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Profiles

Shola Akinlade: The inspiration behind Paystack’s success

Akinlade and his partner have taken Paystack from just being a Nigerian startup to a payment giant expanding across Africa.

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Every single problem one might have thought about a decade ago, concerning finance and technology is being taken care of one after another, and we have a generation of fintech founders to thank for this. Shola Akinlade, co-founder and CEO of Paystack is one of them.

Shola was born in Lagos, Nigeria and attended St Gregory’s College before proceeding to Babcock University for a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science. Fresh out of school, Akinlade worked as a Management Trainee and Database Manager with Heineken, but left after two years because he wanted to create things, rather than just be a management staff.

He took his first shot at entrepreneurship when he founded Klein Devort, a software development and consulting company, with his friend, Mayowa Okegbenle in 2008. Their flagship product, Precurio was designed as a collaboration and content management platform for the mid-enterprise segment and businesses in emerging markets. Akinlade said that the inspiration for the project was Dropbox. Within five years of running this company, the duo had grown their small idea and had over 200,000 companies using it. It had been downloaded over 150,000 times and was available in six different languages.

READ: These African startups made it into Y Combinator accelerator programme

The success of Precurio opened Akinlade to more opportunities and some banks started reaching out to him to build software. It was in the course of executing these projects that the inspiration for Paystack came.

“I always knew the state of payments wasn’t where it should be, but I didn’t think it was going to be me. But just working with the banks, I just figured if there’s someone that can figure out payments, it probably will be me because I built world-class software before and now I have access and I understand how the financial system works,” he said.

Within a year, a lot of the underground work had been done between Akinlade and Ezra Olubi, his friend and co-founder. Olubi had, in the past, worked on a payments company that did not pull through so he was the perfect choice of a partner for Akinlade. The challenge for them was to solve the issue of online payments in Africa by connecting the super-fragmented aspects of the financial sector.

READ: Paystack explains how it will use Truecaller to verify merchants

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They went ahead to develop multi-channel payment options for merchants across the country, enabling them to accept payments from around the world, via credit card, debit card, and direct bank transfer on the web and mobile.

“I started speaking with people in the tech ecosystem and then put up a waiting list, which was really just a call for those who wanted to try out what we were working on. Within one month, we had over 300 people join the waiting list. From this, we felt that we had tapped into an issue that was experienced by many, so we grew the idea from there,” he recounted in an interview.

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By the time they were invited for an interview at the tech accelerator Y Combinator program, they had a waiting list but were yet to launch out.

READ: Nigerian fintech startup, Blueloop joins Y Combinator’s winter 2021 batch

“As I just got in, they’re like, “Hey, tell us what you guys are working on?” I said, “I’m working on Paystack it’s a payments company. We’ve made a huge leap over what currently exists. It used to be about seven steps before, it’s now about two steps.” They’re like, “Show us.” I had to just pull out a laptop, show them, “Wow, this is interesting.”

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It went very fast, but it went well I think. I remember they asked us why we were not live. We said we just had a waitlist, we were worried about fraud and all that. They said, they don’t think we should put in a shell barrier to growth. We’re growing, if people want it then open it up. We got a call later that evening asking if we wanted YC’s investment” Akinlade narrated.

Paystack acquired by Stripe for a reported $200 million in the biggest fintech acquisition in Nigeria's history

Shola Akinlade (right) and Paystack Co-founder, Ezra Olubi

Paystack launched in January 2016 and became the first Nigerian company to be accepted into the tech accelerator Y Combinator program, and received funding of $120,000.

“They funded us with $120k and advised us to focus on building our product and talking to our customers, noting that almost everything else involved in building our ideas and company, would be a distraction. They helped us focus on the detail; the core structure of the company that was going to help us scale,” Akinlade said.

They rode on the back of this feat to secure the attention of more investors at the Demo Day and raised more seed funding amounting to $1.3 million. This funding, according to Akinlade, was used to accelerate product development, build the engineering team, grow the sales and marketing operations. Paystack has come a long way since then, and now services hundreds of thousands of companies and major businesses.

READ: A CredPal credit card can get you anything – CEO, Fehintolu Olaogun

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Akinlade also adds that before building Paystack, he had contemplated a B2B payment systems similar to Brex (an American financial service and technology company that offers business credit cards and cash management accounts to tech companies), and even went as far as buying the domain but never actually pushed through with it.

In 2018, the company announced that it had raised $8 million in Series A funding that had Stripe, Visa and Tencent as major investors. With the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, the company’s growth has now accelerated with more customers and signups. October 2020 came with another milestone; Paystack had been acquired by the US payments giant, Stripe for over $200 million, making it the biggest acquisition in Nigeria. For Stripe, this was part of an expansion strategy since Paystack serves a large market in the Nigerian and African fintech space.

An important thing to note about this deal is that Paystack continues to operate independently with Akinlade as CEO. About the acquisition, Akinlade said, “I’m driven by the mission to accelerate payments on the continent, and I am convinced that Stripe will help us get there faster. It is a very natural move.”

When Shola is not working…

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The payments founder admits that sometimes it gets all busy that he has to consciously step back for a breather. He sleeps while flying, does occasional exercises and just relaxes with family when he finds the time. Personal relationships matter to him, but work hardly gives him time to nurture most of these relationships and thankfully, his friends understand.

He also relaxes with African music a lot, and said in an interview that, “if I ever stopped doing Paystack I’ll have to be a DeeJay.”

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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.

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.

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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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