Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built and sold their businesses. Um, two weeks ago I looked online and I saw this new story. Stripe acquires Nigeria’s pay stack for $200 million. I said, this is huge. So immediately I contact the founder of the company and I say, would you come on here and do an interview?
Let’s talk about how you built this thing up and how you sold it. And, uh, I think you sent me an LOL or you laughed. And he said, come on, man. Not right now, Shola is who I’m talking to did say, you know, Andrew? Yes, let’s do it, but give me a little bit of time. And so we waited a couple of weeks and true to your word you showed up here.
I’m so excited to have you here. Joining me is the founder of pay stack.
he’s a founder of haystack. It’s a startup out of Nigeria that likes Stripe provides quick way to integrate payment services into online and offline transactions. And they’ve got a beautiful API that allows that to happen. We’re going to find out how he built this company, how he sold it, why he’s even sitting here doing this interview with me.
Thanks to two phenomenal startup two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you’re hiring developers, check out top towel. And the second, if you need a website hosted, go to HostGator and I’ll tell you why later, but first good to have you here. And do you remember the day that you sold your company?
Do you remember the day when you actually signed the paperwork?
Shola: Yes. And no, I think yes, because the, we actually had to sign an agreement. Um, but no, because this has been like the natural progression, you know? So I don’t know if you’re know, but Stripe invested in our series eight, two years ago. Um, and like the relationship has evolved naturally. So, um, I would say it wasn’t like, it wasn’t a shock, like it was, it was a natural, it wasn’t natural.
Andrew: But didn’t she feel any sense of relief I’ve watched you I’ve gone back, actually. I’m thankful. You’re somebody who had your Twitter account on, um, for years and you were interacting with people and you’re thanking people and you were going to coffee shops and doing meetups for entrepreneurs and doing all kinds of stuff.
After all that work was there the sense of, okay. I can take a breath. I
Andrew: there’s no,
Shola: just to be clear, this is the beginning, not the end. Maybe we were not very clear. It’s not going to remain independent. What’s to run it. I am still gonna run it like this. My life’s work, literally like figuring out how to make beds. What in the continent that I’m super passionate about. You know, it’s another reason why I think I’m excited about the deal with Stripe, because I think this is just going to accelerate that mission and make it extremely easier for us to achieve the things we really wanted to achieve.
Andrew: Okay, fair enough. I don’t mean to imply that you’re, that you figured. All right. I signed the paperwork. I get my money. I’m going on a boat. I’ll see you later. No, I know that that’s not it. I, but I get where you’re coming from on this. Tell you what, why don’t we, uh, my goal is to understand how you got here, but maybe you can give me an example of what pay stack does that you’re especially proud of.
Maybe an example of somebody who would be considered unbanked. Who’s able to do something with, because the pay stack
Shola: Yes. Okay. Let me give you, I’ll tell you three big.
Sometimes I’ll also get, like, I think of case I can think of it as just the product, but people remind me that, you know, there’s actually based on the product and the space that the company. So maybe I’ll talk about the product and the company. So two answers, the pace that the product, um, our product, again, like you mentioned, just empowers them.
Like we provide like an API to like allow people start at scale businesses in the continent. Um, if you look at the Google place though, Um, and you go to finance in Nigeria. For example, what you would see is like a lot of apps and the top 10 apps that are not banks, uh, powered by peer stack. And none of those apps would have existed without Facebook.
I think just thinking about
Andrew: to pay, to use them without pay stack.
Shola: We were the first company with one of the first companies to start recurring payments in the country. So before pay stack, you couldn’t even build an app that would support recurring payments. And so you couldn’t build something like an Uber or Lyft. None of that will exist because it’s not regarded.
Andrew: Got it. All right. Let me understand how you got here. I looked back and I saw that the first big company you started was pre Kareo. Am I pronouncing it
Shola: Yes. Yes. Go ahead.
Andrew: I’ve heard it described as either like, um, an emerging market version of Dropbox. I’ve heard it
Shola: Yes, exactly.
Andrew: How would you describe, how did you describe it when you came up with the idea?
Shola: I’ll just walk you through my journey, like five minutes, 20 minutes, and that was a
Andrew: Okay. All right. And then I do want to spend a lot of time just going deep on how you got here, but okay. Let’s do, give me an overview.
Shola: Yeah. So, uh, yeah, so, and again, um, I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, um, spent all my life there, um, studied computer science in school. So I started writing software from college, um, after college. Um, that’s when I started, um, I had a job with a Heineken. I did, it was a two year job I left and then I built this open source version of Dropbox.
I think I was very naive. It was 2007. And I thought, you know, Dropbox only works on the cloud. What happens to people like us that we don’t have fast internet, or we don’t have reliable in that. So I try to build it out with my partner Maya then, um, until we built it and we made it open source. So we just put it up on SourceForge so popular.
It was a formula library, like, um, and I think. Very quickly. Like the day we put it up, like two weeks, two days later, someone emailed from grads and I said, Oh wow. I’ve been looking for this faculty, evil being put together. Uh, I use Google translate. You know, I’ll be looking for this. This is amazing. Can we translate it for you?
