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Expanding the FinTech Ecosystem by Enabling the Paystack Community

23 June 2020 , by Candice Grobler

We chatted to Shola Akinlade, CEO and Co-founder at Paystack, about what his team is currently focusing on to ensure that they are equipped to successfully enable their customers to ambitiously grow their businesses. They do this by making it quick and easy for users to get started on Paystack and accept payments across Africa.

Find out more about how Paystack uses tech tooling, community support networks, and data-driven industry insights to grow their business and help their customers, in the video, podcast or transcript of the discussion.

Transcript of the discussion:

Alex [00:09]

Welcome to our fireside chats with Shola. Hi, guys. I can see all your videos coming on. Great.

Alex [00:17]

My name's Alex Hanson, and I'm the Events Coordinator at OfferZen. We're just waiting for a few more people to join. And so I hope you guys are ready for the session and feeling pumped. Before we jump in, and while we wait for a few more people to join, we're just going to launch a quick poll to gauge who's in the audience this evening. It should pop up on your screens within the next two minutes or so. You guys should see it. Great. So we'll give you about two minutes or so to complete this. I am very interested to hear what Wayne, Shola and Candice are thinking on their sides to some of these answers. So, Candice, Marvel or DC or would you rather not say?

Candice [01:06]

I think this is a very weirdly contentious issue. Instead of picking sides, I'm kind of like on the “rather not say” train, just because I feel like it might upset other people.

Alex [01:22]

It's a very smart answer. I'm not going to be smart. I love Marvel. Marvel is my go-to. Shola, where are you at with that?

Shola [01:31]

I'll just Marvel. So we can get into trouble together if we have to get into trouble.

Alex [01:37]

Exactly. Wayne, what are your thoughts? Are you gonna break it? Are you going DC?

Wayne [01:43]

No, DC. Like I'm a Marvel fan. Like I'm down there. Other people are the DC people.

Alex [01:52]

Well you're right. Some don't want to say, but Marvel's pretty much winning by 67% at the moment. One of the other questions is Mac, Windows, or Linux. I'm currently doing this on a Mac. I don't know what you guys are doing. Wayne?

Wayne [02:12]

I am old school, so I use Windows. I tried to use a Mac, it was very confusing. I just went back to Windows. But I’m probably just old.

Alex [02:23]

It is quite popular. Shola where are you coming at us from?

Shola [02:26]

Definitely Mac.

Alex [02:28]

Yeah, and Candice, I think you're a Mac too?

Candice [02:32]

Well, at work, I have a Mac. But in my personal life, I prefer Windows. But I must say, I think just picking one is my actual problem. I just need to commit to one and just yeah, I think that would actually solve this.

Alex [02:48]

I can imagine it's quite hard to shift between the two. Like, there are shortcuts on the one that don't work the same one the other. That's interesting. So, this is an interesting question, and you might have to read a little bit, but I've prepped because I knew what the questions were. But the question is, what's your money personality? I don't know about you guys but I'm definitely a spender. I enjoy spending my money and buying gifts for family and friends. I really like that – I like spoiling people. Okay, so Candice, who do you think you are?

Candice [03:20]

I am definitely the hoarder. I'm not gonna lie. I've got the budget sheets. I control the budget in my house. That's definitely me, hey.

Alex [03:31]

And Wayne, who do you think you are?

Wayne [03:33]

Hmm. I think the master sounds about right. Like I'm terrified of debt. I just like to have money and just feel safe and that I am not worried about debt and things. So yeah, probably a master.

Alex [03:48]

Yeah, you're not a hoarder but you'd like to be comfortable with what you have. Shola, any of these speak to you?

Shola [03:56]

Yeah, I am an avoider, just like there's just so much happening. Like, it's one of those things.

Alex [04:08]

Ironically, you're the only one in the audience that is an avoider – nobody else has voted for this.

Shola [04:16]

It took a lot of confidence to get me to accept that I'd reached that.

Candice [04:22]

I appreciate the bravery, I genuinely do.

Alex [04:26]

It's like being honest about not choosing between Marvel and DC! And then we're looking at our favorite coding language. Okay, so it's quite split at the moment. JavaScript is at the top with about 18%. C# and Java coming close behind at 12%. I don't know, Shola, what coding language is your favorite?

Shola [04:55]


Alex [04:57]

Okay, so you’re up there with everyone else. Wayne, do you have a favorite?

Wayne [05:02]

I was used to coding C# a lot. So, I'm probably having to go with that. It's probably because most of my time was spent on that.

Alex [05:09]

Okay, and Candice?

Candice [05:12]

This is a joke that you asked me this, because I have zero coding experience. I would say Python because it's the only language I can actually read and use as a non-dev, so I think that would be my one.

