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Profiles

Olugbenga Agboola: The making of the Co-founder of Flutterwave – Nigeria’s $1bn Startup

Our profile for the week looks at this serial entrepreneur, Olugbenga Agboola, who has had two successful exits.

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Google partners Flutterwave to train 5,000 merchants, How the EndSARS protest fundraise initiated by Flutterwave has gone thus far.

Flutterwave recently attained unicorn status after the payment services fintech received $170 million in its Series C funding. The injection of funds pushed the fintech’s valuation past a billion dollars, making it the third African unicorn in fintech.

Interestingly, this funding series comes about a year after the Series B funding of about $35 million in January 2020. The co-founder and current CEO of the payments company, Olugbenga Agboola, recorded both achievements under his leadership as Chief Executive Officer.

Our profile for the week looks at this serial entrepreneur who has had two successful exits.

Education

Agboola was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and had his early schooling in Nigeria before traveling to the United States of America. He bagged an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management, Cambridge. He also has a master’s degree in information technology security and behavioral engineering. He got the standard IT security certifications from EC-Council University, headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He then received his Project Management and Advanced Computing degree from the University of Westminster in London, England.

He later completed the Fundamentals of Finance for The Technical Executive in November 2012, as well as the Developing a Leading Edge Operations Strategy in April 2013, both at MIT. He added the Supply Chain Strategy and Management programme to his arsenal, and the Essential IT for Non-IT Executives, both in November 2014 at MIT.

In the course of his training, he acquired skills in Development Tools, Ethical Hacking, JavaScript, PHP, PHP Applications, Product Innovation, Product Life Cycle Management, Product Management, Product Marketing, Retail Banking, Security Management, Agent Management System, Card Management Solution, and Server Administration.

Agboola is not just a financial technology engineer, he is a certified ethical hacker, certified security analyst, and Microsoft certified system engineer.

An eventful career

Agboola worked as an Application Developer for British Telecom Professional Services from January 2003 to January 2004 and worked at Paypal as an application engineer from 2004 to January 2005. He then joined the Enterprise Infrastructure Solution Development team for Guarantee Trust Bank from January 2005 to March 2009, before moving to Standard Bank Nigeria. He worked there as the Technology (e-business) Product Developer/Project Manager for a couple of years and came up with a Biometric Payment Solution for the bank.

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At different times, he also worked as the Google Product Manager at Google Wallet, and as the Head of Mobile Financial Services at Sterling Bank. He was the Head of Digital Factory and Innovation at Access Bank from November 2014 to May 2016 and was part of the Management Programme at the Wharton School in 2015.

SSKOHN

Before assuming his position as CEO of Flutterwave, he served as the Senior Entrepreneur in Residence at Africa Fintech Foundry from May 2016 to August 2018 and was part of the Strategic Marketing Programme at Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management, Evanston, Illinois in 2017. Since October 2018, he has served as an entrepreneur at Royal Bank of Scotland Business.

A payment solution for Africa

The knowledge he got from working with these institutions quickly opened his eyes to the payment systems problem in Africa, and how a single innovation could provide the solution. Agboola recalled in an interview that though African countries had strong payment systems in their countries, none of these solutions could interoperate with each other and allow users to make and receive payments across international borders. Flutterwave came in to resolve this challenge.

“Africa needs three major things, logistics, payments, and commerce. Flutterwave is taking care of the fragmented payment system in Africa. The fragmented system needs a central means of payment to facilitate commerce within the continent. That is what Flutterwave is out to do,” he said.

Together with Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, and a team of another tech, banking, and African payments veterans, he founded Flutterwave in 2016 to build an Africa-wide payments infrastructure to connect all payment types in the continent and bring a single-use payment solution to any merchant or small business. This solution would later allow businesses to accept payments from anywhere.

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In other words, Flutterwave allows business owners to accept payments from customers without having to worry about compliance requirements, infrastructure technology, or having to deal with multiple payment providers. The company is headquartered in San Francisco with a presence in the United Kingdom, and countries across Africa and Europe.

Aboyeji served as the first CEO, while Agboola was the Chief Technical Officer, until October 2018 when Aboyeji stepped down and Agboola took over as the company’s CEO.

