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A Human Rights Activist Turned Entrepreneur Revolutionises Financial Services 💸
FemWealth Issue #46
Happy Sunday, FemWealth Friends!
I admire ambitious founders who are driven by a bold vision. Even more so the underestimated ones who have atypical backgrounds.
Amira Yahyaoui, founder and CEO of the US-based challenger bank Mos is one of them. Her journey starts in Tunis, a city on the Mediterranean Sea and Tunisia’s capital. In her teen years and early twenties, she and her family were targets of political reprisals from the government, partly because her dissident activities challenged President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s dictatorship.
As a tech-savvy teenager, she had started blogging about the regime’s abuses: government corruption, economic disenfranchisement, lack of press freedom, and gender parity and human rights abuses. She eventually decided also to organize protests. But her efforts were met with state violence.
Forced to leave the country, she ended up in Paris, France as a stateless person. There, she lived on the fringes of society - homeless, taking classes at university using a fake ID, not allowed to work or have a bank account. Only after two years was she able to find housing with the help of one of the readers of her blog.
During her stay in France, she continued to write about the plights of civil society in her home country, blogging, tweeting, and posting about the arrests, torture, and corruption. Also, there, she organized protests.
After the downfall of Ben Ali’s government in January 2011, she was finally able to regain her citizenship and return to Tunisia.
Her activism work continued. Together with Nadia Boulifa, a Tunisian expat with international diplomatic experience, she established Al Bawsala (compass, in Arabic), a political watchdog NGO. They supported Tunisia’s nascent democracy pushing for gender parity and human rights, freedom of entrepreneurship, independence, and constitutional courts. After the new constitution was voted on, Yahyaoui resigned as CEO and withdrew from public life.
Months later, she realized that her calling was “building from scratch,” and technology was the medium through which she wanted to bring change. In 2017 she decided to build a company around the idea of financial opportunity.
“Money is the ultimate segregation wall. It’s what defines you if you can’t figure it out, and it’s the reason why most people don’t reach their full potential.”
After reaching out for advice to Khaled Helioui, a Tunisian tech investor and operator, she was introduced to Garrett Camp, a co-founder of Uber. Months later, she moved to the Bay Area in the US in 2018. Determined to identify the aspects of financial life that needed to be fixed, she tried meeting “regular” people outside of the tech bubble. Financial aid for college came high up on the list.
“We’re not here to fix or improve the financial system, but to completely redefine it. To achieve this at a record speed means approaching it with a boldness that others would shy away from. We crave crazy ideas and take them seriously, because crazy is often just genius that requires excellent execution.” - Culture at Mos
After intense research, she and her team discovered a “bewilderingly obfuscated and impossibly fractured” student financial aid system. They decided to fix it by building a comprehensive financial aid finder.
In late 2018, Yahyaoui and her team officially launched Mos, offering prospective students access to $165B of financial aid a year. Offering their tool for $149 ($1 upfront, and $148 after successfully collecting the financial aid), they helped thousands of students receive an average of $16,000 dollars in aid during the first year.
When the pandemic hit in spring 2021, most Mos users defaulted, unable to pay the fee. Even more determined to help these students, Yahyaoui looked for opportunities to pivot. A few weeks later, she had a new vision: turn Mos into a bank. She also set an ambitious goal to launch “a financial super-app” within the next eight months. To better understand students’ needs, the team brought them on the journey during product development.
The Mos app and debit card launched on September 1, 2021. What makes it even more exceptional is that Yahyaoui gave birth to a baby girl shortly before, in August!
The weeks after launch, Mos grew steadily while the team fine-tuned the product. Then a promotion campaign launched the weekend before Thanksgiving went viral, propelling Mos to the top of the App Store.
As of January 2022, the startup has helped more than 400,000 students unlock more than $1.5 billion in scholarship money and a pool of over $160 billion in financial aid.
For Yahyaoui, this is just the beginning. Driven by a mission “to tear down all financial barriers to opportunity,” the company aims to create a more equitable future on a global scale.
“We want to be the number-one financial app for the 99%, and to do that there are things that need to happen that are in the order of magic.”
With $40M in a new Series B funding round at a $400M valuation, led by Tiger Global and joined by returning investors Sequoia, Khaled Helioui, Expa, Emerson Collective, and Lux Capital, Mos is undoubtedly on an exciting and promising path.
Not your typical founder: What early stage investors can learn from Amira Yahyaoui - By Pippa Lamb, Partner at Sweet Capital and an investor in Mos
FemWealth Favorites ❤️
Leadership: 👸🏻Queen Elizabeth quietly marks 70 years on the British throne - Today, Queen Elizabeth (95) marks 70 years on the British throne, a milestone never reached by any of her predecessors over the last 1,000 years.
Startups: 💸 New capital fuels Purely Elizabeth’s next natural food phase - The company founded by Elizabeth Stein, has closed on $50 million in Series B
💸 Tiger Global and Greycroft back Nigerian investment app Bamboo in $15M round - Co-founded by Yanmo Omorogbe (COO) and Richmond Bassey (CEO)
💸 London Fintech Fiat Republic Secures $ 3,5 M to Build Bridge Between Web3 and Banking - Co-founded by Martyna Lewinska (CTO), Sophie Guibaud (Chief Commercial & Growth Officer), and AdamBialy (CEO)
👩🏻💻 This fintech has quietly been taking on $11bn+ payment rivals — and is finally out of stealth - Founded by Rania Lamprou, Simpler brings “one-click checkout” payments to Europe. The startup has a working product and comes out of stealth with only EUR 1M in funding
🤷🏻♀️ Our diversity dilemma: only 10% of our team are men - By Katrin Alberding, co-founder and co-CEO of Kenbi
“So, do men care? The answer is yes, but it’s up to us to make sure they can. Achieving a diverse workforce — whether it is to include men or another minority in your field — is always the same route: invest in your diversity and do it continuously. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the necessary thing.”