Alex [05:32]

Well, interestingly enough, JavaScript is one of the most popular right now in terms of votes. It's at 22%. And it was also one of the favorites in the OfferZen Tech Skills Report last year, so it's quite cool to see that that data is quite true and following through. Okay, most people have voted – about 77%. I’ll give you guys like five more seconds before we end the poll, and then we'll see where the final truth lies between Marvel and DC. I think that was my favorite question to ask. Okay, I'm going to end the poll. Sorry, guys, I hope you got your questions in. I’m just going to share the results, so you guys should be able to see it on your screens. So, Marvel's won pretty much by landslide – 71%. All the Marvel fans, I love it. Mac, Windows or Linux – it's quite close. Mac is winning by 46% but Windows was close behind with 37. So quite a split audience. Linux was only at 17%. So quite a small number of people there. Your money personality. It seems like most people are with you, Wayne. ‘Amasser’ is about the most popular with 40%. And next up is the hoarder. So, Candice, Wayne, you guys are among the most popular there with the audience. And then favorite coding language – and it's like our Tech Skills Report – 21% said JavaScript, but next up is Python. So, Candice you were close there again.

Alex [07:02]

I hope you guys saw the results. It's very cool that we get to see where our audience is from, and a bit more about our audience. So, before we jump into the Q&A, I'm just gonna do some quick housekeeping. This is a Zoom webinar, so you guys can see us – audience – but we can't see you. It honestly sounds a little bit like the start of a horror movie, but that's okay. Just keep in mind, there’s a Q&A feature at the bottom of your screen. Please feel free to pop in any questions that you might have for Shola and Candice and Shola will try to get to it at the end of the session. There's also a chat feature which most of you guys have been using already – feel free to banter or ask questions or share any useful links that are appropriate for the session.

Alex [07:12]

Just some other things to note: if for some reason you drop off the call, try and get back on with the same link that you received in your inbox. We'd also love to hear about your experience of this event. We'll be sending out a feedback form tomorrow morning, so please make sure to let us know what you thought of the event so we can make it even better for the next one. Now that we've gone through some of the nitty gritty house rules, I hope everyone’s settled in. We're at about 72 participants, and the number is going up and down quite quickly.

Alex [08:18]

Next up, I'm going to introduce Wayne Summers who you've already heard from a little bit. He's the Head of Digital IT at Investec and he's going to be giving a quick update on where we're at with programmable banking. From there, Candice, our Events Content Producer, is going to start the Q&A session and start with the interview of Shola. So, I'm going to hand over to you now Wayne.

Wayne [08:42]

Thank you. As you're heard, I am Wayne Summers. I look after the Digital Team at Investec, which is the team that’s involved in the programmable banking work, and a bit more stuff, but the programmable banking – I think is what's relevant for this conversation. I think before we go into just the update, I just want to take five seconds to explain why Investec would go looking at doing something like programmable banking. I don't know if many of you were at the Merge conference – I gave a better speech there as well about this. But, for Investec, we believe that growing and investing in the tech sector is probably one of the most impactful sectors that you can invest in.

Wayne [09:20]

If you look at the low barriers to entry, and the force multiplication that you get from investing in developers, we really believe that is where we can make the biggest difference by investing in anything. And we initially started this thing by doing a lot of research to try and figure out what would be the most impactful way of investing in a tech sector. We looked at startups, incubators, a lot of different aspects where people with vision were investing. And in conjunction with OfferZen, it started to become quite obvious that probably the most impactful thing to invest in would be to invest in the developer themselves. In other words, how do we enable an individual coder to make the biggest difference. And I think this led us to the point where we finally came to the realisation that if we had to enable all of our banking services, which, typically, historically, were very hard to get access to – things like payments, your accounts – and we opened them up to the public, more specifically to developers, we could put something in their hands where they can actually make a bigger impact to society, rather than just us investing in a startup or looking at it differently. So, I think, for me, I'm very excited about this and to see what the community can come up with if we enable them to basically use their skills to make the biggest difference in the country.

Wayne [10:41]

If you want to get involved in this thing, there's a beta program. I think you'll probably have a link somewhere posted at some point. Please join the beta program. We're looking for people that will actively help us build this out. This isn't something we built out and we're selling. I think I can talk on behalf of a lot of the participants of the beta program – we are holding it up with a community because we really thought we don't want to go and preempt anything. So, we've taken a lot of feedback. We're in short release cycles and every week something new is coming up, but it's very much based on community feedback.

Candice [11:22]

Thank you so much, Wayne, for the updates. It's really nice to hear, just to reiterate what's happening with the Investec programmable beta program. And like Wayne mentioned, if you guys are keen to find out more then there is a link in the chat, which you can check out after this. So officially, hello everybody, even though you've heard a little bit from me. As Alex mentioned, I'm Candice and I'm the Event Producer here at OfferZen, and I'm going to be facilitating tonight's fireside chat. And I'm super, super excited to be chatting to Shola Akinlade from Paystack, the CEO and Co-founder actually of Paystack. So, officially, hello Shola! Thank you for joining us all the way from Lagos!