Agboola led the firm through a Series B funding round, which injected $35 million into the company with investments from MasterCard, CRE Ventures, Fintech Collective, 4DX Ventures, and Raba Capital in 2020. Even when other businesses were groping in the dark, Flutterwave was keeping the lights on by helping businesses all over receive payments and arrange deliveries. According to Agboola, the company processed more than 80 million transactions, worth $7.5 billion, in 17 African countries in 2020. The company also went ahead with plans for greater expansion so that a customer in South Africa, for instance, could seamlessly use her Kenyan digital wallet to buy products in Senegal.

In the words of Agboola, “Africa is not a country, but we make it feel like one.”

Agboola also has a mobile money project which he started in 2011 to offer banking services to people, such as opening bank accounts, accessing card services, money transfer services, bill payment, merchant services, and cardless withdrawals on ATMs via their mobile phones.

He was also part of the Corporate Cards Product Development Project from April 2011 to December 2011, providing solutions for the cash management needs of multinationals through online tools for card management.

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Recognitions and other interests

Agboola has two patents: C4T DATA Encryption Tech and QR code Payment. He was also part of the Young African Leaders Initiative at the Young African Leaders Initiative Network from May 2014 to June 2015.

In 2019, he became a member of Fast Company’s Impact Council, consisting of entrepreneurs, technologists, corporate chieftains, and designers. He also sits on the board of directors for the Corporate Council on Africa and chairs the Board of Directors at the Great Ife Alumni Association Inc. He was a part of the panel for the US Africa Business Summit in Maputo, Mozambique, and spoke during the session of Transforming African Economies Through Digitalization, on 20th June 2019.

In 2019, at Endeavor’s 87th International Selection Panel in Madrid, Spain, Agboola was selected as one of six African entrepreneurs to join Endeavor, a non-profit organisation that supports high-impact entrepreneurs around the world. Also in 2019, Olugbenga Agboola was listed as one of the Quartz Africa Innovators 2019 in recognition of his input in the fintech space.

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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

    Meet Adebayo Ogunlesi, Nigeria’s investment banker shaking up Wall Street

    Though his name does not ring a bell like Aliko Dangote, Otedola and Mike Adenuga, Ogunlesi is equally a “billionaire” in his own right.

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    Some refer to him as a “silent billionaire”, and this is not a wrong statement about the man who has stakes in a number of airports around the world, including Gatwick Airport, the second-busiest airport by total passenger traffic in the UK and the ninth-busiest in Europe.

    Adebayo Ogunlesi, a Nigerian who started out as a lawyer and later an investment banker, has spread his wings around the globe and is now currently the Chairman and Managing Partner at the private equity firm Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP). Though his name does not ring a bell like Aliko Dangote, Otedola and Mike Adenuga, Ogunlesi is equally a billionaire in his own right.

    Early years

    Adebayo hails from Makun, Sagamu, Ogun State, and was born on the 20th of December 1953 to the family of Dr Theophilus O. Ogunlesi, who later became Nigeria’s first Professor of Medicine in Ibadan.

    He had his primary education there in Sagamu and then attended the prestigious King’s College, Lagos before travelling to England where he bagged a B.A. with first-class honours in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University.

    He went on to pursue two degrees concurrently at Harvard, and in 1979, received a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School.

    He worked as a law clerk to Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall of the United States Supreme Court from 1980 to 1981, and as an attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore – a law firm in New York City till 1983.

    Armed with his MBA, Adebayo made the switch to investment banking when he joined First Boston Investment Bank as an advisor on a Nigerian gas project in 1983. He also worked with the Project Finance Group, as a financial advisor to several clients on the transactions of North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

    Other places Adebayo worked include the Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) (earlier known as Global Energy Group) where he advised clients on strategic transactions and financing for some years, before becoming the Global Head of CSFB’s Investment Banking Division. He was appointed member of the Credit Suisse Executive Board and Management Committee in 2002, and became the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Client Officer of CSFB between 2004 and 2006.

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    While at the CSFB, he was also lecturing at Harvard Law School and Yale School of Management.

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    He was appointed a member of the Board of Directors of Goldman Sachs in October 2012 and became Lead Director on the 24th of July, 2014.

    Ogunlesi, the investor

    In July 2006, he founded a private equity firm Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) in New York City, with CSFB and General Electric as the first investors; and assumed the role of Chairman and Managing Partner. In the same year, GIP bought London City Airport an international airport located in the Royal Docks in the London Borough of Newham in the City of London. GIP later sold off the airport after a decade.

