Generation Start-up: how Imagine Dragons inspired Egypt’s first digital trading app

The co-founders of Thndr aim to build an investing ‘supermarket’ for Mena consumers with a focus on financial literacy

Ahmad Hammouda and Seif Amr, the co-founders of Cairo-based Thndr, aim to democratise trading in the Arab world’s third-biggest economy. Photo: Thndr

It’s not every day that a FinTech start-up in Egypt can claim to be inspired by Imagine Dragons, one of the world’s biggest-selling Indie pop-rock bands with album sales totalling about 46 million, figures compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America show.

But that’s exactly what happened with Cairo-based digital investment platform Thndr (pronounced Thunder), when co-founders Ahmad Hammouda and Seif Amr had a “lightning” moment while deciding on a name for their start-up.

“When you are thinking about building your own start-up, you’re obsessed and it is the only thing that you are thinking about,” says Mr Hammouda, who is also Thndr’s chief executive.

“One of the few times that I was at the gym on the treadmill, I was listening to the Thunder song by Imagine Dragons and this is when I decided that Thndr was a good name. After Seif signed it off, we went with that … thunder, lightning implies speed,” he adds.

Launched in October 2020, Thndr is Egypt’s first mobile-based, low-commission stock brokerage that aims to democratise trading in the Arab world’s third-biggest economy by making it easy for consumers to invest in stocks, bonds and other funds across the Middle East and North Africa region.

The start-up is riding a FinTech wave in Egypt, driven by new laws governing the sector as part of the government's efforts to accelerate the country’s digital transformation and move towards a “less-cash economy”, the Central Bank of Egypt said in its 2021 FinTech Landscape report.

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When you are thinking about building your own start-up, you’re obsessed and it is the only thing that you are thinking about
Ahmad Hammouda, co-founder and chief executive of Thndr

“Over the past few years, FinTech has become a major force that is disrupting and transforming financial services on a global scale,” the CBE, which allocated one billion Egyptian pounds ($54.71 million) for a FinTech Innovation Fund in 2020, said.

“In line with the country’s National Vision for 2030, CBE recognises the importance of FinTech to support the modernisation of Egypt’s financial sector.”

Egypt is fast becoming a leading player in the Mena region in terms of FinTech development, Fitch Solutions said in a June 2021 report.

The FinTech sector in the Arab world's most populous country's is set to record a compound annual growth rate of 11 per cent between 2018 and 2025 to reach a value of $1.5bn, the data research company forecasts.

Egypt accounted for 22 per cent of total investment deals in the Mena region in 2020, it added.

“The size of investments made Egypt the second-largest recipient of funds, behind the UAE, indicating Egypt’s level of attractiveness to investors,” the report said.

Meanwhile, investment in the FinTech sector reached about $159m in 2021, up from $900,000 in 2017, the CBE said in its report.

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In March, Thndr raised $20m in a series A funding round that was co-led by New York-based Tiger Global, Dubai’s Beco Capital and the Netherlands' Prosus Ventures. Base Capital, firstminute and existing investors Endure Capital, 4DX Ventures, Raba Partnerships and JIMCO also participated in the funding round.

The funding will be used to further develop the platform’s infrastructure to increase their local investment products, as well as to build on their dream to become an “investment supermarket” and expand the business across the Mena region, says Mr Amr, Thndr's chief operating officer.

Thndr will soon be opening an office in Dubai, he adds.

“The third parties we integrate and work with are not used to working with such a scalable solution, so a big part of our plan is to continue to invest in building the infrastructure that is needed to allow for the seamless interaction of local products, similar to how seamless it is abroad.

“We need to start catering to different types of personas and people and, therefore, we want to invest in building this investment supermarket where it's not just one thing for one type of person.

“Lastly, our ambitions extend beyond Egypt as we see ourselves as a Mena play; we come from this region and we want to extend the impact that we're having in Egypt, abroad and elsewhere. So part of this money is going into geographical expansion.”

The co-founders, who worked for ride-hailing app Uber before launching Thndr, are also focusing on financial literacy to equip investors with the knowledge to make “self-directed” investment decisions and empower their futures.

With more than 300,000 downloads of Thndr’s mobile application to date, 87 per cent of its user base are first-time investors and 40 per cent are from rural areas in Egypt, the co-founders say.

