[Startup Interview] Paul Langlois-Meurinne, Co-founder of Gravity, Kenya
Paul Langlois-Meurinne is a serial entrepreneur in Africa focused on large scale technology driven innovations. Gravity is one of such innovations:
Could you introduce your company?
Gravity provides on the fly identity management services for low income populations in developing countries. People just need access to a mobile phone - any phone - to create a robust ID sealed on a blockchain. For more than half a billion people in Africa, mobile operators are struggling with collecting and verifying the KYC information, also denying the ones who lack formal ID access to a SIM card or mobile money services. Through its platform, Gravity allows MNOs to strengthen their KYC while expanding both their customer base and level of service to people at the bottom of the pyramid.
Where is Gravity located?
Paris (France) at Station F, the largest startup campus, where we are incubated at the Founders Program, and another office in Nairobi (Kenya) to manage our field operations.
When was Gravity it founded and by who?
The company was founded in 2016 by experts in the blockchain, telecommunications and finance sectors, with 15 years of consolidated work experience in Africa.
How is Gravity funded?
The Proof of Concept was self-funded. We are looking at raising capital for platform upscaling.
What are Gravity’s unique selling points?
The value proposition of the platform is to create a trusted and secured self-sovereign identity easy to share.
We try to improve identity management in several ways, such as leveraging crowdsourcing (Peer to Peer certification) to validate ID attributes. Instead of rare
and expensive data (ID cards, formal KYC), use of cheap low intensity data. We also leverage crowdcomputing (blockchain technology) to secure the ID registry. Instead of sequential data processing, use of a distributed Ledger Technology. Gravity further stands out in Proportional ID score, instead of binary ID (with or without ID).
We have chosen to tackle first the most significant issue when it comes to identity in Africa : SIM registration.
Indeed for more than half a billion people in Africa, mobile operators are struggling with collecting and verifying the KYC information, also denying the ones who lack formal ID access to a SIM card or mobile money services. The KYC collected cannot also be easily shared with third parties.
Enabling a seamless SIM card registration will unlock a fundamental value chain linked to mobile money services: payments, transfers, credit, insurance and savings, which are key in developing countries where « bricks and mortar » banking infrastructure struggles to serve low-income customers, particularly in rural areas.
How has the market responded to your services?
We conducted a pilot in June 2017 in Kenya with a Front-end platform based on a USSD menu. 1000 users registered over 1 week, 74% of which living in rural areas. The results were presented at the GSMA M360 Africa conference in Dar es Salaam in July 2017. 30% had at least one major discrepancy with their traditional paper-based KYC. 19% had no national ID card. The registration cost was also half of what it is normally for mobile operators.
Who are your clients?
Gravity positions itself as a platform orchestrator.
The consumers, accessing the value created on the platform, are all providers who want to reduce the cost of customer identification, increase penetration rate and simplify lifecycle management: governments, mobile operators, e-commerce providers, NGOs, Single Sign On users.
The producers, on the platform supply side, are the users at the bottom of the pyramid who lack formal IDs to access value added services or want to have a more secure and open KYC.
The key partners, as the main user registration chanel, are the mobile operators that have the largest customer base in most emerging countries (average 46% penetration rate in Africa, 6% annual growth rate) but also high churn rates as pre-paid SIM are common, allowing to quickly enroll a very large number of users.
What are the ambitions of the company?
We plan to first focus on Sub Saharan Africa where there are unique challenges linked to absent or poor identification of the people, denying them access to critical services. Looking ahead, the target users are significantly higher as 1,5 bn people lack a formal ID, and there would be an acute need for our solution in Asian or Latin American countries.
On the product side, while we want to prove the value of our product with the SIM registration, the objective is to be at the center of an ecosystem, playing the role a Facebook connect for the offline world, and enabling users to share the Gravity KYC with multiple private or public stakeholders they interact with to access services.
What does Gravity need to grow and prosper?
We are working with several mobile operators, the GSM Association (GSMA), institutions and regulators towards deploying our Gravity KYC in a live environment for a larger scale pilot with 50,000 users. In parallel, we are looking for funding to upscale our technological platform so that he can support up to 25 million users and develop additional modules of machine learning users scoring.
What is the latest news from Gravity?
Gravity digital ID solution featured in the GSMA “Blockchain for Development” report.
The report provides four case studies (from Gravity, BanQu, Disberse and WFP) that show how blockchain platforms are being used to improve people’s access to self-sovereign identities, bring new levels of transparency to the distribution of international aid, and improve the efficiency of humanitarian cash transfers.
The GSMA Digital Identity programme notes that early evidence is showing that these projects could provide mobile operators with new opportunities to support development partners, create new revenue streams, reduce their Know-Your-Customer (KYC) compliance costs and related barriers, and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Africa Business Communities is conducting a series of interviews with startup businesses in Africa.
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