We’re Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!
Wave is a startup building mobile money—a way for people in developing countries to access financial services like savings and money transfer if they can’t afford, or live too far away from, traditional banks. Lincoln is co-founder and head of product; Ben is an early engineer and CTO. We’ve both been part of the EA community since ~2011 (in fact, we met through NYC EA), and work on Wave for EA reasons.
EDIT: this originally said we’d start answering on Friday, but we’re getting nerd sniped by the questions so will probably get to them sooner :)
Wave is a spinoff of Sendwave, an app for sending money internationally from the US to Kenya. Sendwave used a mobile money system in Kenya, M-Pesa, to instantly deliver money transfers. Inspired by M-Pesa, we want to bring mobile money that works well to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
Wave is a for-profit, venture-backed company, but our founders and employees work on it primarily for EA reasons: mobile money has a large impact on global poverty. For example, one paper estimates that M-Pesa in Kenya lifted 2% of all households—almost 1m people—out of poverty. For a deeper analysis of the impact of mobile money, see Jeff Kaufman’s Estimating the Value of Mobile Money. For our thoughts in favor of developing-world entrepreneurship more generally, see Ben’s Why and how to start a for-profit company serving emerging markets.
(If this seems compelling to you, we’re hiring! We have the most open roles for software engineers but are happy to chat about other possible positions as well. Message Ben on the forum or at email@example.com.)
Wave’s mobile money system is based around an app that’s similar to Venmo or Cash App, except that it doesn’t require a bank account. Instead, Wave lets users directly deposit or withdraw cash at “agents”—local businesspeople (think small shops/corner stores) who use their spare cash on hand to service Wave users. With agents, we can reach many more people than banks: the biggest banks in Senegal have ~40 branches, while we have over 100x as many agents.
We also allow users to purchase airtime and pay bills directly from the app, and are building lots of other ways to use Wave, like for salary payments and loans. Our goal is for Wave to be the easiest way to do any type of economic transaction.
We currently operate in Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. In Senegal, which launched first, we’ve now reached over 1m users and are still growing quickly. We plan to expand to additional countries in 2021.
Wave is around ~400 people, of which ~300 work in our Senegal office, ~50 in our Ivorian office, and ~50 on a fully distributed remote team working on cross-country work (engineering, product development, finance, etc.).
I’m co-founder and head of product at Wave. My role is to figure out what products to build and how to execute on them, mainly by leading the product teams. I’m also an engineer myself—I wrote a ton of the original code for Sendwave and Wave, but I don’t do much coding anymore (and I miss it). I lived in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Senegal for a combined 3 years and now live in the northeast US near where I grew up.
Outside work, I like cooking & baking, cycling, skiing, rationality and effective altruism. I have a personal website/blog, although my content is not nearly as good as Ben’s :P. Before Wave and Sendwave, I founded other failed startups: “Brew,” a dating app for students at NYU; “Chime,” a social/event-discovery app for college students at Brown & Yale; and “Newsbrane,” a social news app. I also worked in the video game industry. I became interested in effective altruism topics in 2011, when I discovered GiveWell through Less Wrong. I signed the Founders Pledge in 2016 to donate 10% of eventual sale/profit from Wave to charity.
I joined Wave as the second engineer and am now CTO. I currently spend most of my time hiring and managing the team that works on our core engineering tools/infrastructure; in the past I’ve done everything from product work to accounting. I grew up in Boston, lived in the Bay Area for one year, spent a bunch of time in Ethiopia/Nigeria/Senegal as well, and am now nomadic.
Outside work I like to write blog posts. I don’t write as much on EA anymore but some relatively EA-relevant ones include a review of Why Nations Fail, various ones on career planning / job searching (very old, old, recent, recent), and notes on running an EA student group.
Previously, I earned-to-give at a different early stage startup and cofounded Harvard College Effective Altruism. I found out about what would become EA in 2009 when Peter Singer gave a talk at my high school.
Some topics we can talk about
Obviously this list is not exhaustive—ask us anything you want—but here’s some ideas to get started!
Entrepreneurship as an EA path
Living in Africa
Entrepreneurship in Africa as an EA path
How the EA community has changed over time
Career choice and planning
Building cross-cultural teams