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Interview

Okra is building the tools to enable the fintech industry thrive – Co-Founder

In an interview with David Peterside, Co-Founder and COO at Okra, he talks about everything the Nigerian fintech API startup does.

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The rise of API fintech companies has made it easy for businesses to access real-time banking data. The adoption of API shifted into top gear in the United States when tech API company, Plaid, launched and made access to data easy. Many finance apps like Venmo, Coinbase, and Robinhood currently use Plaid’s API infrastructure.

For fintechs, the ability to easily verify and leverage consumer data makes it possible for them to offer a myriad of financial services to their customers. For instance, if you are a digital lender, having instant and verified access to users’ financial information, account balances, and history will allow you to make better, more informed and data-driven lending decisions.

In Nigeria, we have also witnessed the rise of API startups like Okra, which has created a secure portal and process to exchange real-time financial information between customers, applications, and banks. Okra has dug its heels in, connecting to all banks in Nigeria with a 99.9% guaranteed uptime.

READ: API Startup, Mono joins Y Combinators Winter 2021 batch

Since its launch in 2020, the startup has recorded an average month-on-month API call growth of 281% and has also analyzed more than 20 million transactions. Tech companies like uLesson, Carbon, Interswitch, Indica, Opay, Credpal, etc. leverage Okra’s technology to power their businesses.

In an interview with David Peterside, Co-Founder and COO at Okra, he explained what Okra does.

What was the inspiration for founding your startup?

Consumers are demanding full digital experiences of products/services. The businesses and startups trying to build out these solutions simply didn’t have the right tools to build an end-to-end personalized digital experience for customers — so we decided to start a company focused on building out the necessary tools to enable the fintech industry to thrive.

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What does Okra do and what sets you apart from other fintech startups?

We enable developers and businesses, especially in financial services build personalized digital products. The difference between Okra and other fintech startups is simple; Okra is the tool that other fintech startups use to build out personalized financial products/services like lending, savings, investments, etc.

Is your API only restricted to the fintech space?

The companies currently building with our API include startups, banks, and government agencies.

Do you believe Nigeria is truly ready to adopt an open banking system?

The data from other markets clearly show that Open Banking as a service is a net positive for the economy, businesses, and most importantly, consumers. We’ve also learned that the US approach to Open Banking as a service is by far more efficient than the UK/EU — when you compare the time (to build), adoption, and growth of fintech in both markets. The Open banking principle is great but narrow. It’s not only about digitizing banking but wealth management, insurance, and investing. Okra is in the business of Open Finance. The global standards are clear. NDPR, GDPR (EU), and the Dodd-Frank (US) clearly establish that consumers should have control over their information and have the ability to permission their information to any third-party service of their choice.

What would be the role of API companies such as yourself in encouraging open banking in Nigeria?

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It’s very important for the developers, banks, and businesses building digital products/services to have access to standardized data. This is available today with the Okra API.

How do you address concerns on data privacy and web security?

As an infrastructure company, we invest a lot of capital and resources in privacy & security. We are also NDPR and GDPR compliant. We also give consumers the ability to stop sharing information at any time.

What are your plans for expanding into other African markets and how soon do you propose to implement such plans?

The focus is currently Nigeria, we see the African continent as our total addressable market but I can’t give specifics on the timeline.

In case you missed it

Nairametrics earlier reported that Okra closed $3.5 million in a seed round led by U.S.-based Susa Ventures.

So far, the API company has raised a total of $4.5 million in two funding rounds.

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Janet John is a graduate of Chemical Engineering from the University of Uyo. She specializes in technical writing where she creates easy to read documentation, articles to clearly and efficiently explain highly complex processes. When she is not writing, she works as a freelance front-end developer

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Business Half Hour

How I rode on passion to win multiple-awards in a self-taught career – Shola Animashaun

Turning down an employment offer at 25, to take a gamble his passion seems to have paid off for Animashaun.

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How I rode on passion to win multiple-awards in a self-taught career - Shola Animashaun

There tends to always be a bias towards motivational speakers, who give the “follow your passion, and money will follow” advice and they are mostly chided for giving advice that is not applicable to all climes.

