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How Nigerian startup, Blueloop, wants to ease cross-border payments for merchants and gig workers

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The changing landscape of business and the workplace has received higher significance with the onset of the pandemic. According to reports, Nigeria’s nascent gig economy has grown in the past few years.

Interestingly, the World Bank predicted a dip in remittance to Nigeria from the diaspora due to COVID-19. Still, it also expected that there would be more remittance inflows as people embrace digital platforms.

Consequently, there’s now a greater need for platforms that ease cross border payments to the country.

Financial powerhouses like Western Union and MoneyGram have always handled this, but they fall short when timing, cost, and convenience are considered.

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It appears there has been a growing focus on remittances in the African markets between 2019 and 2020. And this can be seen from the glut of partnerships between giants like Worldpay (FIS global) or WorldRemit and various mobile money operators.

In 2019, Kenya’s AZA (formerly BitPesa) expanded to new markets with a mission to ease cross-border payments. In September 2019, Chipper Cash, a San Francisco-based fintech, startup expanded to Nigeria in partnership with payment gateway company, Paystack.

Despite these innovations, in February 2019, Ben Eluan, a regular freelance developer, had difficulty receiving payment from a client in the UK.

“I had to use Skrill to collect the money, but the charges were high, and it took a while before I received it,” he says.

With this in mind, he and his friend, Osezele Orukpe, both met at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and decided that they needed to build a solution that would ease payments not just for people looking to receive money from foreign countries, but also for merchants and freelancers offering services to people around the globe.

Blueloop
From Left to right: Osezele Orukpe Co-founder and CTO for Blueloop, Ben Eluan Co-founder and CEO, Blueloop

In comes Flux

After a painstaking journey, they built Flux, a hybrid app that combined the worlds of cryptocurrency wallets and a digital banking app. Users can receive cryptocurrency from all over the world and immediately convert it to fiat money.

“When looking for a solution, we decided that the best way to implement this was to use cryptocurrency. So we started taking Blockchain courses, learnt about KYC, and after a thorough process, we were able to find an exchange to provide liquidity.”

“When someone sends you money from the United States using their crypto wallet, CashApp for example, the money goes straight to your crypto wallet in the Flux app; then you can move it to your fiat wallet which functions just like your bank app.”

Eluan reveals that several users utilise the bank transfer feature when shopping in malls, to load airtime, or pay bills.

The Flux product seems very similar to the likes of BuyCoin’s Sendcash feature and Bundle, and Eluan admits that these companies are among their biggest competitors.

Bundle, founded by Yele Badamosi in 2019, brings the unique features of a crypto wallet and a regular banking wallet. Sendcash lets you send crypto to users whose bank accounts get credited automatically with fiat money.

However, he believes that Flux’s unique proposition is being able to cater to merchants, professional gig workers, and regular people looking to receive money from overseas.

A flat rate of ₦50 ($0.13) is charged for every transaction, while transactions between Flux users are free. For those looking to trade cryptocurrency, the Flux app has an exchange which lets users buy popular cryptos like Bitcoin for a 0.5% fee.

The journey and its challenges so far

Eluan sees Flux becoming a super app in the payments space, but the development journey has not been smooth. For the company, the goal will not be restricted to just fintech as it plans to create a wide range of products for different sectors.

“Initially, we were just developers who loved to code. I remember building an eCommerce app called Joppa, which went viral on campus but we had no idea about how to build a startup or business around it,” he recounts.

When the idea for Flux came, the biggest challenge was finding a crypto exchange that would offer liquidity, and an API they could leverage. Nigerian crypto exchange, Quidax, bought into the vision and the project started.

Besides this, Eluan insists that the Nigerian ecosystem does little to support upstarts or people who do not have connections with the higher-ups. Thus, life was difficult at the early stages.

Pioneer accelerator, funding, and traction

So far, Flux has gained remarkable traction in just a short period of time.

“The idea was birthed in April 2019 but we started building in February 2020, had our prototype by April, did tests. We integrated crypto by August, and went live by September,” Eluan explains.

In May 2020, Blueloop got accepted into the Pioneer accelerator and it helped Eluan and his team pitch Flux before a global audience.

“Pioneer helped us get registered in Delaware and it exposed us to the foreign investor who signed our first check,” he says.

In July 2020, Blueloop raised $25,000 from Hustle Fund VC. In addition to backing from the likes of Mozilla, Pioneer, and other angel investors, Blueloop has raised a total of $77,000 in pre-seed funding.

A simple ID replaces the traditional BTC address. Image Source: Supplied.

Eluan states that Flux has been growing organically, through word of mouth, without any serious marketing campaigns so far.

He claims that since going live in September, Flux has gotten over one thousand users on both Android and iOS, and it has processed 4,823 transactions worth over $466,000 (₦180 million).

And while these numbers seem impressive, it makes sense considering that Nigeria processed $32 million worth of crypto in October 2020 alone. Since the app features both crypto and fiat money, it benefits from the transaction records on both ends.

The future

Eluan explains that Blueloop has a product-based mantra and he makes it a point of duty to keep implementing feedback from users and to develop the product.

To address the issue of Internet connectivity in Nigeria, Eluan says his team is developing an SMS-based technology for the platform so transactions can be done offline.

Unlike USSD, SMS-based payments are quite rare and require a lot of effort, but Eluan remains confident in his team.

He insists that the biggest challenges for the future will likely be competition from the likes of Bundle, and he believes that is just what the market needs.

With Nigeria’s crypto landscape growing in leaps and bounds, we expect to see more innovations from its young and bright minds.


Report: Millionaire West African startups” raised over $1.806 billion between 2010 and 2019, 97.9% of which went to Nigerian startups. Get a free overview and 50% purchase discount here.


