Cellulant, one of Africa’s oldest fintech startups, quietly completed a third round of layoffs in December 2023, one month before the abrupt departure of CEO Akshay Grover, two employees with knowledge of the matter told TechCabal. The exact number of employees affected by the layoffs remains unknown.
At least four high-profile executives also left the company in the fourth quarter of 2023.
Cellulant confirmed the “departure of staff, including some at the senior level” because of the “execution of strategic initiatives.” The company said it would name new leadership in a separate statement on Thursday.
These departures and layoffs culminated in the exit of CEO Akshay Grover, which was announced on Thursday. Akshay joined as CFO in January 2021 and was named CEO three months later. He was handpicked to lead Cellulant through a fourth financing round, said two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
In September 2022, the company said it would raise $100 million in a Series D round before the end of the year to “deepen operations, acquire more merchants, more customers, and ensure seamless and effective payment services.” Ultimately, Cellulant was unable to raise the $100m it targeted.
“The funding was a struggle, even though the company kept pushing towards it in 2022,” said one source who asked not to be named because they are not authorised to speak on behalf of Cellulant.
“The company maintains an active dialogue with potential investors. In 2024, we currently don’t plan to raise funds,” Cellulant said in an email to TechCabal.
The fintech company raised $54.5 million in three funding rounds between 2014 and 2018 from investors like The Rise Fund—a private equity firm owned by TPG Growth—and Velocity Capital.
Unable to raise funding, Cellulant began restructuring its business in 2023. At the start of 2023, it laid off 27 employees, and in a second round of layoffs in August, it reduced its headcount by 20% and said it was “moving towards a leaner product-focused strategy.”
Most of the changes the business made in 2023 were geared towards cutting costs, and one ex-employee claimed Cellulant had been spending significant amounts of money without specific growth goals.
“We undertook strategic operational adjustments designed to enhance operational efficiency and support our ambitious growth goals,” said Cellulant. “As part of these measures, we adopted a product-led structure in August and aligned our business into three core business units – banking, collections, and payouts – in December.”
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Editor’s note: This article has now been updated to reflect comments from Cellulant on their growth goals.
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