Shola [12:10]

Yeah. Hi, Candice how are you? Thanks for having me.

Candice [12:13]

I'm very good. Are you doing really well today?

Shola [12:17]

Yeah, Yeah fine.

Candice [12:20]

I think the times speak for themselves.

Shola [12:23]


Candice [12:24]

So before we get started, I just want to remind everybody that if you have any questions, please just post them in the Q&A feature at the bottom of your screen. To jump in, Shola, for those of us who don't quite know you, do you think you could give us a brief introduction into how you got into this really exciting whirlwind that is the tech world.

Shola [12:46]

Yeah. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks, everyone. Good to be here. My name is Shola Akinlade. I'm the Co-founder and CEO of Paystack. A little about me – I am 35 years old. I look young but I’m 35. I was born in Lagos. I spent all my life in Lagos. I studied Computer Science, so I started writing software very early. After school, I worked with Heineken – Heineken, the beer company. I did that for about two years. But I thought I wasn't writing enough software. I wasn't building enough things so I left.

Shola [13:27]

And then I started a company – like a Dropbox. I wanted to build an open source version of Dropbox. So I built it. I tried to sell it. But I was young, naive. I was a developer – I just said, you know what, let's make it open source, which is very, very exciting. So we built it and in five years, we had about 200,000 companies use it. It was available in six languages. Of course, I didn't make a lot of money, but at least we made good progress.

Shola [13:57]

After that, I started building software for banks – a few banks reached out to me to help them build software. So, I built a few in a very short period and figured, you know what, maybe I can try to build something like Stripe here. And so I started thinking about Paystack, put up a wait list and said, you know what, we're building a new payments company with modern payments infrastructure for the continent. Thankfully, very early, a lot of people got excited about it. I had a waitlist of about 300 people.

Shola [14:30]

We got into Y Combinator – Y Combinator is a Silicon Valley accelerator. So, from Nigeria, we became the first Nigerian company to get on. Yeah, so thankfully now, there’s probably about 20 or 30 African companies now, so it's good.

Candice [14:46]

Leading the way?

Shola [14:47]

Yeah, so we got it in January 2016. Launched Paystack and it's been a very, very, very long ride, you know. Today, we help merchants accept payments from their customers. We provide APIs, tools, and everything, for merchants to accept payments from their customers.

Shola [15:07]

Our mission is to accelerate digital payments in the continent. We think there's a lot of opportunity, there's a lot of potential. Actually, Africa is the most under-penetrated payments market in the world, which is extremely annoying for me. If you think about it, this is where we have a billion people, you know, this is where digital payments should work. So, a lot of our work is figuring out how to make that work. And we've made a lot of progress so far. In our first market, Nigeria, when we launched the Paystack in Nigeria, online payments were probably about $35 million monthly. And four years later today, Paystack alone, is doing four times what the country used to do before we launched. That's a lot of progress. Now, we're live in Nigeria and Ghana, and hopefully we’ll be live in South Africa very soon!

Candice [16:05]

Oh WOW! Was that like a sneak announcement today?

Shola [16:15]

Well… no pressure!

Shola [16:20]

Yeah, we've been in the country for a while. We have three people in Cape Town now, actually. So, we're super excited about the market. That's one market, I'm personally excited about because I think there's a lot of potential. Yeah. So I guess high level, that is Shola, that is Paystack. I can talk more but maybe just allow you to.

Candice [16:48]

Yeah, let me get in there a little bit.

Candice [16:52]

I love that because what comes across is that you're a maker at heart and that's what's really driven you through this, which is actually really, really cool for people to know. I'm quite curious, in terms of the day-to-day, what can you tell us about your team and the kind of problems they solve on a day-to-day basis?

Shola [17:16]

We have about 115 people on the team now. It's a pretty diverse team. We have people from about nine countries, which is really cool. The way I think about payments, or Paystack, I think we usually think about it in three ways. I think the first one is just can we help people get started very fast, you know. When we started Paystack, a lot of the problems with payments were coming from how do you get started, like, there's just so much to figure out, you know. I was a developer, well, I'm still a developer, but it's sad that I'm trying to do an integration in the middle of the night, because I guess sometimes we work in the middle of the night, but I don't want to ask anybody any questions. I don't want to pick up the phone, I don't want to talk to anybody, I just want it to work. I want to be done in the morning, everything is working, you know. So I think a lot about our work at Paystack is just like, can we make it extremely easy for people to get started by themselves? It's kind of tricky. Well, I am not asking for too much, can it just work, you know, like, you know, what, but what do you do?