VC: 💸 776 closes new $500M venture fund - Seven Seven Six, founded by Katelin Holloway and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, closed its second fund across two vehicles in an “oversubscribed” raise. The firm plans to invest in Web3, climate tech, space tech, food tech, and SaaS businesses. 51% of 776’s LPs identify as female, 13% as Black or Indigenous people, and 10% as Latino/a/e.
💸 AirTree launches three new funds totaling 700M AUD - An investor in Canva, AirTree has launched three new funds totaling AUD 700M. It has a 50/50 split between men and women among partners and the broader team and tracks the deals funnel at each stage of the investment process for a mix of gender and ethnicity among founders.
“We take our responsibility as a leader in this industry very seriously. Our approach is to (be) the change we want to see and set the standards for the industry, and there’s always more that can be done.” - Elicia McDonald
💸 Amplify Capital closes $30.7M Fund II and expands its investment team - Led by veteran private equity executive Kathryn Wortsman, the Canadian firm invests in early-stage businesses that use technology to scale solutions for society and the planet.
Women's & Family Health: 👩🏽🦳 The World’s First Women’s Age Lab And Why We Need It: Covid-19, Sex And Death - Founded and led by Dr. Paula Rochon, a geriatrician who has been researching the specificities of how women age for decades.
“So why the need for a gender lens? Because without exploring differences, we tend (in many areas) to simply extrapolate solutions that work for men. Yet women live longer than men, often marry men older than themselves, and are therefore statistically more likely to be caregivers to their spouses – and outlive them. When they, in turn, require care, there may be no one able to fully provide it. Which explains why women dominate in care homes.”
Crypto & Web3: 👩🏻💻 A Rising Crypto Star Has the SEC and Volatile Markets in Her Way - Featuring Ophelia Snyder, the 29-year-old co-founder of Switzerland-based 21Shares
Philanthropy: 👩🏻🎓 MacKenzie Scott Gives $133.5 Million To Keep Kids In School - MacKenzie Scott has donated >$8.61 billion to 780+ organizations in the less than two years since her divorce from Jeff Bezos, giving her fortune away faster than any billionaire ever to groups that focus on issues like racial justice, gender equality, and public health.
💸 With Melinda French Gates striking out on her own, another high-profile divorce is unleashing billions in philanthropic dollars - Melinda Gates French will divide her resources among other philanthropic initiatives, including her own Pivotal Ventures company.
“Philanthropists are generally more helpful to the world when we’re standing behind a movement rather than trying to lead our own.”
“I also commit my time, energy, and efforts to the work of fighting poverty and advancing equality.” - Melinda French Gates
Career: 🎧 Women's careers will last longer than ever before. Here's how to make the most of it. - Tracy Killoren Chadwell, founding partner of 1843 Capital, a VC fund focused on technology for longevity and aging, shares her top tips.
“The question isn’t if the injustice is there, it's what do we do about it? How do we continue to show up, even when it’s extraordinarily hard, even when it feels like we have nothing left?” - Y-Vonne Hutchinson, author of the forthcoming book “How to talk to your boss about race”
How Bernardine Evaristo Conquered British Literature - Evaristo has been recently named president of the U.K.’s Royal Society of Literature, becoming the first person of color to hold the position in the organization’s two-hundred-year history (she is also the first who did not attend at least one of the following: Oxford, Cambridge, Eton.)
“There were people who thought my career was great as it was. But they didn’t know what I really wanted for myself, you know? I wasn’t prepared to settle.”
⚽ NWSL and players agree to deal including minimum $35,000 salary - The US National Women’s Soccer League and its players’ association have agreed to their first-ever collective bargaining agreement. All players will see increased salaries (a minimum salary of $35,000), retirement fund contributions, life and health insurance, parental and mental health leave, and housing.
[Winter Olympics] ⛸ In a change, figure skaters are now “women” instead of “ladies”
“I really hope that – as this sport progresses – the gender normative boundaries that it exists so strictly within start to loosen.” - Ashley Wagner, a 2014 Olympian
🎿 The fight for equality in women's ski jumping is about more than ski suits - Women ski jumpers take home about 70-80% less prize money than men and there are fewer events and fewer chances to compete (thus fewer medals)
Things To Ponder
“Women are usually the most adversely affected by conflict but the most marginalized in peace processes, and the most punished for their peacebuilding efforts.” - Ghana’s Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey
“The dominant form of American capitalism should be named after its value extraction hub: care work. Care work capitalism captures value from care workers while disenfranchising them as stakeholders.”
Cheslie Kryst's tragic death is a reminder of the deceptive face of suicide - 30-year-old former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst seemed to have it all, but according to her mother she suffered from depression, which “she hid from everyone.”
[Check on your strong friend. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call a Suicide Prevention Lifeline.]
Thank you for reading FemWealth!
Wish you a lovely Sunday and a productive week ahead!
Founder & Writer of FemWealth
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