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Workers

Local chef creates app to connect gig workers with hospitality jobs

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Connecting gig workers to hospitality jobs in Charleston is now easier than ever thanks to the app, Gigpro. It was created by a local chef, Ben Ellsworth, along with three others. The app lets anyone apply for and book jobs for just a single night at a time. It’s a fast and easy way to fill open shifts without committing to full employment with a business.

The hospitality industry is facing a detrimental shortage of workers with both back-of-house staff like line cooks and dishwashers as well as front-of-house staff like servers and bartenders.

The idea came to Ben Ellsworth, who’s been a chef in Charleston since 1998, as he stared at a pile of dishes in the Royal American kitchen during a shift when the dishwasher called out. He says the lightbulb switched on when he checked his cell phone.

“I got a notification on my phone that someone had booked my Airbnb and I said out loud ‘I wish he had booked to wash these dishes.’,” said Ellsworth.

That’s when Gigpro was born.

Nearly 150 Charleston businesses and over 2,000 workers have joined the platform since its initial release in late 2019. In the first month of beta testing, 36 gigs were booked and in the second month, 86 gigs were booked.

Now Ellsworth says around 200 gigs are posted to the platform each week.

There are only a few simple steps to set up Gigpro and begin picking up shifts. Download the free app, create a profile with a resume, fill out insurance information and add a payment method. A restaurant will post a shift with information like date, hours, and pay, then workers on the app can scroll through and apply for a job. If the employer finds a good fit for the night, the job will be booked. After a worker completes the job, payment is sent through the app two to three days later.

“Everybody that’s on the platform gets covered with occupational accident insurance,” explained Ellsworth. “Which takes the liability off the business and keeps the pro safe.”

He says the occupational accident insurance is about $0.38 per hour. Many gigs pay $15 to $30 an hour.

It’s a big help for employers working to fill shifts when employees call out or when staff is short.

Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms has been working with Gigpro for just over a year and recently has been booking workers most weekends.

“It’s a great tool to have in our toolkit,” said Manny Montes, the assistant director of HR at Wild Dunes Resort.

In some cases, at Wild Dunes and other businesses, workers have been asked to stick around.

“There’s actually two people that we connected with originally on the app that we’ve ended up offering positions to stay on board with us as actual employees,” said Montes.

Gigpro is a way to get some fast cash and help out businesses that are in dire need of staff.

“I would say right now that our biggest mission is to try and get more money in the pockets of the workforce in this industry. I’ve heard from multiple businesses that we’re working with that we’re kind for the only thing that’s moving the needle and getting help in the door,” said Ellsworth.

Gigpro is officially expanding to Nashville, TN and Charlotte, NC and Ellsworth hopes to add more “food eccentric cities” to the list soon.

For more about Gigpro, click here.

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Rep. McHenry introduces Gig Worker Equity Compensation Act

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U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) introduced legislation that would include the gig workforce in the category of workers who can benefit from equity compensation.

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The Gig Worker Equity Compensation Act (H.R. 2990) would help gig workers share in the economic resurgence while preserving their flexibility and independence.

“How people choose to work is changing. Our technology-driven economy is embracing this shift, Washington needs to keep up,” McHenry, the Republican leader on the House Financial Services Committee, said. “By giving these non-traditional workers access to equity compensation—just like traditional employees—we can ensure they benefit from the growth of the companies they are making successful. While Democrats attempt to stifle this growing sector of the workforce, my bill ensures they retain the flexibility they need while giving them the opportunity to grow wealth. This is a win for our capital markets, job creators, and gig workers.”

McHenry points out that about a quarter of the U.S. workforce participates in the gig economy or non-traditional work — whether as a rideshare driver, food delivery courier, or sharing their property through a platform like Airbnb. Further, about 10 percent of workers rely on alternative work arrangements for their primary source of income. These workers do not want to be bound by constraints like an office, set hours, or a traditional employer-employee relationship. This bill seeks to provide additional flexibility to support these workers.

In November 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to propose rules to provide equity compensation options for gig workers. McHenry welcomed this initiative and is committed to working with the SEC to implement his broader proposal.

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GigIndia to provide Rs 3 lakh insurance cover to active gig workers

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GigIndia, a B2B gig marketplace for on-demand work completion, will provide free COVID health insurance to its active gig workers covering up to Rs 3 lakh of medical expenses. Considering the adverse financial impact of COVID-19 on its gigger families, the Pune-headquartered firm in a release said that it is offering this insurance to active gig workers to make them feel relatively secure during these challenging times.

Moreover, the company is initiating efforts to ensure certified giggers on its platform continue receiving gigs (projects), thereby enabling a steady monthly income, it added.

“The COVID Health Insurance will ensure that medical costs are covered if any gig worker tests positive for COVID-19. We are also providing financial assistance to gig workers, which will help them with essential expenditure such as hospital charges, oxygen cylinders and ventilators, among others,” said Sahil Sharma, Co-founder & CEO, GigIndia.

Sharma said Rs 3 lakh covid health insurance will be given to thousands of active giggers on the company’s platform. In addition, the company has also set up an internal Rs 10 lakh covid relief fund for gig workers in need.

He further said that unlike full-time white/grey collar workers, giggers and grey collar part-time workers typically do not receive social security benefits and paid leave or access to health insurance.

According to Sharma, GigIndia is providing emergency loans for medical expenses, 100 per cent reimbursement of vaccination cost for all its employees and their family members, along with 14-days’ paid leave if an employee tests positive.

GigIndia said it empowers large enterprises to scale rapidly by providing a flexible workforce along with tech-enabled real-time tracking for work completion, remote customer onboarding, virtual customer support, recruitment on-demand, influencer marketing and field operations among others.

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