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Egypt’s first unicorn
Agency: Eterna Partners
Halan, a ride hailing and delivery app in Egypt, was launched in 2017 by two local entrepreneurs: Mounir Nakhla and Ahmed Mohsen, who also owned several micro-lending businesses in a country where more than 70 per cent of its young population are financially underserved.
When a series of new laws passed to encourage the growth of digital payments services in 2019, the company started pivoting towards financial services, culminating in a share swap with Dutch microlender MNT Investments BV, ultimately launching one super app MNT-Halan in 2021, a microfinance and payments company with a goal to digitally bank the unbanked and replace cash with electronic solutions.
It now has more than five million customers in Egypt, of whom 1.3 million are active every month, in a market where more than 90 per cent of the population – 90 million – have a mobile phone. Having received start-up funding from GB Auto Group, one of Egypt’s largest conglomerates, MNT-Halan wanted to diversify and potentially attract local and international investors.
The monies would be used to create and scale new services and to expand out of Egypt to other countries. However, its ambitions coincided with a massive decline in venture capital funding, a poor near-term economic outlook and a dramatic slump in the M&A markets.
Agency Eterna Partners was brought in to build MNT-Halan’s strategic investment case to American and European investors. Its three-pronged strategy focused on bringing clarity to the product and value proposition, explaining the concept of a super app; explaining the cash-based and under-banked emerging economy in Egypt; and, finally, highlighting MNT-Halan’s profitability, unit economics and ability to generate cash today.
Eterna told a story of a company enjoying consistent, durable growth coupled with disciplined financial management that translated into improving margins.
The first phase, which started in September 2021, focused on building MNT-Halan’s profile through international business media coverage, using a $120 million fundraising as the hook. A social media campaign, focusing on B2B LinkedIn, gained traction with a 400 per cent growth in followers.
Between October 2021 and January 2023, Eterna maintained momentum against a challenging operating environment by underlining MNT-Halan’s potential and the resilience of its value proposition, using key points in the business’s growth, such as the acquisition of a B2B ecommerce platform.
It also supported MNT-Halan as it became a United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles signatory, which promoted gender equality and female empowerment. The company also launched a micro-entrepreneurship training programme for Egyptian women in partnership with Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft, a German company which offers support to private
Between September 2021 and January 2023, there were 203 articles about MNT-Halan, both in traditional media and online, from news sites with an average domain authority of 46.
This regular drumbeat of business profiles culminated in a $400 million round of debt and equity funding in February 2023, with lead investors the IFC and Chimera Group, which secured MNT-Halan’s position as Egypt’s first unicorn. This announcement generated 255 items of coverage, including Reuters, Bloomberg, TechCrunch and Forbes Middle East. MNT-Halan’s social media profile grew by 15 per cent in one day.
‘This was a well-executed strategy which generated great coverage and had a decent impact,’ said the judges. ‘I’d have been happy if I had delivered this.’