Paga’s CEO, Tayo Oviosu was on Radar last week for an interactive AMA session and it was everything we imagined and then more.
We knew he’d be dropping essential nuggets of advice from many years navigating the entrepreneurship and investing ends of the Nigerian technology startup spectrum, so we had our pens ready and came away with some lessons.
Here are ten things we learned from that.
1. Enjoy every “High” and get back in the grind
Because “the highs always change”.
Tayo: “I remember the first time I used Paga and got an automated phone call back – I screamed “it works!”…my current high is serving 3 million users and over 8,000 agents. When I meet our agents and they thank me for what Paga is doing for their lives and families I know it is all worth it.”
2. This mobile money business is confusing
Mobile money. What is it? MPesa-standard ubiquitous USSD-powered transactions? Mobile apps? A network of agent? A network of Agents who accept telco recharge cards as store of value? All of the above?
“I must say candidly no one, and I challenge you to try, has ever given me a definition of what “mobile money” is that makes sense to me.”
3. The demo is not the product, don’t obsess
Paga’s proof of concept was “a fully functional, and really cool I might add, Blackberry App demo. Interestingly we’ve never built the app and we only just came out with an Android app this year.”
Paga shoved the BlackBerry app and went on to do a couple other things that we can’t articulate in one line, but are apparently cool and scalable, to become the payments behemoth that it is now.
4. Check out the opposition while keeping your game super tight
When asked about Konga’s acquisition of Zinternet to power KongaPay, the e-tailer’s online payments infrastructure.
Tayo: “If there is anything I have learned it is (a) Focus is king and (b) Don’t underestimate anyone. I’ll leave it at that and say Nigeria is a very big market and there is room for more than one successful payments company.”
Focus is king.
5. This “sharing economy” will ultimately win
Actually, we already knew that, but hearing Tayo Oviosu say: “we need to do better about sharing what we have for developers,” just gives one the warm fuzzies.
He talks about a Paga developers wiki, which was not hyperlinked, but these are interesting steps towards sharing internet infrastructure that developers can leverage to make cool stuff.
6. He thinks Andela is doing a kickass job
Well. Everyone seems to think so. And who wouldn’t? They pioneered a space that was left fallow for years and then raised an intimidating 10 million dollars series A at god-knows-what valuation. That is not a feat to hold a candle to.
“I believe the crop of developers in Nigeria is improving and that is also why I like companies such as Andela who are working to ensure we can have a solid crop of developers.”
7. People leave
“My biggest low was when the first person I asked to join me on this journey decided to leave less than two years in. That was really tough for me especially because it wasn’t on the best of terms and I also lost a dear friend in the process.”
A key Paga partner left two years in, with Tayo at the helms of a company trying to hold its own in a tippy space. Tayo lost a friend, but Paga is still here. Not exactly sure what to make of this, but there shall be tradeoffs for sure.
8. Google started from a garage. Do whatever it takes to move forward
That’s pretty self-explanatory. Tayo learned that from his Uncle right after his first investors’ pitch went sideways.
“My uncle asked me “Do you think Google and Yahoo wanted to start in a garage?” Even though I lived in Silicon Valley for so long I never once considered this question. He continued “of course they didn’t – do whatever it takes to move you forward’.”
9. Ship what you have, tune up later
“Unfortunately, this is a business where your MVP needs to be a fully working product. Bells and whistles you can add later.”
Tayo was talking about payments, but of course, that applies to starting up a startup generally.
Linkedin founder, Reid Hoffman has a similar line; “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
7 more things we learned…specifically about Paga
Tayo dropped quite a few interesting interesting Paga facts during the AMA.
1. Paga has a “big” funding round coming. No talks on how big this is, or where it is coming from. But it’s big, Tayo says.
2. Paga processed 6.6 million transactions worth over N68bn last year. And Paga is looking to trounce that milestone this year.
3. Arumah Oteh, former head of Nigeria’s Security Exchange Commission, is an investor in Paga. No talks on how much of the company she owns.
4. Paga now has USSD enabler on its platform with three of Nigeria’s big four mobile networks. That’ll be MTN, Glo, Airtel and Etisalat, per NCC’s data.
5. Paga has around 8,300 agents across 35 Nigerian states.
6. Paga will pilot a mobile wallet POS switch before the end of 2015.
7. Contrary to what popular logic would suggest, airtime recharges are but a fraction of the transactions that occur via Paga. Tayo said, in May, airtime recharges constituted 14 percent of transactions and accounted for a mere one percent of total transaction value on Paga in that month. More users on Paga use the network to pay for products and services.