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OpenPay: Changing the Albanian Payment Landscape

Dritan Mollanji, the OpenPay founder, spent over ten years in the Financial industry. In an interview with Swiss EP, he shared his business experience and lessons he learned as a participant in the Swiss EP-supported Investment readiness program.

Making changes and introducing innovation to the finance world is difficult, but some are courageous enough to accept the challenge: Dritan Mollanji and the OpenPay team are on a quest to change the payment system in Albania.

OpenPay is a FinTech startup from Tirana trying to revolutionize the country's payment landscape. As a cost-effective platform for implementing QR Code payments, it strives to introduce mobile payments to banks and merchants throughout the region. As a spin-off startup of the Symmetric Group SH.p.k, OpenPay is a result of accumulated experiences and a desire to push innovation in the financial market.

Curious about the motivation and experience of developing an innovative product in Albania for a sector that is not easy to change, we talked to Dritan Mollanji, the OpenPay founder. He helped us understand how exciting and challenging such an adventure can be.

You already run a successful business. What was your primary motive for starting Open Pay?

Albania is ranked the last country in Europe regarding electronic payments. The card payment acceptance is immensely low, so people must withdraw CASH to fulfill their daily needs. Since 2012, I have been involved in several projects that could help the banking system collaborate and develop the domestic payments infrastructure. However, because it strongly depends on cards, a considerable cost impacted banks and appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle. On the other hand, smartphones have excellent penetration in the country. So, if those devices are used to initiate payments and bypass the card infrastructure, this could be the perfect solution for creating a new low-cost payment ecosystem. Finding the answer to this problem was my motivation, which is how Openpay was developed.

Very interesting. But, how valuable was the previous experience you gained? What is the most important lesson you learned that helped you start Open Pay?

In creating an innovative solution, you must understand the market you are addressing, which will require much experience. I worked in the payment industry for about 15 years, combining my local and international experience. This gave me the proper knowledge to find the right solution for this problem. If you think about opening a company first, you must try to understand the innovation you are bringing to the market. You cannot compete in the market with something that already exists, and even if you do, it will not give you the motivation and excitement to make it big. This is the lesson I learned before starting Openpay!

What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far, and what is your most significant success?

One of the biggest challenges is transforming the customer's behavior from a "CASH mindset" to an "electronic payment" mindset. It's tough to do this alone, so we believe that with the help of the banking system, government and merchants, the customers will start using electronic payment more and more. In fact, it's already happening. A year ago, we were very active in promoting our solution and constantly contacting Banks, Retailers, and eCommerce, but now we receive requests from them. On top of that, we started to work with several banks, and recently we opened in the Kosovo market, so we believe that our solution has the potential to scale internationally, especially in the emerging market.

That's excellent progress—keep it up! You were one of the participants in the MatchIn investment Forum and Investment readiness program that took place before the Forum. What was the most valuable part of the program for you? What is your overall impression of the program and the Forum?

The investment readiness program was one of the best organized and serious programs we have ever attended. It gave us a 360° view of preparing the company to open the door for the investors. In doing this, you must tackle every aspect of your business: marketing and social media presence, strategy to scale, company evaluation, products and services. And it all required highly experienced mentors to guide the founders and stakeholders through the process. For us, this was the genuine value of the program. On the other hand, thanks to the MatchIn investment Forum, we were able to find interested investors, and at the moment, we're in the due diligence process.

Congrats! We hope for some good news. What is your advice to all Albanian (and regional) entrepreneurs starting their business now?

The most important lesson I learned during this time is: if you believe in your idea, never give up trying. One day the dream will come true!

Very inspiring! Thank you, Dritan, for sharing. We're looking forward to hearing more good news from you and your team.