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Tayo Oviosu, the journey from Software Engineer to Pagatech

Our focus for this week’s profile is Tayo Oviosu, founder and CEO of notable payment solutions provider, Pagatech.

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Tayo Oviosu, the journey from Software Engineer to Pagatech

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.

READ: Paga records over $2 billion worth of transactions in 2019 

READ: Pagatech secures exclusive partnership deal with Orange Mall

Early years

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.

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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.

READ: Paga acquires Ethiopian-based startup, Apposit, announces other subsidiaries

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.

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“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.

READ: Contracts less than N5 billion will no longer be awarded to foreign firms – FG

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.

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READ: Nigerian startup, Green Africa to sign deal with Airbus for 100 aircraft.

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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.

READ: Bitfxt raises N5.45 billion from UK firm

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.

READ: FRC orders banks not to lend money to states without approval

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.

READ: Rich Bitcoin investor moved $175 million worth of BTC for just $0.84

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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.

READ: Scaling in Nigeria’s fashion industry is tough work – Ugo Monye 

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.

Ruth Okwumbu has a MSc. and BSc. in Mass Communication from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Delta state university respectively. Prior to her role as analyst at Nairametrics, she had a progressive six year writing career. As a Business Analyst with Narametrics, she focuses on profiles of top business executives, founders, startups and the drama surrounding their successes and challenges. You may contact her via [email protected]

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Profiles

Mike Adenuga: The journey from petty trade to Conoil and Glo

From a humble start, Mike Adenuga has become one of Nigeria’s most successful entrepreneurs whose impact is being felt across the continent.

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2 Telecommunication firms worst hit by vandalism

The axiom goes that “life begins at 40”, but for Mike Adenuga, the CEO of Globacom, who became a millionaire at the young age of 26, life began in his 20s. Today, he is one of Africa’s richest and holds business interests across several sectors of the economy and in various countries on the continent.

Early life

Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Ishola Adenuga was born on the 29th of April, 1953 to the family of Oloye Michael Agbolade Adenuga Snr. and Omoba Juliana Oyindamola Adenuga.

He schooled at Ibadan Grammar School and obtained his Higher School Certificate from the Comprehensive High School Aiyetoro, before travelling out for his higher education.

He got his first degree in Business Administration from North Western Oklahoma State University and his MBA from Pace University, New York.

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Notwithstanding, Adenuga fondly attributes his business sense to his mother, who was also a businesswoman. Even as a student, the young Adenuga did not have things easy, and even had to hustle as a taxi driver in New York to pay for his university tuition. He also sold drinks and lace materials at one time, doing whatever business he could to raise money.

Fate smiled on him, and thanks to his numerous hustles, he made his first million in 1979 at the age of 26, and has not stopped since then. He went on to start and invest in several businesses over the years, growing his wealth to become one of the richest men in Africa.

Conoil

Adenuga saw the potentials of the booming oil industry in Nigeria and started applying for a license in the late ’80s.

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However, he did not get one until a new policy was made by Professor Jubril Aminu, the Oil Minister during General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime, allowing individuals to venture into oil exploitation and exploration.

He obtained the drilling license in 1990 and started exploration with his new company, Consolidated Oil, in Ondo state.

Globacom

By the end of the 90s, as the nation returned to the democratic dispensation, Adenuga saw another potential in the telecommunication industry and acquired a conditional GSM license from the Federal Government in 1999.

After it was revoked, he obtained a second one in 2004, when the government held another auction. He used this license to found Globacom in Nigeria, which has now grown into other African countries like Benin republic, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire, with millions of subscribers.

The telecom company is considered a major competitor to the giant MTN group, and is still prospecting licenses in other West African countries.

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In May 2015, Mike Adenuga made a takeover bid and acquired the Ivorian mobile telecoms operator “Comium” in Cote d’Ivoire for $600m.

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Debts and scandals

In 2006, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission raided the head offices of Globacom, Equitorial Trust Bank (ETB), and Conoil, and invited Mike Adenuga for questioning about a case of money laundering. Subsequently, he was implicated and detained for money laundering.