Thndr’s assets under custody grew 29-fold last year, while monthly traded values rose by a similar number. The platform also accounted for 36 per cent of all new registrations in local Egyptian exchanges during 2021, they add.

Financial inclusion is a major challenge for FinTechs in Egypt, with about 67 per cent of the population either unbanked or financially underserved, World Bank figures show.

However, solving this issue is the government's primary objective and “they share our definition of financial inclusion, which is not only about having a [bank] card but rather having access to financial services”, Mr Hammouda says.

“They have seen in us [as] this agent of change that will actually help them with financial inclusion … and the regulator has been giving us all the support that we have been asking for.”

The co-founders are already noticing the positive effect that Thndr is having on the financial lives of Egyptians.

“I see a mother who wants to send her kids to study robotics in Germany and now Thndr is giving her the means to invest to make this happen in the future,” Mr Amr says.

“I'm seeing a kid who's working two jobs in the south of Egypt, making 50 pounds a week and he actually has a savings avenue to grow this and make it stabilise.

“My dream is that we are a platform that really helps people and has this impact across the Arabic-speaking population … regardless of gender, religion, financial literacy — if there is a need for you to use a service like us, I want it to be that for you.”

Company profile

Name:+Thndr

Started:+October 2020

Founders:+Ahmad Hammouda and Seif Amr

Based: Cairo, Egypt

Sector: FinTech

Initial investment: pre-seed of+$800,000

Funding stage: series A;+$20 million

Investors: Tiger Global, Beco Capital, Prosus Ventures, Y Combinator, Global Ventures, Abdul Latif Jameel, Endure Capital, 4DX Ventures, Plus VC, Rabacap and MSA Capital

Q&A with Thndr co-founders Ahmad Hammouda and Seif Amr

What other successful start-up do you wish you had started?

Ahmad Hammouda: I haven't thought about that before but to be honest, I would do a start-up in the gaming industry.

Seif Amr: On my end, I can't really think of another start-up but I can think of a topic. I am a very big advocate of our environment. And if I were not to do Thndr, or after Thndr, I would love to do something that really tackles the global environmental issue that we have today.

Who is your role model?

AH: My dad.

SA: This is shared by my immediate family members — my mother for always pushing to do the right thing, even in the face of big obstacles, my dad for his hustling, entrepreneurial spirit that paved the way for my growth and my sister for her unceasing ethics.

What new skills have you learnt since launching your business?

AH: I learnt from Seif about solving problems for sustainability — even if it hurts in the short term.

SA: I learnt how to be patient and to build a team that I trust can do things better than I can. This is my first start-up and the difficult days are much more frequent than the good days. We're also trying to do something that wasn't tried before and this takes time. It's not sustainable to try to do everything on your own. I'm not the master of everything and I don't have hundred hours a day. Appreciating that there are those out there who are much better than me at what they do and they will play a critical role in our mission and believe in the same vision that we have at Thndr is one of my greatest learnings.

Where do you want to be in five years?

AH: Still working at Thndr, with five years of amazing growth achieved!

SA: To have extended our impact to the rest of Mena region and Thndr becoming the go-to platform that helps everyday individuals achieve financial freedom.

If you could do it all differently, what would you change?

AH: I would have done it the same way. I have been enjoying every step in this journey, including the mistakes we made and I truly look forward to discovering what path this journey will take us to.

SA: I wouldn't change anything. We made hundreds of mistakes and ran into existential obstacles that could have been avoided but, ultimately, I'm proud of the impact that we are having and blessed to be part of the team that we've built. I wouldn't want to risk changing where we are now by changing past events, even if I would have done things differently in hindsight.

Updated: April 04, 2022, 4:30 AM
Company profile

Name:+Thndr

Started:+October 2020

Founders:+Ahmad Hammouda and Seif Amr

Based: Cairo, Egypt

Sector: FinTech

Initial investment: pre-seed of+$800,000

Funding stage: series A;+$20 million

Investors: Tiger Global, Beco Capital, Prosus Ventures, Y Combinator, Global Ventures, Abdul Latif Jameel, Endure Capital, 4DX Ventures, Plus VC, Rabacap and MSA Capital

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