Tomiwa Latunde, an entrepreneur of Nigerian origin but is based in the United Kingdom, ventured into tech to ensure that the global marketplace is a fair playing ground for people from third world countries, with the ambition that they are judged on the basis of their talent and not nationality. In this interview, the founder and CEO of VetMe, an escrow and trading platform, discusses his entrepreneurial journey and how he plans to make the global tech and trading space a safer place for everyone.
You have a Humanities degree but you have built yourself a career in tech. How has the transition been given the contrast between the two fields?
I wouldn’t say it was a complete shift. Back in my undergrad days, I got to explore various fields, worlds, and career opportunities through literary texts. I had my fair share of chances then, so the transition wasn’t that challenging. I was mentally prepared for it.
Despite this, what was the motivation for you to go into tech by starting VetMe, what problem are you trying to solve?
My motivation is to solve problems, create solutions and help people. Particularly, my drive came from my experience as a Nigerian venturing into online trading and cryptocurrency, I couldn’t tell people where I’m from without being judged. The moment I tell people I’m a Nigerian, they would have second thoughts, block me or even call me a Nigerian scammer. That motivated me to create a platform that would not look at your race, culture or wealth, an organisation that would solve these problems, give people equal opportunities and eradicate these stereotypes. As someone who has suffered this injustice, I had to do something to ensure that people from third world countries do not unfairly suffer from the same as well. This is not to say that scammers don’t exist. In fact, in the seven years that I’ve been trading forex, I lost money to them online. That’s why VetMe was birthed. Its escrow service would serve as an intermediary between the two parties involved in a transaction, ensuring that no one is scammed and services are rendered as promised. People all over the world do a lot of transactions online but at great risk of being swindled. VetMe ensures that they are no longer at risk of losing their hard-earned money.
Can you provide an overview of VetMe?
VetMe is an innovative platform designed to empower traders worldwide by offering verification, trading, and escrow services. The main objective of our escrow technology is to act as a reliable intermediary in monetary transactions, ensuring the safety of funds while users receive genuine returns for the services they seek. We’re developing this technology on a decentralised platform, with a focus on cryptocurrency, to facilitate transactions between buyers and sellers.
At VetMe, we go beyond escrow services; we also vet various aspects such as people’s services, products, and technologies. Additionally, we provide a Know Your Customer (KYC) product that enables users to verify the identity of potential business partners. The internet is rife with fraudulent individuals seeking to exploit hard-working individuals, and our goal is to provide a solution for those navigating the online landscape.
In addition to our escrow and KYC products, VetMe offers a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) service and an Over-the-Counter (OTC) decentralised platform. These complementary products contribute to the overall enhancement of our escrow technology, providing users with a comprehensive suite of tools for secure and trustworthy transactions.
Apart from these, do you have any more in the pipeline waiting to be launched?
We’ve got a lineup of trade products set to hit the VetMe platform next year. Among them is a peer-to-peer (p2p) escrow platform, a p2p trading platform (similar to Binance, allowing users to sell their cryptocurrency and receive payment in their preferred currency), and a p2p wallet. All of these will function as decentralised products, enhancing user autonomy.
Additionally, we’re thrilled to introduce VetMe Pay, a cryptocurrency payment gateway modelled after services like Stripe and PayPal. These products are on track for an exciting launch on the VetMe platform starting next year.
On another front, I’m gearing up to launch a media company in Nigeria, which will focus on cryptocurrency, business, and finance. Despite Nigeria boasting Africa’s highest concentration of crypto traders and third globally, there’s currently no dedicated platform for it and Web3. This media outlet will not only fill that gap but also shed light on small and medium-scale businesses in Nigeria.
As someone who has worked with people from diverse regions across the world, what challenges and lessons stand out for you in doing business with them?
Navigating collaborations with individuals from diverse corners of the world comes with both advantages and obstacles. Having worked with people from various countries, I’ve found that a notable benefit is the exposure to diversity. It becomes evident that one’s culture and upbringing significantly shape their perspectives and decision-making processes. A key lesson is learning not to impose one’s views on others, fostering objectivity in my approach.