He later left the country and went to live in London for a while until late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s regime granted him a pardon, making it possible for him to return home to Nigeria.

In June 2016, it came to the limelight that Mike Adenuga was being pursued for a combined debt of over $140.5 million by two foreign and one local company. It was reported in the news that his company Conoil had failed to pay debts owed to multiple creditors including the French oil giant, Total.

Another company owned by Adenuga, Bellbop, had an interim injunction placed on it by the High Court in Lagos, after it also failed to pay the $9.4 million owed to the US oil and gas firm, Baker Hughes. It was reported that some of the creditors had been hit so hard by the huge debts, that they had to shut down some of their operations.

A local oil servicing company, Depthwize, for instance, had been forced to lay off workers and shut down services on two of Conoil’s rigs, saying the debt of $40 million had incapacitated the company to the point that it could no longer afford the day to day running cost of working on the rigs.

Coming a short while after the business mogul increased his net worth by almost $5 billion, the scandal of course attracted a lot of criticisms.

Recognitions

Mike Adenuga carries out his philanthropic activities through the Mike Adenuga Foundation, helping people in Nigeria and other African countries.

He has received several recognitions including the African Entrepreneur of The Year at ATA in August 2007, Grand Commander Of The Order of Niger (GCON) in 2012, Companion of the Star of Ghana (CSG) in 2018, and was listed among the 100 distinguished and Eminent Nigerians Centenary Awards in 2018, amongst others.

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In 2018, he was decorated with the insignia of a Commander of the Legion of Honor by President Emmanuel Macron of France.

He also holds a Yoruba Chieftaincy as the Otunba Apesin of the Ijebu clan. He owns stakes in different companies in Nigeria including Stanbic IBTC Bank and Sterling Bank.

According to Forbes recent rating, Mike Adenuga is currently worth $ 6.2billion.

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Exclusives

How a Yoruba-Hausa clash propelled me on a path to Cowrywise – Co-founder, Razaq Ahmed

Cowrywise is fast-becoming an automated savings option of choice, and so, we profile the man behind the initiative – Razaq Ahmed.

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Razaq Ahmed, Co-founder and CEO of CowryWise, is no small fish in the fintech space – an industry that is fast growing to compete with the banking industry. This is more so, as Cowrywise gains even more popularity among the emerging generation who have realized that the benefits of subscribing to classic investment schemes might be much more than that of leaving funds idle in the bank – savings.

Razaq’s story is a captivating one that sees one unfortunate event changing the fate of a young man. He is the focus of Nairametrics Founders Profile this week.

READ: Sim Shagaya’s Edtech startup secures $3.1 million Seed Funding

Early years

Razaq Ahmed was born in Kano, where his parents lived. They had gotten married in Kano town and this was the same place they had all their children. Razaq and his siblings started their early education there.

Razaq recalled that the community in which he spent the first 14 years of his life had an unusual perception of education. Not many people were particular about tertiary education and becoming an artisan was seen as a norm for the children.

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READ: CBN grants Greenwich Trust Limited operational license for merchant banking

“Traditionally, everyone attended primary education, and then secondary school, but up to 90 percent of the students combined schooling with some form of other works like manual works or learning a craft,” he explained.

Based on recommendations from an uncle, Razaq started learning generator repairs and maintenance. As a secondary school student at the Army Day secondary school, he would close from school with the rest of his friends, change into casual wears, and resume at the workshop for another kind of learning.

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READ: Razaq Okoya: The journey from apprentice-tailor to billionaire business mogul

Even though Razaq was intelligent and excelled in his studies, he expected to become a generator mechanic and did not see that much could come out of his education. In retrospect, he would say, “The expectation was to spend a couple of years learning the skill, and then have the ceremonial freedom, after which you start up in your workshop and become successful. Every successful person in the community around whom we could identify with seemed to have toed that path, so this was what shaped our thinking at the time and defined our idea of success.”

