Global trends in recent times have shown a shift towards a cashless and digital economy, especially as it becomes more obvious that operations in physical branches of commercial banks can be summarily shut down when circumstances demand it.
Our focus for this week’s profile is Tayo Oviosu, founder and CEO of a notable payment solutions provider, Pagatech, the startup that blazed the trail for others in the space. Though there are now over 200 fintech players, Paga still holds its ground.
Eyitayo David Oviosu was born on September 10, 1977, and acquired both his primary and secondary education in Nigeria. He left for the United States of America in 1994 and bagged his first degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California in 1998. He later earned a Masters in Business Administration from the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University from 2003 to 2005.
Schooling was not a smooth ride for Tayo as he had to work his way through, sometimes keeping as much as 5 jobs in order to stay afloat. He also had hard times with courses like Semiconductor Chip Design, which he admitted was one of his toughest courses, as he hardly aced it despite his love for the subject.
Attempting to break a rock
Fresh out of school, he opted to take the same Semiconductor Chip Design as a career option in Biomorphic VLSI, a startup of 8 employees, hoping to get better at it with more practice. The young Tayo worked weekdays and weekends trying to get a hang of the task before him.
“I was allowed to design a digital imaging chip that got sent to Taiwan for fabrication. I had tested this thing numerous times in the lab; I was confident it was going to work. Then the fabricated chip comes back and it doesn’t work. I was devastated, we spent a lot of money shipping between Los Angeles and Taiwan,” he once recounted.
Having caused the company to spend so much for nothing, he was fired from the job.
“I got called into my boss’ office and he told me he had to let me go. I cried right there. This was my first job out of college and barely 3 months in,” he said.
Though unhappy at the time, he later came to appreciate how the job loss pointed him in the right career path and pushed him out of a line where he would have continued struggling to keep up. In the subsequent months, he survived on the unemployment benefits he collected from the state of California, before getting a job in a mail-room and then a call center.
He eventually got a job as a Software Engineer for another startup in Los Angeles, before he moved to Deloitte Consulting in the CRM and Technology practice as a Senior Consultant.
After his MBA, he worked as Manager Corporate Development with Cisco Systems in San Jose California, where he was responsible for strategy, acquisitions, and private equity investments in a few segments and led Cisco’s investment expansion in Africa with investment opportunities. He became Vice President at Travant Capital Partners in Lagos upon his return to Nigeria and remained there till 2009.
Moving towards a cashless economy
In 2009, Tayo founded Pagatech as a mobile payments solution focused on digitizing cash amidst new emerging economies. Even while working at the call center, Tayo had always thought that he would return to Nigeria at some point to help make it great again. For Tayo, founding Pagatech was all about addressing two challenges – the excessive use of cash, and limited financial access in Nigeria. He wanted to help Nigerians pay retailers, make purchases, and pay utility bills without having to handle so much money.
Such innovation was not common at the time, as Nigeria was still very far from toeing the lines of a cashless economy.
Having worked for over a decade, Tayo had saved up some money and had the support of friends, which became instrumental in launching Paga. “I was also creative in terms of how I spent the money. I pooled together people to work in different aspects, most of them friends who were doing it as a favor. Everyone who helped us in the early days got paid below the market rate. Some of them stayed on to work with Paga when we could afford to pay them at market rates,” he recalled.
For the first 6 months, Tayo bootstrapped from his personal funds before setting out to raise funds from investors. It was a journey where he first had to show investors how feasible the business idea was before letting them in.
Some of the initial investors who took the risk to put their funds in were Goodwell Alitheia Capital, Tayo’s former bosses, both in Nigeria and Los Angeles, and some friends and relatives – the result of lots of goodwill built over the years.
Pagatech reached its first 1 million users within 2 years and since then, the number of its users has grown into tens of millions processing billions of dollars in transactions. Pagatech has also partnered with the apex bank (Central Bank of Nigeria) on the Shared Agent Network Expansion Facilities initiative (SANEF) to grow the reach of agents providing financial services to 500,000 in order to ramp up inclusion for all Nigerians.
Tayo Oviosu has now become an angel investor in other startups.
“When I look at my journey so far, I realize that we are here sitting on the back of 34 people and 6 institutions who took a bet on us on. So I similarly want to find ideas to invest in. I don’t have a lot of money but I want to find people who I can make those kinds of investments and bets as well,” he said.
He has dreams of dual-listing Paga on the NSE and NASDAQ in the nearest future.
