Maf Sonko Taps Wire on Little Rock's Tech Community

Maf Sonko Taps Wire on Little Rock's Tech Community
Maf Sonko, co-founder & CEO of LumoXchange (Jason Burt)

Maf Sonko founded LumoXchange in 2015 and serves as the startup’s CEO. He previously worked for six years at PepsiCo, first as a warehouse strategy manager then as a senior manager in supply chain operations. From 2008-10, Sonko was a systems engineer at Swisslog Logistics Inc. in Virginia and, from 2007-08, he was an industrial engineer for Milliken & Co. of South Carolina. Sonko has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Manchester and a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from North Carolina State University.

Maf Sonko completed the Venture Center’s inaugural FinTech Accelerator held in Little Rock. His startup was one of 10 chosen from 150 applicants and is planning to move to Little Rock next year. Participants received a $50,000 initial investment for a 6 percent equity position.

Could you explain what your company does and why your service is needed?

LumoXchange is the for global money transfers. We help our customers find the best exchange rates when sending money abroad, reducing the cost of sending money by up to 50 percent versus the competition.

There are over 250 million people across the world who, combined, send over $600 billion in cross-border payments, and 40 percent is sent to developing countries. Our model helps reduce the cost to send money and helps millions of families who rely on the financial support get more for each dollar that is sent.

Why are you moving to Little Rock?

We choose to relocate to Little Rock from Atlanta, Georgia, for two reasons. First, we secured a partnership with Bear State Bank, which is one of the most innovative banks in Arkansas and the region to offer global money transfers for U.S. residents. So being in the same city helps in maintaining a strong relationship with our partner.

Second, we like the city of Little Rock because of the budding entrepreneurial environment. Support from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Venture Center and the business community has been great, from mid-level managers to executives at some of the biggest institutions.

What is a financial technology accelerator?

An accelerator is an intensive 12- to 13-week boot camp that helps FinTechs quickly validate, develop and scale business ideas into real ventures in a very short period.

What did you learn from participating in the first FinTech Accelerator that ended in August?

The program helped us navigate the regulatory hurdles that were barrier to entry into the market and, with their support, we were able to significantly increase our speed to market through partnerships we were able to make during the program.

What advice would you give to other financial technology startups?

My advice to any startup is to remain focused on your product or service and not to get distracted when you are in the early stages of your startup. Oftentimes, you find a lot of applications or parallel services you can provide with your startup, but you can’t go after them all. It is important to write those down, include it in your roadmap and focus on how you can quickly and most effectively enter the market with the biggest splash.

Why do you think FinTech is a promising industry?

Financial services is going through a transformation with what the industry calls the “unbundling” of banks, where auxiliary services outside of core banking are being disrupted by tech startups, and these are billion-dollar opportunities that FinTechs are going after. FinTech companies are innovating faster than banks, which means banks now have to think of new ways to generate revenue or innovate to keep more services in-house. So there is a lot of interest in this space because of large financial opportunity at stake.