Interview: ZIGWay (2020)

Miranda Phua of Zigway was interviewed by Sohaib Elbebany on May 29, 2020

Company Overview

Zigway was Founded in 2016 as a startup providing low-income families in Myanmar with a mobile application.

They allow direct access to cheap, flexible nano loans (5-200) USD Via phones to make daily repayments that match their earning power.

Key Takeaways

  • The Corona Virus effects on business
  • The feedback from customers and being flexible with the problems can transform the idea
  • Challenges of deliveries in third world during COVID-19

Interview Highlights

How was your business affected by the coronavirus?

Good and bad, I guess. It’s always a bit of a combination. Maybe that’s always the story of an entrepreneur. We’re never satisfied, but it’s never the end of the world either. One of the hardest things for us was when everything started shutting down, and it wasn’t entirely safe to be outside. So we operate in these urban areas of Yangon, and we’re a technology company but a bit of a hybrid because, in Myanmar where a lot of people have smartphones, at the same time, mainly when we target low-income families, not everybody uses a smartphone in a sophisticated way. They don’t use mobile apps or things like that. So we have what we call a superuser, and these are local people, so local women who we train to use our mobile app and help sign up other people and take care of mobile money payments, things like that.

How did you develop your idea?

Initially, when we started and when we applied for the Mentor Capital Network [MCN]. We were doing a loan app, so, through an app, people could go to their superuser and apply for small loans. When we saw how people were using those loans and what they were doing, we’re noticing that many people are just buying essential items like food and things to take care of their families. We started doing was evolving the program over time, so rather than just doing loans, we started this subscription service. And this is around the time when we’re on the MCN program, we were asking mentors, “should we go down this subscription path? Should we go down the loan path? There are lots of regulatory issues with the loan path. What should we do?” And we got some excellent advice and feedback from that perceptive.

We decided to push forward with the subscription model as something that we could run ourselves independently without relying on bank partners and all that sort of stuff. But it meant that we could provide things like bulk rice and bulk cooking oil to people. These big giant bags that people would order at the start of the month, and then they could slowly repay that bag over that month, just in line with their income. 

How you managed the delivery for your customers during covid?

The delivery component was good and challenging during these times. Good because it means that people can stay at home more, people can order what they need and get the goods delivered as and when they need. But the challenge has been for us is that just going into some of these areas, there’s been a lot of lockdowns of streets and townships. With an inability for our staff to go into the field, we want to ensure that everyone remains safe. So we can’t do contactless deliveries like you can in the US with many food apps where they drop off the food at the door and then run away. In Myanmar, we’re working in local communities, and everybody’s face to face. Somebody comes to your place, all the neighbors come out, and everybody sees you with a giant truck of rice. So it’s not like it’s quick and easy to do. Our biggest challenge is balancing the need for our product and delivering in a time where social distancing is paramount.

Did you raise any money or capital?

We got some grants, and we got some prize money. We got the Singapore FinTech Festival, which is the largest FinTech festival globally, and all sorts of random companies turn up. We came third place in the ASEAN SME category, so we got S$50,000 from that. We got a grant in February.

And then we got a grant from UNCDF, so one of the UN agencies, to implement a small loan program with one of the banks here. And that was a $41,000 grant. The grant’s problem is we got the grant in February, and then in March, coronavirus hit. So the bank has put a lot of new projects on hold in all of this, so we’re in the waiting stage at the moment, which is a bit tough.