Already in SS2 at the age of 14, Razaq was well on his way to becoming a ‘generator man’ as they were called in the community. Even though there was a tertiary institution – Bayero University – in Kano, it was quite a distance from the town where they lived, so the young children hardly came in contact with people in the academic community. Rasaq’s parents had no plans of relocating and the future seemed pretty much predictable. Fate, however, had other plans.

READ: Crypto: Popular Hedge Fund, Grayscale record best quarter ever

The turning point

At age 14, the family had their life disrupted by the Hausa-Yoruba crisis which rocked the country in 1999. The fracas was traced back to some Hausa men who had been killed in Sango-Ota and their bodies sent home to their families in Kano. This erupted into a major crisis that claimed the lives of many Yorubas and Hausas across the country. As Yoruba residents in a Hausa community, Razaq’s family became victims of targeted attacks.

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On one of such attacks where Yoruba residents were being slaughtered by an angry mob, the entire family nearly lost their lives but for the timely sound of the gunshot of men from the Nigerian Army.

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“We were all indoors hoping and praying that something magical would happen because we had seen other people being killed, and we were conscious of the fact that it could be our last day. The mob only had sticks and cutlasses. So, immediately we heard the gunshots, we knew help had come. If the Nigerian army had waited a few more minutes before they arrived, I wouldn’t be here today,” Rasaq narrated.

After shooting in the air to disperse the mob, the soldiers took them to the Bukavu barracks where they were camped as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Army Day Secondary School – the same school where Rasaq was a student.

This was the turning point in Rasaq’s life. His parents decided then that they could no longer gamble the lives of the entire family in such a crisis. The 1999 crisis was the third major crisis in which the family survived unscathed – and it did not seem like they would be lucky enough to survive a fourth. They relocated to their hometown in Ogbomoso to start life from the scratch.

“We never had plans of coming back to the southwest, it was completely accidental and it was this accident that completely changed the course of my life,” Rasaq states wistfully.

New mentors – New dreams

Back to Ogbomoso, the Ahmeds moved into the house of an extended family located at Isale, not far from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH). For the first time in his life, Rasaq started seeing undergraduate students and admission seekers, who talked about lectures, examinations, and careers after school.

He also got to meet with a distant uncle who was a Lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University. From interacting with post-secondary students who were seeking admission, Rasaq soon came to understand that the subjects they were studying were no different from the subjects he was already studying.

“This showed me that I did not need to do anything abnormal to become like them, and with this understanding, I became the first person in my immediate family in Kano that would go to a university.”

He first attempted the University Matriculation Examination (UME) before taking his West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE). He came out with the best WASC results in his school in Ogbomoso, but his UME score was 20 points below the 235 cut-off mark of the University of Ilorin which he had selected for his first and second choice.

The following year, he selected Obafemi Awolowo University and was admitted to study Economics. After a few years of ardent academic studies and educative activities as a member of the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) club, Rasaq bagged First class honors in Economics and secured a job with Meristem Securities in 2007, courtesy of Saheed Bashiru – a senior schoolmate, whose acquaintance he made in his final year.

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Career

The job offer came before the National Youth Service year, so Razaq served out the year at Meristem Securities as a Research Analyst. This marked his introduction into Investment banking, as he was saddled with responsibilities which helped him build capacity. When Saheed Bashiru moved to another unit, Razaq became Head of the research unit.

In 2010, Razaq left Meristem for Vetiva Capital Management, where he spent about four months as a Research analyst.

He had a short break from investment banking in December 2010, when he resumed with Shell Petroleum Development Company as Business Economist. This break affected his CFA programme which he had started at the time, delaying his completion till 2012. While working at the SPDC, he also took a professional course to become an Energy Risk Professional (ERP).

Founding Sart Partners

After completing the CFA program in 2012, Rasaq Ahmed founded Sart Partners, an investment vehicle to carry out investment management in the alternative assets space that cuts across oil and gas, commodities, real estate, and other informal sectors. He explained that his years as an investment banker had shown him the larger market in the informal and alternative asset space which, though profitable, was not exposed to investors.