Shola [18:31]

Even though it sounds very simple, it takes a lot to make that work, just because I think payments and financial services are extremely complicated. So I think the first part of our work is just doing some of the heavy lifting, to make it easy for people to get started.

Shola [18:51]

The second part of our work is helping people get paid. Getting started is good, you know – just to go back to getting started, there is a lot of work we do that with platforms, you know, so the global platforms everywhere. We figure out how to connect our partnerships with what needs to happen, so that if somebody wants to do something, they don't have to think about it. So that's, that's getting started very fast.

Shola [19:19]

The second part is getting paid. Getting paid is something that is also super complicated. You know, like, the multiple banks, multiple payment methods, multiple things that come with that. So, a lot of our work there is just figuring out how to make that work. You know, one of the things we're super excited about, as we continue our international expansion – and particularly to launch in South Africa – is that it should be easy. Like, I'm a developer, building a marketplace from South Africa, it should be easy to accept payments from people in Nigeria, or people in Ghana – you shouldn’t have to think about it. It should be very easy, you know, so a lot of our work here is like, what do we need to connect to? Who do we need to partner with? What is the compliance? Documentation? What do we need to figure out to make it easy for anyone to accept payments from anybody or from anywhere in the world? We're making progress – I think, we are making progress, but there's a lot of work to just make that work.

Shola [20:27]

So, the first part, getting started, second part getting paid. And then the final part is just helping people grow, helping their businesses grow. You know, I think that there's a lot of economic opportunity we can unlock, if we just all go out and build the tools to help people grow. I think, as a developer myself, I wont say I feel bad, but I feel bad that there's just not enough people building for businesses on the continent, you know. When you start a business elsewhere, it is just easy because someone has built all the things you need. There's still so much to be built. And a lot of our work at Paystack is like, what does it mean to empower businesses? Like, what can we do? We think about that in three sub-ways, too. The first one is what are the tools we can build to make that work? And some of those things are very small, you know – smaller insights. One of the things our API does is, we give you a timeline of the transaction. So when you see someone spending three minutes on a page, we have a chance to develop an agenda to build like a workflow around it such that if you've spent three minutes on the checkout form, it can ping the customer success and they can call the customer. All this is super automated because we have a log that returns a log when you verify a transaction and all that, so I think for us, it is one of the tools we can build to help businesses grow.

Shola [22:08]

So, the first part of growth is tools. I think the second part is community, which is very similar to what you're doing. I'm excited to hear about all you are doing at OfferZen. Again for us, community is extremely important to us. Like, this is a journey, we all have to go together – we have to collaborate.

Candice [22:29]

We can't do it alone.

Shola [22:31]

On our side, we're learning a lot. Especially because we're building a company in 2019/2020. So the things we're learning, we can all learn together. There are things we don’t know that other people have figured out, you know. So, we all build the community around this and learn together and grow together. I think that's a very easy way to go.

Shola [22:55]

And then the final part of that is content, which is what can we share because I think another problem is just that. It's a shame. And I don't know why – I think I know why – I personally don't share enough, because you're figuring stuff out for yourself, you're figuring it out yourself. You don't want to feel like an expert. But that said, you know, I think there's some things that you figure out. And if there's a culture of sharing I think it helps. The things we've done in the last maybe three months is just figuring out how to help businesses go online, how food businesses are moving online, you know, just doing some research sharing that. In the early days, we did some work around just how businesses can sell on social media, on WhatsApp marketing guide, you know. So, I think just building community and content is important. To answer your question, what I've been working on: helping businesses get started very fast, helping businesses get paid very well, and helping businesses grow.

Candice [24:06]

I love that. I think, especially to your point about being an expert – I think a lot of people don't realise that just by virtue of having done the thing, you have valuable experience to share with people.

Shola [24:18]


Candice [24:19]

And to that point I kind of want to just dive into that first thing, because it almost feels like making it easy is like the first step to making this win. And you make it sound easy to make things easy. But how do you practically go about doing that? How do you make it easy for your customers to use your services?

Shola [24:42]

I'll start by saying that it’s a mindset. The first thing we know about Paystack is that we think there's a Paystack solution to every problem. We know that there are so many problems, but I think that problem mindset can be really overwhelming and we know that that's why we're here. Like, I personally didn’t start Paystack – I know this sounds very cliché – but I didn't start this because I wanted to make money. I started Paystack because I've been a developer all my life – I've used Stripe, I've used Braintree, I've seen good APIs. I'm like, where is this in my country? Where is this on my continent, you know, like, I can't find it! I know what good looks like. Most of us at Paystack, most of us that work here know what good looks like, we know what excellence looks like, but it's just hard, you know? So I think the first mindset is just knowing that we might be able to find it – it might not be perfect – but there should ideally be a Paystack solution to every problem.