But then comes Shola Animashaun, multi-award-winning visual storyteller, who proves that even in Nigeria, it is possible to follow your dream and make a lot of money out of it.

While serving out his youth corps year in 2002, Shola discovered his love for visual storytelling – an art that keeps memories and tells stories using still and motion pictures. He had gotten a camera while working in Ilorin, Kwara state before going for the service year, but then discovered that there were people willing to engage him to capture their memories in pictures and videos, and pay for it as well.

After the year in Ilorin, he abandoned the hobby which he regarded as a pastime and started the job-hunt, hoping to clinch some white-collar job with mouth-watering remunerations, but over the next three years, it became an endless search until he eventually got a job with an accounting firm based in Abuja.

Recounting his experience in the Nairametrics Business Half Hour show, Animashaun said; “I was offered employment and I was supposed to travel to Abuja to start work there. By the time I got home, I packed my bags to leave Lagos for Abuja. But one of my siblings held me back. He said if I don’t end up pursuing the passion I had in visual storytelling as a business, I may never end up doing it.

I listened to him, the next day I went to return the N5000 I had been given to take night bus to Abuja to start work as an accountant. At the time I turned down that job, I was 25 or 26 years old, and once you can’t get into a white collar establishment in your early 20s, it would be hard for you to do that. so when I was turning down the job, I knew that I had burnt my bridge literally. I knew that the decision would be difficult to take back, so I had no option but to be successful. ”

Turning down an employment offer at 25, to take a gamble on one’s passion is not what many would advise their siblings to do, but it did pay off.

Over the next few months, Shola focused on building a portfolio of editorials, documentaries, videography and related productions, and within three months, Animashaun’s income had quadrupled the offer he got from the accounting firm.

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With referrals, he soon got his first big offer – the Globacom campus storm – which took him travelling around the country with the likes of Basketmouth, Jimmy Jatt, and Ruggedman.

“It is very important to have a portfolio because even when people refer you for the right jobs, they would always want to see what you have done before then. A little talking and more showing, and the results that you seek will come,” he said.

Animashaun also focused on building a good interpersonal relationship with his clients, to build more rapport and attract more referrals to sustain the business. He also got a deal as the in-house photographer for Nigeria’s number one urban lifestyle and music magazine, Hip Hop World; and has since then worked with several concerts, magazine covers, blogs among others.

At different times, Shola covered the Eyo Festival, Lagos Carnival, Nigerian Tourism Expo in Atlanta Georgia and Barbados respectively.

Any regrets?

None at all, Shola says.

“There was never a time I regretted my decision. I love the freedom of time, the freedom to take up a job I want. I am always excited but when I was looking for a job for years, that excitement died totally and I started feeling like I was not good enough. Returning to the camera brought back the excitement and that is what I need to fuel my energy.”

Awards

The accounting graduate, now turned visual storyteller, has churned out hundreds of productions over the years and gotten several awards and recognitions. Despite starting out as a neophyte and learning through multiple trials and errors, Shola has now become one of the most notable names in the industry. He has executed several jobs within and outside the country and continues to stun the world with better and better productions every single time.

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He was recognised Best Model Photo of the year, Nigeria Photography Awards 2011, and again in 2012. Shola also won the Best Wedding Photo of the year, and the Best Event Photo of the year, Nigeria Photography Awards 2012.

Shola Animashaun was 2nd runner-up, EyeEm We Are One FIFA14 World Cup Int’l Competition 2014; and the Visual Art Winner, Creative Industry Awards 2015.

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Interview

SeerBit is providing innovative technology solutions to bridge payment gaps in Africa – CEO

One of SeerBit’s strengths is our ability to scale and innovate within our current markets amidst distinctive government regulations.

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SeerBit is providing innovative technology solutions to bridge payment gaps in Africa - CEO

As more people adopt the online method of running their businesses, processing payments has become a challenge. As an e-commerce or online business owner, if you’ve successfully gotten a customer to the point where they are about to purchase a product on your website, integrating a safe and secure payment process where the customer can complete their online purchase is very vital. Without it, you won’t be able to securely charge your customers when they purchase items from your website. 