“A lot of companies need to be formalized, so they become investable and provide liquidity option for investors. My target was to formalize the informal sector and make them investable options. There are lots of opportunities that evade businesses in this country when they do not have the required institutional framework.”

Under the holding company, subsidiaries were set up to handle real estate, agriculture, FMCG brands, and a Joint Venture Agreement with a distribution company to handle oil and gas. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement where the investors were issued the SART commodity link notes to make investments, and they got returns at the end of the month.

This classic investment banking arrangement was only open to private institutional investors and high net worth individuals, and the minimum Entry investment was N1million. Though the holding company started quite small with about 20 to 30 million naira, it grew fast till it was worth about half a billion naira.

The birth of Cowrywise

As the world got ‘techified’, there was a need to merge technology into the classic investment arrangement. Also, at about the same time, there were indicators showing a larger pool of ordinary individuals interested in being a part of the arrangement.

“The idea of cowrywise came in when we had a lot of people come asking ‘how do I invest 1000 naira and small amounts like 50,000 naira. After much deliberations, we decided that the best way to scale was to open it up to the public and that was what gave birth to Cowrywise.”

To eliminate bumps from the process, Cowrywise introduced the automated savings option that allows people to use a saving schedule and invest as easily as they spend.

Meristem Securities was introduced into the arrangement as a check, to ensure that the savings are actually going into risk-free instruments. The idea, Razaq explains, is to let savings become a lifestyle, you save while living your normal life.

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Profiles

Leo Stan Ekeh, the whiz who launched Nigeria’s first locally manufactured computers

Ekeh can be put in the bracket of visionaries who were quick to see that ICT would define the world in no distant time.  

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Leo Stan Ekeh

Rated as one of the top tech CEOs in Nigeria according to Ventures Africa, Leonard Stanley Ekeh has earned a name for himself through his contributions to Africa’s ICT space. With his tech start-ups dating back to the 80s, Ekeh can be put in the bracket of visionaries who saw that ICT would define the world in no distant time.

This week on Nairametrics Founders Profile, the spotlight is on Leo Stan Ekeh, as he is now popularly known.

Leo Stan Ekeh was born in Imo state on February 22, 1956 to a Dietician mum and Nurse dad. He had his early education in Owerri, and upon graduation from Holy Ghost College, Owerri, he emigrated to India where he obtained BSc. Economics from Punjab University.

READ: Start-up owners must believe in Nigeria to scale, says Ekeh, Zinox Boss

This step marked a turning point in his thought process, as he was exposed to the Indian economy which he described as ‘realistic’. He then shifted from his plans to own “the biggest transport company in Nigeria” and started thinking of more realistic business ideas, which would impact the Nigerian economy. He moved on to England where he bagged a Postgraduate degree in Risk Management at the Nottingham University.

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His return to Nigeria saw him spearhead the creation of several tech companies.

Task System Limited

This was Ekeh’s first start-up in Nigeria. The ICT solutions company commenced operations in 1989 to focus on desktop publishing and computer graphics. Over the last three decades, the company extended operations from Lagos to Port Harcourt and Abuja, implementing several ICT projects across the Oil & Gas, Telecoms, Manufacturing, and Public sectors.

The company has computerized 95 percent of Print media, Publishing houses, and Advertising agencies in Nigeria; with several outstanding industry awards to its credit, including Best Partner Award for Compaq, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard (HP) etc.

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READ: Ekeh, Zinox boss, may retire in 2021

Zinox Technologies Limited

ZInox Technologies is the brand which brought Ekeh to the forefront of Africa’s tech space and for which he is popular for. The company was founded in 2001 and became the first internationally certified branded computer OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) in West Africa.

In addition, Zinox is the first to receive Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) certification, and also the first computer hardware manufacturing company and ICT integration company in Nigeria to receive ISO 9001-2000.