Shola [25:55]

The second one is questions. I used to joke about that. I started Paystack because I had a lot of questions, and I didn't know the answers. And I always say, you know what, let me just solve it myself. I know the answer. And of course, to be honest, some of those questions we don't know the answers to yet. But some of the questions are easy. Like, why do you have to email me your developer documentation in a PDF? Why? Like, I don't know why. Okay, so let me try and figure it out. I think a lot of our mindset is like, what are some of the questions we have? And can we try to find an answer to those questions? And by doing that, in practice, we start figuring out. So, I will say that's the first step.

Shola [26:43]

The second part is partnerships. I think it's good and bad, but there’s a cost of the trust and collaboration that needs to exist in payments. It is extremely hard for somebody to just come – like for me, personally – when I said I wanted to start a payments company, it was like the joke of the year – like, why would a bank want to partner with me? It doesn't make sense! And that's why I'm excited by what we’re doing because democratising these things and making it easy for people means there's a lot we can unlock if we keep doing that. For me, in the early days, it was difficult. I was slightly lucky because I had done some work with the bank, so they trusted me a little. But even that was a lot of work. At Paystack, what we try to do is use some of the access we have. Thankfully, Visa and Stripe invested in Paystack, which I think is really, really amazing.

Shola [27:51]

Visa already has a strong base, you know, we were able to raise about $8 million, we have licenses you know. In South Africa, now we have a [inaudible] license. In Nigeria, we have one. I think a lot of our work is like, what can we use? Like, how do we use what we have to support every other person – how can we use our access to make it easier for other people so they don't have to go through all the things we went through? I would say that that is the second part of it.

Candice [28:27]

That's really interesting, because it sounds like, as you mentioned earlier, it's not about the problems – like there are a lot of problems and you can get bogged down in them by asking what are the problems? I'm curious to know – when you talk about taking those opportunities that are available and making them available to more people, what opportunities do you see for the African FinTech community in the near future that we should jump on?

Shola [28:56]

I think there are a lot. There's a lot of potential here. South Africa is extremely entrepreneurial, a little more conscious of it on the continent, extremely entrepreneurial. I think when you merge entrepreneurship with development or technology, you create magic. I think the very first part is just enablement. How do you enable more people to achieve their ambitions? People have ambitions, you know, and that's what skill means. Because, think about this – no matter how ambitious there's only so much I can do. But by the time you combine the ambitions of all of our merchants, you start creating magic. So, I think the first thing for developers to know is that enablement is important. If you can enable people, if you can help people achieve ambition, that is one step forward. So, I would definitely say that's one opportunity that needs to be explored.

Shola [30:13]

I think the next thing is doing business across the continent. It's something we've heard multiple times but it's still difficult. It's probably easier to do business with the US or the UK than to do business in the continent. So, if someone, if a developer, in South Africa can quickly have an API that can request payments in Accra for MTN mobile money, that is something.

Shola [30:48]

I think just creating that ecosystem that allows people to trade within the continent is another opportunity. Also, just realising that things are still very early – so many things have not been built. We don't have a lot of defaults yet. There's just so much that we can do and just having that mindset that we can progress day by day. I think that’s important.

Candice [31:24]

Awesome. I love that. I’ve just noticed that we're running out of time for the interview portion and we've got lots of questions building up. Before we go into that, I want to know, could you share one thing that you've realised in your career about what it really takes to win in the African tech industry? Well, maybe also the global one?

Shola [31:49]

You said one, but I'll say two because I think they go hand in hand. I learned this probably when I went to Y Combinator. It's really about courage and forecasts. One of the first things they told me was that I was gonna spend seven years solving this problem. So if you're not ready to make progress every week for the next seven years, really, you don't need to start. Yeah. So, just knowing that I need to solve a problem, and I need to make progress consistently, for a long period of time. No matter what you're building, if you started today, and you just make bigger and bigger progress every week, every week, for seven years, you're gonna win. I think just having that mindset is extremely powerful. Because there's a lot of distraction, there's a lot of things you can be doing. There are so many things you can be doing with your time. So, I think, just be courageous enough to pick a big problem and just be focused to stay on the problem, stay in your lane, stay on the prize and just keep making progress. I think that's how I would answer that question.

Candice [33:06]

And very well, indeed. I love that you said focus because that definitely makes sense to me – if you have the right problem but you don't focus on it and you go in a bazillion directions, what’s the use in that? Amazing! Okay, cool. So, we're gonna dive into audience questions. To anyone who has questions, if you joined late, you can add your questions into the Q&A feature at the bottom of your Zoom screen. Let's jump into the first one.

Candice [33:37]

So, Shola, we have a question from Malan Joubert. He says that raising money from Stripe is a huge achievement. How did you manage the fundraising process? And what are the biggest challenges you face?

Shola [33:50]

When I tell people this, people don't believe it. I think that I was very lucky. And the process primarily happened over WhatsApp, which is very funny.

