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For Olugbenga Agboola, the rapid pace of his company’s ascent is simply another symptom of the burgeoning growth happening across the African continent.
“Obviously, we can’t just copy and paste a Silicon Valley or European model. We have to build what works for our environment,”he said. He has a point. Over the past several years, Africa has developed a budding middle class that has helped spur demand for new goods and services. Chief among those services are fast payment companies, among which Flutterwave stands out. A true African unicorn, it’s the highest-valued startup in Africa. But while it’s based in Nigeria and San Francisco, Flutterwave’s increasingly high valuations are better understood as part of a growth spurt across Africa, Olugbenga Agboola said.
“There are so many problems to solve on the continent. There are so many things to build. I’m excited by entrepreneurs who are willing to take on these crazy problems and try to solve them across the board. Africa has always been known to leapfrog. We go from nothing to something, consistently — no phones, to mobiles, to internet. People skipped browsers; they search for what they want to buy on Instagram. “We’ve always been that way when it comes to [technology] leapfrogging a generation. That’s already happening here [with payments] as well.”
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Pandemic Problems — And SolutionsAlthough anchored by its enterprise division, Flutterwave’s server message block products have helped expand its reach. As the pandemic hit, the fintech company’s digital store provided a lifeline that allowed many who were locked down across Africa to continue selling products. More than 20,000 businesses made use of Flutterwave during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We didn’t really care about SMBs back then,” Olugbenga Agboola explained.
“But as we started growing as a company, the value proposition of getting one enterprise client who gives you so much volume also means that if you lose them, you’re in trouble, so we started thinking about how to diversify the business. “Then the pandemic struck. The team came to me and said, ‘GB, let’s build a Shopify-like product but for SMBs and help them sell more, to help them keep the lights on [during the pandemic shutdowns].’ So we went from a purely impact perspective and built the Flutterwave store, which quickly became very successful. We were able to onboard over 20,000 SMBs on that platform in a very short period. It was simple. We built in payment logistics and e-commerce in one. You can take a photo of what you’re selling, put it online, and sell it, and then someone can come and pick it up for you and do delivery.”
Olugbenga Agboola Builds On SuccessBuilding on those successes, Agboola led the company to another high point. In September, Flutterwave secured the highest payment processing license granted from the Central Bank of Nigeria, allowing the company to directly move payments between banks, fintech, and other outlets with total autonomy. Agboola said,
“This is big news for our customers, partners, investors, and other stakeholders. It is an important milestone in our growth story. Building a thriving payments ecosystem in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is in line with our goal of developing a world-class and secure payment infrastructure for global merchants and payment service providers across the continent.”That’s not to say that everything has been easy for Flutterwave since Olugbenga Agboola founded it in 2016. Agboola readily points out that Africa has infrastructure problems. It’s also relatively poor, but even in richer countries like Nigeria, problems abound. Nigeria lacks a reliable electrical grid, which means that disruptions are part of life for many residents. It’s also a very young continent, with more than 40% of its population under the age of 15 (for comparison, that percentage is 16% for the EU and 18% for the United States). However, for entrepreneurs like Olugbenga Agboola, challenges read as opportunities. As the continent continues its swift-paced urbanization and its middle-class balloons, there are many chances to bring meaningful change and establish new ventures. For example, only about 40% of adults in Africa have bank accounts. In countries in Europe or North America, that is closer to 95%. That’s why creating a payment application that works in Africa will necessarily be different, Olugbenga Agboola said.
“So I think it’s a great time to be here,” Agboola said. “The market is still huge and still largely untapped. There is still a huge population that are not even banked at all on the continent. It’s just the place to be in the next 10 to 20 years. It’s going to be explosive. Our goal is to be here and stay alive to be able to harness the opportunity.”Featured Image Source: Techuncode
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