Moussa’s international background impacted the way she saw the in-store payment market. She couldn’t understand why the market was so fragmented. The existing solutions were either not compatible with all devices, like Apple Pay announced in 2014, not compatible between banks, like bank-specific apps, and/or not compatible between countries.
She also believed merchants paid too much. “Merchants are paying sometimes between $500 and $1,000 a year for heavy machinery [card readers], that is unnecessary, especially when you have softwares that can replace it,” she said. A merchant using Square or similar services will roughly pay $2,250 the first year. Customers too, have to pay high fees, ranging between two to three percent when they pay abroad.
So Moussa came up with a simple idea: a software that replaces hardware.
Merchants enter the amount of the purchase on the Snapay app, a QR code pops up and the customer takes a picture and pays. The only thing the merchants and customers need to do beforehand is creating an account and linking their bank account to it. The app is now free of charge for both customers and merchants, as it is still in its beta phase. Moussa made the device secure with encrypted data and the proprietary technology never holds card or bank info. “If a phone is stolen a payment can't be made, even if initiated. There is a pin each Snapay member must enter to use the application similar to an ATM bank card number. If the phone is stolen we disable payments from that device. “
Moussa seeks to charge low fees, which is something she can offer as she aims to directly work with the banks. Additionally, her tech is both scalable and cheap.
The service is licensed to operate in 50 countries including France and the USA, except for the Arab world. It can deal with six currencies including dollars and euros, which is higher than the number of countries where Apple Pay is active. Apple Pay is now available in 15 countries including the US, the UK, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, China, France, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and Russia.
Her technology was ready to use in 2013 but the market wasn’t ready for it yet: The European and American legislation required backing up her invention by a bank, and back then, banks didn’t care about fintech, she said.
Banks didn't have a department specifically focusing on mobile technologies or emerging technologies, so Moussa had to work with many different departments to explain her tech.
Whenever banks got interested in mobile payment, they wanted to build their own apps, rather than cooperating with existing ones, feeding the fragmentation problem.
In 2015, things started to change. “I'm not sure what exactly happened, but by the second half of 2015, fintech was the hottest thing in the world and every bank wanted in,” she said.
By the end of the year, she had found a first bank. However, it requested having the full access to the coding system, which Moussa refused. This made her lose the deal.
Finally, in 2017, she found the right partner to collaborate with, a big European bank which name remained undisclosed. They spent the next year and a half working out the details and the launch plans in Europe.
Managing the rejection she faced in most countries she tried accessing, wasn’t easy. “It's not about how hard you're hit but about how many times you can get back up,” she said.
Her banking experience came in handy. “I knew getting a new project out of the door [in the banking industry] was going to be painful, if it wasn't new or innovative,” she said.
For her mother, Josephine Moussa, Elise’s resilience goes beyond that. “Her resilience has been growing throughout the years: Facing the tragedy of her dad’s departure at a young age, trauma (her mom's accident), financial stress (related to the accident) and much more during the last four years. [...] She sustained because she strongly believed in her project’s mission. Each challenge made her stronger and more determined.”
Despite the challenges, she focused on funding her company during five years, and invested the Facebook stock she has bought long ago to establish Snapay. She also did some consulting work as a fintech entrepreneur to capitalize.
As her team was working remotely between France and the US, Moussa decided to move to Europe, especially that her partner bank was there.
She realized “Paris is really happening for fintech”, especially after Brexit. Everyone there seemed to be welcoming, both believing in what Snapay was trying to do and curious about her American background. So, she moved to France in 2017.
Although she loves how international her team of six people is, she’s now hiring in Paris.
The service is currently in invite-only mode and raising its first round.