Tayo Oviosu is a man who is comfortable with defying the odds. As the Chief Executive Officer of Paga Ltd, a mobile payments service platform, he shares the tale of his transition from working as a janitor to successfully building a multi-million naira business from scratch. He spoke with Rita Ohai
Five years ago, a young man with big dreams got fed up with erratic Automated Teller Machines and long queues in banking halls that he decided to step up to the challenge and do something about the situation.
After a thierteen year career history which included working at Delloitte Consulting and Cisco Systems in the United States, he packed his bags got on a plane and came home in search of his nirvana.
Three months later, he had a light bulb moment and Paga Tech was born.
A few years ago, any payment transaction which was not done over the counter with the crisp feel of paper saddled between throbbing fingers was considered void in this part of the world but with Paga running about fifteen transactions a minute, having about 1.6 million active users and processing about N6 billion every month; it’s a sign that the dynamics of that industry has changed and that Oviosu is doing something right.
However before the break came, he had to scourge his palms to stay afloat.
It’s a rag to riches story and he tells it really well. Soon after Tayo got the opportunity to school abroad, he was forced to mop floors in school just so he could put food on the table.
According to him, “My classmates [at the University of Southern California] used to see me mopping the floor and I sold coca cola with popcorn in a small case I would tie around my neck at American football games. I worked five jobs for the first two years and then in my third year, I was very fortunate to get a job at Shell which I stuck with while tutoring high-school students’ maths on the side.”
However, one thing that was always very clear to him was that my current situation was not a determinant of his future. He says, “Even though I was doing these things, I was just there to build myself and career and go after a bigger dream and I it never let that dampen my mood. It was an interesting period in my life but I’m excited about the path I chose. I was 32 when I started Paga and these experiences had helped me form the business. I think those things built my character and will”.
In trying to find his niche, the 2013 CNBC/All Business Leaders Entrepreneur of the Year sampled a wide range of options. Some chauvinistically mundane, others intellectually bespoke.
“I did a lot of different things,” he says, “I looked at selling women’s hair and some of the other things I actually considered doing then are things that we have started doing in the current business such as the savings account and ways to bank the unbanked…right now we are doing Paga Savings which was one of the twenty ideas I wrote while searching for a business to go into.”
Tayo has had his fair share of turbulent moments and is learning to either overcome or live with them and even though as a business man, sourcing for capital for to push his business forward as well as finding and retaining great talent has been a big hurdle to scale, the one thing he can’t seem to wrap his mind around is the lackadaisical approach to commerce in this country which invariably makes life extra difficult.
“I have operated in the United States and South Africa and now, here in Nigeria,“ he expressed, “and I have discovered that there is something extra difficult about doing business in Nigeria. It’s hard to explain but there’s something that makes things extra difficult here on various levels and it has nothing to do with government because the focus is actually on the private sector. It’s the time it takes to get a deal done and the kind of follow-up you have to do to get that deal to go through [that is the problem in this part of the world].”
With the emergence of other payment platforms offering the same services as Paga, competition for dominance in the market has been stiff, nevertheless Tayo and his team claim not to have any illusions about the fragility of their position as industry leaders and the longevity of the road they have to travel to stay relevant in the Nigerian economic space.
In his opinion, “I don’t think anyone of my competitors thinks it’s a slam-dunk that they are going to win; we would be foolish to think that ourselves. We have to solve payments, and we want to be in the flow of as many transactions as possible while we take a humble percentage in profit.”
In Nigeria raising angel capital is difficult; in fact raising any kind of capital in Nigeria is very thorny but Tayo was fortunate enough to have saved enough cash to enable him bootstrap the business for six months until institutional resources from investment firms began rushing through the door.
As part of the Omidyar, Acumen fund, Adievo Capital and Capricorn Investment network’s, he has been able to get access to more funding and higher participation from foreign investors.
In April, former Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Jim O’Neill, after a BBC interview with Tayo, saw the huge potential that company has as a young start-up recording an astronomical growth rate of 400% in just one year and decided to invest.
Sharing some advice from his wealth of experience on the key nuggets for occupational success, Oviosu, a strong believer in fairness and equity, lays emphasis on the importance of hard work. He believes in people building their skill set and developing their capacity to function efficiently. And instead of engaging in speculative job migrations so often, he’d rather “you stay focused on that job because if you don’t do a great job for the person that you are working for, it will come back to haunt you.”
As the rising spate of cyber crime and financial ravenousness weaves its way into the fabric of society, many bright young Nigerians have given in to the need to make money at all cost, and quickly too, but the mobile money entrepreneur thinks it’s a huge flaw in character. To him, “If it’s quick money, there is something wrong. Whatever it is you are passionate about, that is what you should do because that is the only thing that is going to get you through the tough moments and there will be a lot of tough moments but your passion and tenacity will get you through it.
For the record, Tayo is in love and when he is not grinding the wheels to make his business a success, he is seeking warmth and comfort in the bosom of Affiong Williams, a lady he calls the love of his life. Each time Tayo says, “I’m very fortunate to have her in my life”, his cheeks go crimson.
With the burgeoning population of this country as well as the awareness for e-transactions among main-stream consumers on the increase, the opportunities for further growth in the mobile payments service sector are emerging and Tayo is a man positioned to explore this goldmine to the fullest.