Shola [34:01]

I met Patrick, the CEO of Stripe, for lunch. And the next day he texted me saying, “Oh, it was good chatting with you. Would you mind if we invested?” I like, of course, we don't mind that. But to answer the question directly, I think another thing I learned very early on was that the work of the founder is to build a good business. And the work of investors is to look for businesses and invest in them. So, I think it is important for founders to stay focused on your business and make progress, because good investors will recognise what you're doing. That's the first part. And then, the second part is just being able to articulate what is impressive about your business, because you might have a good business, but you might not be able to articulate what is impressive about it.

Candice [35:11]

How did you get good at articulating your business then?

Shola [35:16]

Trial and error, you know. YC was helpful because there's a demo day at YC where we had to demo, or present, to about 700 investors. At first, I had to work with a YC partner, and I had to cram my pitch. But now I’m just doing it. I think in the last four years, I must have pitched this about a thousand times, and I am not exaggerating. It's trial – like when you talk to people, the more people you talk to, the more you realise what sticks with them, you know. A more practical step is to keep it simple. Just find three big things that are impressive. Another way to tell what is impressive is like, if I identify three things that are impressive about my business, no other person should be able to say that that is impressive about their business, you know? So, I can just say, like, basically, I build payments, but lots of people are building payments. What I can confidently say is that in the last four years, we have built a company that does this. In fact, in the early days, we reduced the process from like seven payment steps to two payment steps. That's super specific, and super impressive. And at the same time, super unique because who else is going to say they did that? Just be very clear and simple about what you do. Also, don’t overthink it. With time you will get better at it.

Candice [36:58]

Okay, great. Then we have another question from Richard O'Brian. He wants to know, what were some of your greatest learnings from your time at Y Combinator?

Shola [37:09]

There were so many. Coming from the continent, as a developer, it was hard, because a lot of people were reminding me that, oh, you don't know anything about businesses. You're not in business. You don't have experience, you can't build relationships, you don't have an MBA. It was actually very liberating to be in Silicon Valley where you can see developers doing amazing things. To be like that, you just need to be a maker and just make things. So, that was really, really liberating for me – getting there and saying, you know what? I don't need all these things that people expect of me. I don't need to know people – the best way to be impressive is to build impressive stuff. A lot of that mindset change happened over there, and that was very, very helpful for me.

Candice [38:29]

Okay, cool. So we have another question – what are your thoughts on how we can build an integrated tech ecosystem in Africa?

Candice [38:51]

I assume it's how can we win where everyone is connected? How do we actually build out this ecosystem – like you were mentioning connecting people. How do we go about mixing all these? Because we have one in South Africa, and you guys have one in Lagos – how do we connect those dots?

Shola [39:08]

I think it’ll come with time. We need more companies, we need more people building things. And with time, it will start happening. I think our ecosystem is still early. I think South Africa is actually good because you have a lot of success stories. But even in other markets, there's not enough success stories yet but I think the more success stories we have – the more people do interesting things – it will naturally evolve into what it needs to be. I'm not worried about the ecosystem. I just think it’s still early days. I think just given the new generation of founders we have, and the new generation of companies that are coming, I think it is just going to be very natural. Like it is happening already – look at OfferZen and Paystack – it's just happening.

Candice [40:21]

Cool. So Tumelo, says that you generate a lot of data from Paystack transactions. What are some of the value-added services from data that you think could further help your customers?

Shola [40:35]

That's a very interesting question. I talked about it in the first question I answered. I think the first part of it was, how can we help merchants make sense of their own business? The first problem we wanted to solve with data was success rates. For a lot of our customers, reliability was the big problem, and a lot of merchants wanted us to help them solve the reliability problem. The way we solved that was giving them a timeline of the transaction – this is what happened, this is what went wrong, this is why it went wrong, and we will try to fix it. But if we can't fix it, at least you have the data, and you can fix some of it yourself. So, that was the first pass at data.

Shola [41:25]

The next pass on data was third party integrations, which is something that we're excited about. We have a Zapier plugin that you can plug in and paste your data to the tools you use. As a payments company, we have direct access and we know your customers, we know your payments. So, if a system is programmable enough that you can connect it to the tools you use, like if you're using an accounting system and you can connect it to your payment system, or even your marketing system, we think that's going to be helpful. So, that's the second part of it.

Shola [42:11]

Now, the third part of it, where I think we haven't made enough progress, is insights. What insights can we get? That can be helpful, but I will admit it's hard, you know, it's just hard. So, I would say the way we think about it, number one is thoughts – how can we help you just make more money immediately? The second one is third party integrations. And then the third part is insights.

Candice [42:38]

Can you clarify what you mean by insights? Do you mean like data insights?