From Chemist to Bank CEO – The Story of Uzoma Dozie
Uzoma’s Dozie’s career history highlights his remarkable journey from a romance with Chemistry to running a top-tier bank.
When in 2019, talks were underway for one of the biggest mergers in Nigeria’s banking history, Diamond Bank CEO, Uzoma Dozie had his competencies called to question over why an almost 30 years old bank founded by his father, should end with him, the son. After the merger, the younger Dozie went ahead to launch his Digital Bank, Sparkle and has since then released several products and services, effectively silencing his detractors.
Uzoma Dozie is the first of the five sons of Pascal Dozie (PGD). He was born in England in 1969 at the time when his father was working with Greater London Development Council as a young graduate. The family soon relocated to Uganda when Pascal Dozie was contracted by the Ugandan Government as a Statistician, to work with a team carrying out an economic study in conjunction with the African Development Society Group.
In 1971, Idi Amin overthrew the elected government of Milton Obote and crisis broke out in Uganda. The family had no option but to return to Nigeria, where the country was just trying to pick life again after the war. The family settled in Yaba area of Lagos, and Uzoma started schooling.
His secondary education took him across three schools, the Lebanese Community School (LCS), Yaba; Government College, Owerri, and Command Secondary School, Kaduna.
Uzoma remembers that he did not always have things figured out, and as a child, had conflicting career interests. He was first interested in photography and for a while, it seemed like he would pursue this passion, but he changed his mind when he became a teenager and picked interest in becoming a doctor – a heart surgeon.
“In Nigeria then, you were either a doctor or an engineer. It was when we went for an open day at the University of Sheffield, where I was told that I had to spend seven years to become a doctor, that I decided to change my intended course of study.
“I later went to the University of Reading where I studied chemistry. After that, I went to the University College London to obtain a master’s degree in organic chemistry. We worked really hard to develop products that would help fight a number of diseases,” he recounted in an interview.
While his studies helped him understand analytical processes, it only left him more confused about what he was to do professionally. He was quite certain he did not want to become a chemist but went ahead to work as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company in the UK for a couple of months before relocating to Nigeria.
Back in Nigeria, Pascal Dozie had founded Diamond Bank and was doubling as Managing Director and Board Chairman, when Uzoma returned. With Pascal’s encouragement, Uzoma decided to test the waters of the banking career and see if it would feel like home.
Uzoma got a job with Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank) on Broad Street, while Fola Adeola was the Managing Director. He learnt a lot from working there, and gradually, banking was becoming a little more than ‘daddy’s suggestion’.
“My father wanted me to gain industry experience, but he didn’t want me to start at Diamond Bank in order to avoid favouritism as the boss’ son, and he didn’t want to protect me as well, he needed me to find my own feet and fit. I spent a year at GTBank where I learnt a lot about developing a great work culture,” he said.
Shortly after spending a year at GTBank, the June 12, 1993 election crisis and accompanying unrest rendered Uzoma jobless for about a year. Afterwards, he joined Citizen International Bank (later known as Spring Bank), where he was placed on the oil and gas desk. This was a different experience, more demanding and challenging. He had to travel a lot to oil-producing areas like Port Harcourt, where he interacted with locals over their complaints.
Uzoma left Citizen bank after a while and proceeded to Imperial College in the UK for an MBA. Upon his return to Nigeria, he joined Diamond Bank. He later became the Executive Director in charge of Lagos Businesses for a couple of years before he was appointed Deputy Managing Director in charge of Retail Banking. In November 2014, he was unanimously appointed by the Board as Group Managing Director / Chief Executive Officer.
One significant take-home Uzoma got from heading the Retail Banking Directorate was the significant gap in the market for a new approach to services for retailers, and this later became the basis for Sparkle. He also observed the kind of growth Diamond bank experienced when it partnered with and built new services and new channels with fintech solutions, and says that traditional banking system constricted growth because of the limitations to human resources.
He recalled that it took Diamond Bank 20 years with 400 branches to acquire five million customers, but the mobile platform tripled the figure in 3 years, a sign that it was time to go digital.
The Access-Diamond merger and accompanying rumours
Long before the official announcement of the merger deal between Diamond Bank and Access Bank, the grapevine had several versions of the story. Some of these versions portrayed the merger as a failure of Diamond Bank and blamed Uzoma for destroying a bank his father started.
“We just focused on making our customers, staff, and shareholders happy. The Diamond-Access merger was smooth. Herbert Wigwe and I did roadshows to answer as many questions as possible. The Diamond Bank investors were happy about the deal they got. The deal was a sweet deal for our investors; they moved from a tier II bank to a tier I bank. There was pretty much nothing to explain to anyone,” he said.