Zinox creates business solutions that uses new technologies to streamline systems, efficiently align, integrate, and maximise productivity. Its products are renowned for their security and IT infrastructure. The company has helped to revolutionize the electoral processes in several African countries like Nigeria, The Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau.

Zinox is the only local OEM partner of Microsoft and Intel corporation in Nigeria. It was recently rated by International Data Corporation (IDC) as the No.1 brand in terms of computer sales amongst local and international brands in Nigeria.

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Ekeh also launched Zinox Computers – Nigeria’s first internationally certified branded computers, which comes with a Naira sign and a power supply designed to be compatible with the country’s unstable power supply.

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READ: Konga’s turnover increases by 800%, as company claims to be self-sufficient

Buyright Africa Dotcom Limited

In 2008, Ekeh founded Buyright Africa Dotcom Limited at a time when credit card and e-payment infrastructures were still alien to Nigerians. The target of the start-up was to resolve funding issues for ICT projects and companies, through partnerships with strong international finance groups.

Within the next couple of years, Buyright Africa launched full operation to help Africans enjoy the benefits of emerging technologies and build technology strength that would allow her citizens, governments, and businesses compete favourably with other strong economies of the world.

Buyright Africa executes and funds ICT projects, equipment leasing, ownership scheme and other related ideas in Africa. It also offers ICT consultancy services and sales of ICT products, infrastructures, and digital tools to educational institutions and governments, through its partnership with international and local ICT companies.

Describing the vision, Mr. Mukoro Emomine, Managing Director of Buyright Africa said the company was out to work with manufacturers, in order to reduce the total cost of ownership of ICT equipment in Africa and also encourage usage.

READ: N75 billion Nigerian Youth Investment Fund to be rolled out before end of October – Minister

Konga.com

Konga.com was founded in July 2012 by Sim Shagaya as a third-party online marketplace, and a first-party direct retail in various categories of consumer goods and products.

In February 2018, Zinox acquired 99% of Konga.com shares just a few months after Konga laid off over half its staff. Three months later, Konga merged with Zinox’s retail outfit – Yudala to form the biggest e-commerce company in Africa. Under the new merger, the brand name Konga was retained.

Other businesses

Leo Stan Ekeh also founded Technology Distribution Limited, Task Direct Limited and ITEC Solutions, using them to drive IT solutions and distribution in West Africa.

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He has also been involved with ICT Brokers, and ICT Connect. News recently made the rounds that Ekeh was the man behind the Healthplus takeover, but Ekeh distanced himself from such rumours,

“Till date, I do not have a kobo share in any of their investment vehicles, including a kobo share in Healthplus. Although, everyone has a right to invest in any company of his or her choice.”

CSR initiatives and recognitions

In line with his interest and devotion to the growth of IT in Nigeria, Ekeh launched the Computerize Nigeria Project in August 2000, to encourage development and sensitize Nigerians in the use of computers. He also launched the CANi Scheme, providing laptops to young Nigerians at a reduced price, with a repayment plan spread across 24 months.

Through his charity organisation, Leo Stan Ekeh Foundation, he has carried out other commendable humanitarian and philanthropic donations across the country.

He was bestowed with the ICON of Hope award by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on October 1, 2002; Nigerian Science & Technology Achiever of the Year 2003; and Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR) in 2004. Ekeh is also a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, and holds Life Membership, Nigeria Institute of International Affairs.

He holds Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration from Imo State University, Owerri; Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi; and Federal University of Technology, Owerri and University of Jos. He is a Fellow of the Lagos State Polytechnic, Lagos; Federal Polytechnic, Idah; and Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Imo State.

Only 64 years old, Leo Stan Ekeh is still going strong and there is no telling what sector he might venture into next. He recently called for the declaration of a Tech Independence Day, and confidently said it is only a matter of time before Nigeria starts raising tech billionaires that would rival the likes of Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma.

Ekeh was worth $1 billion as of June, 2018 according to Business Insider by Pulse.ng.

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