Shola [42:44]

Yes, yes. We had at first, as part of the tool, something that we called customer insights, where a dashboard will show you who are your top customers. And when we say top customers, because some businesses don’t even know the top, customers by spend or by frequency. We show you what days of the week you collect money. What are your top days? You know, so it's just like, things like that where you can know. I wish we moved further, but we’re just trying to figure it out.

Candice [43:22]

Okay, cool. So, Robin wants to know, what do you see as the future of money? A single global currency, a cryptocurrency, perhaps, and will any of these benefit Africa now or in the future?

Shola [43:36]

Yeah, to be honest, one of the problems I have in life is that I can't really see the future. It is really very hard.

Shola [43:49]

I suspect that fragmentation is going to continue. I think that there's a lot of fragmentation happening – like different ways to pay – mobile wallets, pods, crypto, different things are coming out. Different things will continue. And I suspect that in the short term, that fragmentation will continue to happen. And so I suspect that if you ask me, what is the future, I think it is just figuring out how to navigate that fragmentation. In the same way that I can call somebody on the phone, and it doesn't matter if they're on MTN, or any other any other network – Vodacom – it just happens. So, I suspect that money has to flow in that way – regardless of how, or who, you should be able to move money around. I don't think that's a good answer. But that's my guess.

Candice [44:52]

I think it speaks well to your previous answer where you said that you want to be building solutions that work for your clients’ needs. So, I mean, money is anything that many people use, which they do. And I want it to be interactive in a way that anyone can use it, you know?

Shola [45:12]

Exactly, that’s correct.

Candice [45:14]

Okay, cool. We have another question from Williams who wants to know, what's next for Paystack? And what is your tech stack? Were there any specific issues you faced with the tools you use? Okay, so that's two different questions. Yeah, start with what's next for Paystack.

Shola [45:31]

I think what is next up for Paystack is in maybe two or three dimensions. I think the first dimension is just internationalisation. So, South Africa, and that's what I'm excited about. Just a little plug – we actually started a pilot in South Africa, so if you go to facebook.com slash South Africa, there's a form and we can give you early access soon. So please, do that. I think the first part is just internationalisation. I think we can definitely do a lot. We've spent the last four years building a very strong payments foundation. I like to say that there are two kinds of payment companies: the companies that launched a long time ago that are old have access to everything. And then the companies that are young enough, but still old enough, you know. I think at the four year mark, Paystack is at that sweet spot where we have all the compliance, we have all the busy ideas and all the security, we figured out all that, but we are still young enough to be extremely innovative and direct about solving the problem. So, I'm super excited about internationalisation, that's the first part.

Shola [46:11]

The second part is tools – merchant tools, developer tools. What can we build on top of that stack? We’re doing some work on commerce now, and it's something that I'm super excited about, because I think the best way to improve economic opportunities is to make commerce work digitally, and so we're doing a lot of work there in commerce. But we're going to do more. So, we're going to do commerce tools, we're going to build tools to make it easier. So, to answer the question, what is the next – number one is internationalisation, and then number two is merchant tools and developer tools.

Candice [47:32]

Also, I think what fits nicely with your second point is the follow up question. So, what is your tech stack? And were there any specific issues you faced with the tools that you do use?

Shola [47:43]

Yes. I think that our tech is primarily Node, so Node JavaScript. We have some PHP. The first version of Paystack I wrote with PHP, and we tried to take it away but I think there’s still some PHP in our stack. So, I think it's primarily that. Yeah. What was the second part of the question around tools?

Candice [48:17]

The second part was what were the specific challenges you faced with your tools? Or were there any?

Shola [48:23]

I think the greatest challenge is skill. I will call myself a developer again because when you write software that has 50 records or 500 records, yes, everything is good. Yeah, wait til you have 500 million records in your table and then tell me! So, I think personally, for me, it was just skill. You know, things that worked when you had 10 records, they start breaking when you have thousands or millions of records – that skill is something we're trying to figure out. The good thing is that as we continue to grow, we're getting more people to help us figure these things out because it's just too much to handle. With time and skill, like we're getting more people to help figure it out.

Candice [48:24]

I like that – sharing with people, getting people on board, collaborating. That's really cool.

Shola [49:31]

Exactly, yeah.

Candice [49:33]

So, Dolapo says that it seems Paystack is moving into the offline payment space. Why this new vertical? And would you explore that in South Africa?

Shola [49:44]

Um, yeah, I guess. That's a very interesting question. I think there are two parts to this. I think multi-channel payments are very important. I think when you build a merchant relationship, merchants will start asking you for more. And like I said, we've already built a dashboard. We built all these things. They built their business around Paystack. And so, it is natural for us to extend it to offline. In some of our advanced markets, we're already doing a lot offline. And that is important. The second part of the question is will we do that in South Africa? To be honest, South Africa – we’re just trying to launch first! It is still very early days, but we've seen that on the web, on the online part, a lot of the things we've learned in the first four years, we can see how useful they can be. And I think our first focus is just making all that available first. Yeah. Which I suspect is going to take us a long time to just get into that.