    Three years later in 2009, GIP invested £1.455 billion to acquire the majority share in London Gatwick Airport, a major international airport near Crawley, Sussex, England. Another three years after in 2012, GIP bought Edinburgh Airport, said to be the busiest airport in Scotland in 2019, handling over 14.7 million passengers.

    GIP also bought Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori in February 2018.

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    Some other GIP Investments In the Transport Sector include Terminal Investment Limited, Port of Melbourne; Pacific National; Italo; Access Midstream Partners; Biffa Group Limited; Port of Brisbane; Great Yarmouth Port Company.

    GIP also had stakes in infrastructure assets around the world, with selected equity and debt investments in several sectors. The company manages a portfolio of combined annual revenue greater than $46 billion, and investments of over $51 billion for its investors.

    The company is an infrastructure investment fund that makes both equity and selected debt investments. It has investments in high-quality infrastructure assets in the energy, transport, water and waste sectors.

    In the energy sector, Gip has investments in Guacolda Energia, Freeport LNG, CPV, Saeta Yield/Bow Power, Hess Infrastructure Partners, Vena Energy, Naturgy Energy Group and several others.

    Other interests

    Ogunlesi is now a Member, Board of Dean’s Advisors at the Harvard Business School; Member, Leadership Council of New York at Harvard Law School; and Member, Global Advisory Council at Harvard University.

    He is also a Member, Board of Directors of the Partnership for New York City Fund; National Board of Directors NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Board of Trustees NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital; and the King’s College Old Boys Association.

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    He is a member of the District of Columbia Bar Association. He taught a course on transnational investment projects in emerging countries, as a lecturer at Harvard Law School and the Yale School of Management, while also working at Credit Suisse First Boston.

    In October 2012, Ogunlesi was appointed to the Board of Directors at Goldman Sachs and became Lead Director in 2014. There is no confirmed source of his net worth, but Wallmine estimates that Ogunlesi is worth at least $22.5 million dollars and owns at least 66,677 units of Goldman Sachs stock as of 7 May 2020.

    In December 2016, Ogunlesi was named among business leaders that would be part of Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, but the forum was disbanded 8 months later.

    Ogunlesi was given The Award of Excellence by The International Center in New York, and in 2019 was cited as one of the Top 100 most influential Africans by New African magazine. He is still actively engaged in several volunteer works across Africa.

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    Atsu Davoh is building ways for Africans to easily acquire and spend cryptocurrency

    Atsu Davoh has gone from failed projects to running one of Ghana’s most innovative startups.

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    In recent times, the tech space in Africa has experienced immense growth, with the introduction of several key players and disruptors across various sectors. One sector that is also rising is the cryptocurrency space with Africa experiencing greater crypto ownership and trade volume.

    The number of Bitcoins processed on a single day reached its highest value at the beginning of 2021, as more people displayed interest in the cryptocurrency. Due to its fast adoption, more fintech players have created platforms that have made trading with cryptocurrency easier. One of such players is Atsu Davoh who calls himself the “product guy.”

    Atsu Davoh dropped out of college (Carleton College) in the United States and moved back to Ghana to help innovate on Africa’s financial infrastructure. Atsu first discovered Bitcoin in 2017 during the first boom when it became mainstream. Before then, he and his co-founder Samuel Baohen had been involved in many failed projects.

    He developed a USSD system where people could buy bitcoin through their phone numbers, like tying crypto to phone numbers in a native way. This was one of the first iterations of Bitsika.

    Atsu was invited to Join Binance Labs Incubator by Yele Bademosi where he got $150,000 after graduating from the incubator. Bitsika went on to raise around $900,000 from investors. This brought the total seed raised to $1,050,000.

    This USSD system worked in Ghana but didn’t work in Nigeria. Atsu and his team then pivoted the platform to a donation crowdfunding platform, which allowed people living in other countries to send donations to African nationals in need of the funds before finally building it into a cross-border crypto remittance platform.

    Bitsika users can deposit and remit money across multiple currencies using the app, with all monies deposited in Bitsika stored in USD credits or stable-coin.

    Bitsika has over 50,000+ downloads on Playstore and processed nearly $40 million in 2020 with $18,872,474 in deposits, $17,890,807 in payouts (withdrawals), and $3,189,834 in internal peer-to-peer transfers.

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    Despite a few unfavourable regulations surrounding cryptocurrency in Africa, the market has shown no signs of slowing down as more people are building products that will make trading seamless.

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