However, what these rumours meant was that Uzoma Dozie was going to have to prove himself with his start-up – Sparkle, and so far, he appears to be doing fine.
“Keep Sparkling” was the tagline that PGD held on to at Diamond Bank, insisting that all of his staffs were ‘Diamonds’ and must stand out always. This tagline later influenced Uzoma Dozie’s choice of name for his digital bank – Sparkle.
The goal was to use Sparkle to help retailers achieve their daily objectives and scale their businesses, providing a suite of innovative lifestyle services. Other services included in the innovation include customer experience-led support services, ranging from inventory management and invoicing statements to foreign exchange services.
Powered by AI and Machine Learning, Sparkle was also built to create a dynamic community around Nigeria’s retailers and consumers, influencing purchasing decisions based on user-generated behavioural purchase data.
Sparkle partnered Visa, Network International, as well as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft, to create the platform to enhance convenience & service, and allow outside developers to contribute and build solutions. Sparkle also has a customer service chatbot called Indy, which provides users with real-time information.
Uzoma secured a banking license from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to offer financial services, and so Sparkle allowed users to make purchases online and in-person with both Sparkle physical and virtual cards. Where necessary, users can also pay bills and split payments using SparklePay which lets users send money to people without knowing their account numbers.
About this innovation, Uzoma Dozie said “Retailers and consumers in Nigeria are currently disconnected; Sparkle is building the solution around its understanding of the challenges of small businesses, which will help reduce the operational risks small businesses are exposed to in their infancy. Sparkle is a product, a community, born out of necessity for Nigeria’s retail landscape. We will connect millions of retailers on a digital platform, providing a service they can trust, that is seamless, and that allows for frictionless transactions across all activities and business services.”
The startup recently launched a new service called Sparkle Business, to provide access to various products and services for small businesses and SMEs in the region, including services like Tax Advisory/Calculations, and Payroll/Employee Management.
There are no mentions of an IPO or external funding for the Digital bank, anytime soon.
Dozie sits on the Board of Women’s World Banking; and has spoken at several events around the world on the issue of technology and financial inclusion.
Even as a banker, he had developed an interest in the tech space, and launched TechFest in 2018 to bring together leading dignitaries of Nigeria’s technology and business sectors. He showcases tech start-up CEOs and founders in Tech Turks, his online TV show where he discusses opportunities and challenges in the tech industry.
Uzoma Dozie has also founded an angel fund called Black Knight, through which he has invested in a number of Nigerian technology start-ups. According to Uzoma, Black Knights is taking a long-term approach to investing in Nigerian enterprises by providing them with access to funding, access to market, access to business advice and mentorship, and creating a community of entrepreneurs.
As the son of PGD, the busy economic consultant and later on Founder, Uzoma recalled that he did not see much of his father, but when PGD was around, he would tell them stories.
“We learnt a lot about decision making, speed, and risk from our parents. I remember how my father took an early bet on MTN Nigeria and I don’t need to tell you how successful it is now,” Uzoma said.
He also noted that his mother’s advice on being transparent is one he has adopted in several trying situations as a Chief Executive. “My mother taught us to be open; if you fail, don’t hide it. She would tell everyone, ‘Look at my son, he failed in school’ and that would kill all the rumours. Transparency removes uncertainty, so you own the story.”
Billionaire investors in Nigeria you may not know
A compilation of top Investors in companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, with whom you may be unfamiliar.
As a Nigerian interested in investing or making money, names like Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola, Mike Adenuga, Tony Elumelu, Jim Ovia, Rabiu Abdulsalam, etc., come to mind as aspirational role models when it comes to net-worth. These men have all made billions of naira investing in companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange either as founders or strategic investors.
- However, there are many other ‘lesser-known investors in companies listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange who are worth billions (in naira).
- These investors are seasoned and while they may not always be the founders of the companies they are invested in; they own a significant chunk of the business through strategic investment stakes that earn them billions annually in capital appreciation and dividends.
Nairametrics | Company Earnings
Access our Live Feed portal for the latest company earnings as they drop.
- Tantalizers Plc reports a loss after tax of N422.05 million in FY 2020.
- NASD Plc announces admission of newly demutualized NGX shares.
- Lotus Halal Fixed Income announces dividend of N20 per unit for Q1 2021.
- Friesland Campina Wamco Nigeria Plc announces AGM, proposes dividend of N6.74 per share.
- ETI appoints Akin Dada as Group Executive, Corporate & Investment banking.