Surprise exit at Cellulant as CEO Akshay Grover departs after less than three years

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Joined: Nov 2016

Akshay Grover, who was named Group CEO of Cellulant, one of Africa’s most prominent payment companies, in July 2021, is stepping down this month to focus on personal matters.  

Cellulant confirmed his departure in an email to TechCabal and said, “The company is committed to maintaining its momentum and continuing its growth trajectory.”

Peter O’Toole, the company’s CFO, has been named Acting CEO. According to the company’s communications, new names will be added to its leadership team in the coming months.

Peter O’Toole. Image: TechCabal

Grover joined Cellulant in January 2021 as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). He was appointed Acting CEO in May 2021 after Cellulant’s longtime CEO and co-founder, Ken Njoroge, stepped down, commenting, “Cellulant’s next phase requires an ‘enterprise runner’ rather than a ‘venture builder.’”

Cellulant has a storied history, and the tale of how its cofounders scribbled the original idea for the company on a napkin in 2003 is now lore. With an initial $3,000 investment from its cofounders, Cellulant began as a ringtone-selling platform. Its business model soon came under pressure after Safaricom, Kenya’s leading telco, began offering the same music service to customers for free.

Cellulant then pivoted from its B2C model, connecting banks to the M-PESA payments ecosystem. It would later expand to Zambia, Ghana, and Botswana as it sealed payment partnerships with international partners such as StanChart.

Before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, it had 13 offices across the continent and raised $1.5 million, $5.5 million, and $47.5 million across three funding rounds. In 2022, Cellulant was pursuing a $100 million series D round, but the raise was put on hold.

Like most digital businesses in Africa, Cellulant was also affected by a challenging business environment in 2023. At the start of 2023, it laid off 27 staff members, and in August 2023, it fired 20% of its staff, consolidated some roles, and created new ones. These changes and trimmings were effected for “leaner and efficient operations,” per a statement shared with TechCabal at that time.

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