Benefits of having a payment gateway 

Integrating a Payment Application Programming Interface (API) is the safest and most professional way to deal with financial transactions online because it enables eCommerce sites to: 

  • Process credit cards
  • Track orders 
  • Maintain customer lists 
  • Protect merchants from fraud and information breaches. 

Many startups in Nigeria have come up with innovative ways to solve the problem of payments during checkouts. One such company is Seerbit. In an interview with Omoniyi Kolade, CEO of Seerbit, he explained how they are bridging the payment gaps in Africa. 

What was the inspiration for founding SeerBit? 

Over the last decade, Nigeria’s payments services witnessed an evolution spurred by growing commercial activities and the digital boom (increased internet usage and smartphone penetration). According to a 2021 report published by Data Reportal, about 50% of Nigeria’s population are using the internet and approximately 90% have access to mobile phones. This is an indication that half of Nigeria’s population have been digitally included, which is the backbone of online and real-time electronic payments systems. Other African countries are seeing the same shift too.  

However, there is a huge gap in the market which doesn’t gain as much attention as it should. If 50% of Nigeria’s population have digital access, how are the majority of transactions in Nigeria and the rest of Africa still happening offline? 

This is the gap SeerBit was created to solve. To create a truly digital ecosystem, we chose to create payment solutions that bridge the gap between online and offline usage, with innovations that defy boundaries. For example, the majority of Nigerians still transact in cash; how can we make sure that digital products are still available to this class of people, with convenient payment options?  

This problem not only affects the cash-based customer but also the online merchants who could lose out on the billions of dollars happening in the offline market. SeerBit exists to plug these gaps, as our payments solutions are always geared towards creating opportunities for everyone to thrive.  

In a nutshell, what does Seerbit do? 

SeerBit is a pan-African enterprise payment platform developed for both online and offline businesses, banks and other marketplace companies. We enable fast, seamless, inclusive and secure payments for leading local and global companies present on the continent. 

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Apart from acting as a payment gateway, are there other services you offer? 

SeerBit is more than just a payment gateway. We are in the business of using technology to address the fragmentations and frictions of payment on the continent. Our current service delivery is our payment gateway and we will soon release our payment solution targeted at offline merchants and customers. 

What makes you different from Paystack and other leading payment gateways in Nigeria? 

What sets us apart is our focus on the underserved and excluded segments of the market in Nigeria. We want to seamlessly connect the online and offline market in a way that removes friction for both consumers and merchants. As a consumer, SeerBit helps you to buy what you want and pay however you want, conveniently, and the merchant is empowered to reach a broader market because we have removed the barriers along the way. 

You are operational in Nigeria, has government regulations affected SeerBit in any way, and how did you adjust to this? 

One thing to note is that for every African country, there are unique sets of rules and regulations governing the sector of payments. There are 54 African countries, which means that there are 54 different rules for payments in Africa.  

One of SeerBit’s strengths is our ability to scale and innovate within our current markets amidst these distinctive government regulations. We tailor/model our solution to work within the country’s license requirements whilst still solving real problems. Regulation is everything in this business and we make it our utmost priority to understand the local payment rules and regulations.  

SeerBit has been in operation for over a year, how many merchants do you currently have? 

Within 18 months of operation, SeerBit has over 1,000 merchants spread across 8 African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Côte D’Ivoire, Uganda, Tanzania and Burkina Faso). SeerBit’s decision to focus first on East and West Africa is because we understand the fragmentation in these regions. 

How successful has SeerBit been in other countries where it has a presence? 

Success to SeerBit is measured by the following: 

  1. Being able to scale/expand into new markets (in terms of merchants and office staff).
  2. Being able to understand the locality and customer type in each country to provide tailored solutions.
  3. Being able to innovate locally amidst the unique regulations in each country.
  4. Seeing the results of the SeerBit solution and how it impacts sales for merchants.

Looking at the aforementioned, SeerBit has enjoyed a good amount of success in the markets we operate in and are keen to add value to more merchants in our existing markets and also new markets as well.  

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Are there any future fundraising plans? 

At this time, SeerBit’s focus is to continue to build out our solution and grow organically. Our priority is to create the utmost value in payments for Africa’s online and offline commercial space.  

We are, however, open to the idea of fundraising and look forward to this happening somewhere in the near future. 

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