The ultimate HR System for deskless workforces.

Simon Ellis, H’21, is a Bachelor of Accounting Honors graduate from the University of Stellenbosch. He is a serial entrepreneur, having founded several start-ups. His latest venture, Jem, addresses a challenge experienced by the majority of Africa’s workforce. According to Forbes, 80% of the world’s workforce (2.7 billion) is made up of deskless employees. This deskless majority is massively underserved. Less than 1% of all enterprise software spending is allocated to deskless employees leaving frontline workers with inefficient technology solutions. To help employers engage in a smart and meaningful way with deskless employees, Jem is building a communications platform that gives employees the ability to access their payslips, request leave, take part in surveys, receive announcements and access on-demand pay, via WhatsApp. Ellis’ long-term goal is to help people live better lives through the use of engaging technology. On a societal level, he wants to change the lives of millions of people living in emerging markets.

“I want to help people to live better lives through the use of engaging technology.”

Helping employers to engage in a smart and meaningful way with deskless employees.

THE CHALLENGE: 90% of deskless employees don’t have or use email and, due to high data costs, most employees have fewer than 5 apps on their phones. This means that existing HR & Communication solutions built for the developed world (like email-based self-service platforms or apps) don’t work for frontline workforces. In addition to this, 80% of employees struggle to make it to the end of the month without resorting to some form of short-term debt. Many fall prey to payday lenders who target the most vulnerable, exacerbating the poverty cycle. Ellis saw an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of both employers and employees. By giving employers a way to digitally communicate with their staff, HR teams are saving time and money by automating many of their manual processes. For employees, there is an opportunity to foster digital inclusion and eliminate the payday poverty cycle by giving them access to on-demand pay, savings accounts and a host of financial wellness products. 

Jem (previously SmartWage) was founded in May 2020 and is a social impact start-up focusing on building the ultimate HR system for underserved frontline employees. They offer a cloud-based HR & communications platform that benefits both employers and employees by integrating with existing payroll systems, helping employers to automate their manual processes, while offering employees financial wellness products. 

THE PROCESS: The team conducted over 70 interviews with employers to identify their key pain points and the solutions to best solve them. These employers all employed frontline workforces (in retail, QSR, construction, manufacturing & hospitality industries), which meant they could solve a problem for a specific type of employer. They also undertook qualitative research by conducting 600 in-person employee interviews. The start-up integrates with an employer’s existing payroll system, helping them to improve communication and automate their manual HR processes. Employees can receive communication and announcements, access payslips, request leave and get on-demand-pay, all via WhatsApp. Employers are saving time and money through automation, while employees receive financial wellness products and instant access to their earnings. 

THE RESULTS: Jem has raised over $2m in seed funding and more than 60 employers currently use their HR and Communications product. As they continue to roll out with some of South Africa’s largest employers, they are excited about the potential to make a real impact across the rest of Africa and emerging markets. The business model is two fold. The HR & Communications product is a SaaS product and is priced accordingly. Employers pay a subscription fee per month, which starts at R4.90 per employee. This increases based on the size of the business and on the number of features used. The on-demand pay is a separate charge, which can be paid by employers or employees. Each withdrawal costs R5.75 + 3.4% of the amount advanced – a fraction of what a typical payday loan would cost. The start-up has experienced over 35% month-on-month growth in active employees since inception in May 2020, with retention rates of more than 95%. With growing conviction, and as they expand across South African borders, they are reaching product market fit. Jem is looking to double its team in the coming year, while preparing for their Series A round in late 2023 to begin expansion across emerging markets.


Jem is building HR Systems for employers with deskless employees across emerging markets. Jem connects employees and employers digitally by helping employers improve communication and automate their manual HR processes, while employees receive communication, access payslips, request leave and get on-demand pay, all via WhatsApp

Deeply passionate about solving problems in Africa


Ellis is a founder at heart, curious to find ways to solve big problems. He has a Bachelor of Accounting Honors Degree from the University of Stellenbosch and is a qualified Chartered Accountant (CA (SA)). In 2021, he was the winner of the SAICA Top35 under 35 prize. He is also an active angel investor and a founding member of the 20:40 Alliance.


Ellis believes that anything is possible when you bring the right group of people together to solve common problems. He is an Africanist who wants to contribute through hard work and connectivity to become a key ambassador for Harambeans.

“I believe in creating a sense of community wherever I go and know that with the Alliance, I will be able to build strong relationships and bring the power of those relationships to make a significant difference.”

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