Interview with Toru Mino

Toru is a hiking and ukelele enthusiast who helps Kopo Kopo, a mobile payments startup, expand into new markets.

 

Q: Who are you? Introduce yourself as you would at a dinner party.

A: I work for Kopo Kopo, a mobile payments start-up focused on helping SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises), primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa, grow and prosper. I am responsible for expansion into new markets through partnerships with banks and telecoms that are looking to improve their service offerings for SMEs. Outside of work I try to find time to cook, accompany my wife on her quest to visit every national park in the country, and play the ukulele. 

 

Q: What is your background? How does it differ from what you are doing now? 

A: In some ways I am very far from my original background in Product Design (now the D.School at Stanford), but in others it still seems very connected. I work in the financial services space now, which I never thought I would find myself in having started out focused on mechanical design of consumer goods and medical devices. On the other hand, the basic principles of human-centered design are always applicable: who is your customer, what is their need, how do you make your value proposition tangible for them? 

 

Q: What are you working on right now?

A: As a start-up we are constantly in flux. Right now we are making many transitions that I am involved with in various ways. First we are transitioning from a company focused on merchant acquisition in Kenya to a globally focused merchant payments business. Second, we are trying to focus the business on the long-term value we can create with products beyond payments, but enabled by the transactions and infrastructure we have created so far.

 

Q: Why did you join Impact Hub?

A: We were originally pointed towards Impact Hub by one of our co-founders, Tom Bostelmann, who has been connected with the Hub and the Seattle developer and social enterprise communities for many years. When I first moved here to open up a small strategy office for Kopo Kopo we needed a home and the Hub was (and continues to be) very welcoming.

 

Q: How do you make money?

A: Right now Kopo Kopo primarily makes money through a small percentage of mobile money transactions that we process for merchants. Our long term vision is to have the transaction be an enabler rather than a revenue driver, enabling products such as lending and marketing tools that add greater value for SMEs in emerging markets. 

 

Q: What is something that really excites you right now (a trend, life development, time of year, food, etc.)?

A: My wife and I are still just excited by the basics of living in Seattle. Being so close to great camping and hiking spots or just walking in our neighborhood at night are things we took for granted before living in Nairobi.  

 

Q: You have $10M to spend in the next year, and you can’t spend it on you, your friends or your family. How do you spend it?

A: I would spend it trying to find ways to improve the mess that is urban public education in the US. As the husband of a former inner city middle school teacher, I know how impossible a job those teachers have and it is frustrating to see how much money is currently being spent demonizing them as the only source of the problem. It would be nice to spend some money to counter-act that misrepresentation and to view the problem as a more systemic and complex issue than just a failure of public servants. 

 

Q: Where do you usually hang out when you are at Impact Hub? How often are you here?

A: We have a small office space in the Hub so I am usually there. It is too easy to be reclusive on that side of the Hub, but we will try to keep our door open for anyone that wants to stop by. Our team travels a lot, so it is hard to get into a routine, but I try to be in the Hub 3 days a week when I am in town. 

 

Two questions that we’d like every member to answer…

 

Q: What is something we don’t know? (Either about you, or something else)

A: I have lived in 7 different cities over the last 9 years (so very happy to be settling in Seattle for a bit!). Beijing, San Francisco, Kathmandu, Boston, Washington DC, Kampala, Nairobi, and now Seattle. 

 

Q: Give us your top three Seattle gems!

A: We have only been in Seattle 8 months, but here are a few highlights: 

 

Contact Toru at toru@kopokopo.com.