Candice [51:01]

You can't just copy, paste, right, like that’s not a thing.

Shola [51:03]


Candice [51:06]

Okay, cool. We have another question: If you could do it all again with Paystack, what would you do differently?

Shola [51:19]

Actually, nothing. I won’t say it is a bad question. Really a good question. I've thought about it. And I asked myself that if I started Paystack again, am I sure it would have been this successful? And to be honest, the answer is that I'm not sure. I feel very, very lucky with Paystack. I think a lot of things are aligned to make this work, and a lot of progress we've made at Paystack were not even by my doing you know, it's just like, people helping me, meeting people at the right place, at the right time. Meeting the right person. So, if I could do it again, but if you asked me categorically, if I could do it again, I would just say, maybe be more ambitious. I started with very low ambition – I didn't know how big it was going to get, you know. I could never have imagined that we would have 115 people on the team – I could never have imagined that. So, I think just starting out fresh and just having like, the big picture maybe would have been helpful, but that's it. I don't even know if that would have changed or made me go astray. So, yeah.

Candice [52:43]

Okay, cool. So, we have another one from Donovan. Every country has its own local payments ecosystem. And many countries in Africa have mobile money. And most countries accept card payments, but not all. And each region also has its own regulations. So, how does Paystack plan to scale in this kind of environment?

Shola [53:14]

Exactly. So, I think that answers my question of like, fragmentation. We talked about it earlier. And I think that that is exactly why we're here. You know, I talked about in the early days, like, if we wanted to do other things, like, we’re here because there's a big problem that needs to be solved. If you ask me how Paystack will need to scale, I would say, the answer is simple. It's talent. I think that the solution is talent. It is making sure that we can find the right people to be on our team and work with us. That is why Paystack, as a company, is extremely, extremely, extremely aggressive on talent. I personally believe that the payments problem is a talent problem. I think for a lot of us that work a Paystack, we understand the mission. Think of the people who built aeroplanes in the early part of the 19th century – 100 years later, we are still enjoying the work. And so, for us a Paystack, we're very clear that the work we're doing now is gonna last, it's gonna stand the test of time, and it's important for us to find people, a - many people that have the right experience, or b - people that just have the right ambition, and can we just get everybody to do the best work of their lives? If we can do that, these problems, one after the other, will start going away. So, he also asked me how we plan to scale – just by being extremely clear on talent, having the best people on our team, and getting to give everybody the opportunity to do good work.

Candice [55:18]

That's lovely. I love that. Okay, and so I think we have time for one more question. Not that you haven't had enough thrown at you tonight.

Shola [55:29]

Yes, yes, yes.

Candice [55:31]

But last one for you. Robin wants to know, if we – I'm assuming developers in the audience – had to read one book, what do you suggest and why?

Shola [55:44]

I liked ‘The Hard Thing about Hard Things’. That was one book that I really liked. It's like my Bible because I think Ben Horowitz talks about his career and about some of the hard things that nobody says like, how do you influence people – things you don’t learn as a developer, but things that you need to know when you’re building a company that is performing. So, I like ‘The Hard Thing about Hard Things’.

Candice [56:25]

Awesome. I think that that's a great way to end it. Thank you so much Shola for for surviving the onslaught.

Shola [56:30]

Yes. Yes.

Shola [56:33]

Yes, thank you. Thanks for having me. I'm personally excited to be building in the continent, because I think this is a very, very interesting time to be building. I think there are so many people doing amazing things. I'm just proud to be one of those people. So, thank you so much. And shout out to everybody and the participants in this webinar. Thanks for being here.

Candice [57:02]

Amazing. Thank you so much. I'm also very excited. Hopefully future collabs in our midst.

Shola [57:11]

Definitely, definitely.

Candice [57:14]

Okay, cool. So, just to wrap up for the evening, I want to say thank you everybody for joining us. We're giving away some surprise swag, because we want to. We're going to be sending some swag to the person who was the first person to register for this event. And that person is Brett Ward. Keep an eye on your emails – you will be getting an email from us to get your swag. And then secondly, I would like to say thank you so much to Investec and Wayne for joining us tonight and for sharing a little bit about what's happening in the programmable banking space.

Candice [57:52]

One more reminder that you guys will get an email tomorrow with all the opportunities to give us your feedback. We take this very seriously as we want to make these next events better and awesome and cater to what you want to hear. So, just as a last thing before I say goodbye, we are going to be having another event like this, another fireside chat, with the founder of Flutter Wave, and that will be on the 11th of this month. Thank you so much to everyone and enjoy the rest of your evening.

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