However, a substantial challenge arises from being a Nigerian professional. There’s a prevailing expectation to exert double the effort, achieve more, and prove oneself before gaining acceptance. The unspoken rule is to showcase your capabilities before revealing your origin. Disclosing your Nigerian identity upfront often leads to premature judgment, creating a hurdle to showcase your skills. This stereotype is a pervasive challenge faced by individuals from third-world countries such as Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, Iraq, Pakistan, and others, impacting us significantly.
Nevertheless, the silver lining is that this adversity serves as a driving force for hardworking Nigerians, propelling us to surpass expectations, demonstrate our worth, and bring out the best in ourselves. Importantly, the narrative is gradually shifting, with individuals from third-world countries gaining recognition on the global stage.
What are the things you wish could be improved in the global tech space?
Certainly, it’s crucial for us to reconsider how we view others. While it’s understandable that some people might be judgmental due to negative experiences, it’s essential to recognise that individual actions shouldn’t be generalised. One bad encounter can shape perceptions, but that shouldn’t close us off from embracing diversity. Instead, fostering an open mindset is key, allowing us to appreciate the uniqueness and contributions of individuals from various backgrounds.
Do you have anything to say about the unscrupulous elements who spoil the global market for Nigerians and people from third-world countries with their underhand dealings?
Regrettably, legitimate and hardworking individuals often bear the brunt of sins they didn’t commit. Despite their dedication and genuine intentions, they find themselves stigmatised. It’s disheartening to see the consequences of negative perceptions impacting those who are earnestly striving for success. Instead of perpetuating this cycle, it would be far more beneficial if those with the capacity to judge redirected their intelligence and capabilities towards creating legitimate and productive ventures. By channelling their energy into positive initiatives, they contribute to the betterment of society and avoid unfairly tainting the reputation of those who are genuinely committed to making a positive impact.
As you’re based in the United Kingdom, does the influx of more Nigerians into the countries excite you in terms of talents and opportunities?
It’s truly inspiring to witness Nigerians making meaningful contributions in the UK. Whether in hospitals, schools, or various sectors, Nigerians are excelling and accomplishing remarkable feats. This should serve as a powerful motivation, emphasising that Nigerians aren’t just part of the middle class but are also thriving at the top of the hierarchy. Notable examples include the ownership of Heathrow Airport and Edinburgh Airport by Nigerians, showcasing their success in key industries.
Take, for instance, Olushola Medupin, a Nigerian entrepreneur who owns the largest African restaurant globally, boasting nine establishments in the UK. His significant investment, like paying a monthly rent of 25,000 pounds (approximately 30 million naira) for one of his London restaurants, exemplifies the impact Nigerians are making on the international stage.
It’s crucial to shift the focus away from stereotypical narratives that emphasise menial jobs and caregiving roles. Instead, we should highlight positive and emulatable success stories. Many individuals might have started with such jobs but have transformed their experiences into remarkable success stories over time.
Apart from official business, is there any way you give back to the society?
I run an initiative dedicated to empowering individuals through various means, ranging from scholarships to providing valuable opportunities. One aspect of this initiative involves organising empowerment programs specifically designed for students and young people, focusing on career and educational guidance. Notably, one of these programs gained recognition and was covered by a national daily, amplifying the impact of our efforts.
Looking ahead, I have plans to establish a formal foundation. This foundation will serve as a registered entity, providing a structured platform through which I can continue giving back to society in a more organised and impactful manner. The goal is to extend the reach of empowerment initiatives and contribute positively to the community.
Notwithstanding the popular narrative of easy wealth in tech, what advice would you give people looking to build a tech career?
Young entrepreneurs should proactively identify their niche early in their entrepreneurial journey. It’s essential to thoroughly understand and immerse themselves in that niche, and to be prepared to invest time, effort, and dedication. A crucial piece of advice is to refrain from diverting business funds for personal commitments or pleasures; maintain a clear distinction between business and personal finances.
Reflecting on my own experience, I started my first blog in 2007 with the goal of making money online and discovering my niche. The path to success involved numerous trials and exploring various opportunities before reaching the point I am at today. Aspiring entrepreneurs should be ready for a similar journey of exploration and growth.
Furthermore, it’s imperative for young entrepreneurs to recognise that the viability of their business idea hinges on its ability to solve a real problem. A successful venture addresses a specific societal issue, and the uniqueness of their solution determines its attractiveness and potential success. In essence, the entrepreneurial journey is not just about having an idea but about providing a valuable solution to a genuine problem in the community.