The Africa SMME Tech Report
The BIG5D Podcast
BIG5D Podcast Ep. 38: "The 5 Trillion Dollar Credit Gap" with Jia CEO Zach Marks

BIG5D Podcast Ep. 38: "The 5 Trillion Dollar Credit Gap" with Jia CEO Zach Marks

"Put entrepreneurs in control of their financial destinies."

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The BIG5D Podcast is back and this episode features an engaging and informative conversation with Zach Marks, the Co-founder and CEO of blockchain-based fintech Jia. The company, formed in 2022, provides access to capital for small businesses in emerging markets. Jia currently operates in Kenya and the Philippines.

Jia, which was formed in 2022, recently raised a $4.3 million seed round. But this significant funding event isn't even discussed in the episode. Zach and I did discuss it briefly before we began recording. I told Zach that the amount of money a company has raised "is usually the least interesting thing about it." And he agreed.

Our objective on this podcast is to learn about the problems a company is trying to solve and how it plans to go about doing so. We do not particularly care how much money a company has raised, or from whom.

Ultimately what we do care about is the small business owner who needs capital, technology, or know-how, to take their business to the next level. And I got the sense that Zach cares about this above all as well. We understand this requires funding. We just don’t obsess over it.

As Zach notes early in our conversation, Jia’s aim is to solve what he calls the “$5 trillion credit gap” for small businesses in emerging markets by providing access to capital. And Jia rewards borrowers who repay successfully with digital tokens. Of course, the tokens must build value for this all to work.

What Jia is trying to do goes straight to the heart of what we cover here. And that is using emerging technologies — from AI to blockchain and more — to empower small businesses in Africa and the Middle East.

Please enjoy this episode. And please stay tuned for more great conversations.

Watch Episode 38 on YouTube

Interview Excerpts

The following are just a few edited excerpts from our conversation with Zach Marks. Please listen to the podcast or watch the video to experience the full interview.

How does Jia work?

What Jia does is provide blockchain-based financing for small businesses in emerging markets. And our mission is really to unlock financial freedom and put entrepreneurs in control of their financial destinies around the world.

We provide inventory financing and invoice financing, mostly as working capital for small businesses in emerging markets. Today our two markets are Kenya and the Philippines. And we basically source that capital on chain on the blockchain, which lets anyone provide liquidity, which we then take to use to finance small businesses.

And when they repay they earn token rewards, which gives them an ownership stake in this business.

Why did you select Kenya as Jia’s first market in Africa?

I've worked in Kenya for the past 10 years, and it helps to work in a country that you know. But the macro fundamentals are the reason so many FinTech companies get started in Kenya, of course, because there is broader digital financial services and mobile financial services adoption there than anywhere in the world. {He cites M-Pesa as laying the groundwork for fintechs like Jia.]

Why blockchain?

I think the benefits that blockchain can bring for any business that's serving multiple geographies can be pretty profound in terms of reducing the cost of moving money across borders, not just for us as a lending company, but even for small business borrowers.

What is your most important KPI?

Obviously, the repayment rate is helpful. But even more helpful than that, I think, is repeat retention. So you don't just want to see the borrower repay, you want to see that they came and took another loan from you.

What are your ambitions for elsewhere in Africa?

I'm very excited to explore markets beyond Kenya. The natural thing that I think a lot of foreign venture-backed companies do is they look at like Kenya in the east and Nigeria in the west, and you know, maybe South Africa's too advanced for them, and then it’s like, ‘Prove something in those places, and then see where they can go from here.’ I think that's sometimes just basic Western VC math.

I would be really excited to be in Nigeria, but it's also a very competitive and complicated, expensive market. And sometimes it might be easier to enter somewhere else. We actually have an invoice financing program going on right now with a company in Ghana {Oze}, which is really exciting.

The BIG5D Podcast features in-depth conversations with the leaders who are building, investing in, or taking to market the digital products and services designed to make micro, small, and medium-sized businesses more successful in Africa and the Middle East.

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