Oh, you have three God translation. So it just started like that. And for four or five years, we started supporting over 200,000 companies from across the world in emerging markets. I just needed like an. So version of Dropbox that they could install in their local area network. Um, yeah, so that was what that was.
Um, but after that, um, At some point, I started building software for banks in Nigeria, actually. And I figured, you know what, um, someone needs to be like a Stripe for the continent. You know, what’s the word I started it. Um, I spent about one year trying to figure it out. Um, and then my Israel, my co-founder was at a pace that we got into YC.
We got invited into Y Combinator, which is very interesting. I’ve always followed my Combinator. So I had always followed red. I can use that. Always just followed startup culture, but I didn’t expect to be part of that though. When we recovered to San Francisco, we just really wanted to come on. Let’s go see what’s happening in Silicon Valley.
We were not.
Andrew: Well, you just came in with an idea.
Shola: No, no, no. We had built, I had like a witness already. We have, we were already piloting it. I spent one year working on it before that, um, and people were excited about it actually. They had like some of my early customers, um, and, and that was happening. So that’s what we came for the YC interview. Um, which I think I like to tell the story because.
Sometimes you don’t even know how big, what you’re working on. Like for us, it was just like, it was what it was. And so you can imagine the kind of like everyone was just intimidated, you know, everybody will be like, Oh really? Why.
Well for Africa, you know, I was, I was
eight years ago.
People were like, wow, that’s super excited. Like how many people are in Africa? Like, wow, if you figured this out, this is guess so I think that was. Becoming very real, that this is a big problem. This is a big opportunity. And this is something that I haven’t figured it out. Um, it would really have a lot of impact.
And so thankfully we got into Y Combinator became the first Nigerian company to get into YC. Um, and yeah, we just have to like scale the company, um, and just be very clear about our mission, which is to just accelerate payments in Africa, accelerate with commerce, digital commerce in Africa. Um, I think we’ve made progress.
So today we’re live in Nigeria, Ghana pilots in South Africa. Um, and yeah, we’ve made a lot of progress, so. I like to say that when I got into YC, one of the things we were asking was like, Oh, how much, what is the market size in Nigeria? How much
trade online? And, uh, and it was a very small number, but the interesting part now is that five years later, or just up to five years later, pay stack is doing five times more than what Nigeria was doing when we launched the us. So.
Andrew: Just pay stack alone is doing more online sales five times more than the whole country was doing before you existed.
Shola: That’s exactly it. So that is very interesting. So I think that is the power of technology, power of scale, like making things, you know, because, and just like staying at it for a long period. Yes.
Andrew: you were creating this, um, Dropbox clone. Was it just for fun, just for creativity, just to, just to try things out, or did you think this could be our business? We could be in the Dropbox business for Africa.
Shola: No, to be honest, I think it started from just the urge to make things like, Oh, I just wanted to make things. I still like, I’m still like that. Like, I don’t let anybody share this and none of our room and none of the things we do, it’s just like, can we just make things that people want? Like, let’s just make it, you know, thinking about.
Like there’s no grand plan. There’s no grant. We just want to make things that
Andrew: Give me an example of something that for a payment company seems out of left field, but because you, as a company, believe in making, you’re creating, what’s an example of that.
Shola: okay. Yeah, that’s probably a lot of that. Um, one of the things I just, I just, I just, I just left, uh, I just, I just finished the call and I said it yet. One of the very interesting things we built, which is which nobody sees is like refunds. So I would say one of the problems we solved. One of the problems we had a pay stack was trust, you know, like people didn’t trust like digital payments.
And so people would like buy something. And as you can imagine, refunds across the world is like five to seven days. And people will be like, Oh, why would it take five to seven days to like, get my things back? And we’ll be like, yeah, but that’s how refunds work everywhere else to the world. Like I would call me for five days,
Andrew: You’re saying
Shola: you know, you go by money.
Andrew: your customers were anxious for the five to seven days, even though in the rest of the world, five to seven days is normal. And you didn’t want to tell them reassure you didn’t want to reassure them.
Shola: yes. We try to reassure that the payment happened instantly. Why is the report five days? I’m like, okay, you know what, let’s do this. And we tried to figure out how to make it work. Um, and today. About 75% of our transactions underfunded instantly, you know, so that’s one, another one just tied to that was, uh, when we started, we really want it to be an API product focus API.
And then someone reached out to me and said, you know, Chris tech is not as easy as I thought, like everybody said, pitch deck was easy. And I tried to use it and I struggled. I’m like, wow, why? And I realized she wasn’t a developer. Um, and she just wanted like one group and I’m like, okay, challenge accepted.
You know, I, we built something called PIM pages, which we did in 2016. Do they, a lot of payment companies are now building it, but we built this in 2016 where any merchant can dislike. See what they want and get a payment page that they can share on WhatsApp, or they can share on LinkedIn or like anywhere else, you know, and that feature we built just after our conversation.
Like, you know what? You don’t have to think about everything. Just tell us what you want. We’ll give you a link. You said? Yeah. So it’s just a lot of that urge to just build things.
Andrew: I remember when I talked to Patrick in the early days of Stripe, the founder of Stripe, I admitted to him that I loved his, his software, but it didn’t make sense for me on Mixergy. At the end of the interview, he followed up with me. He wanted to know why he introduced me to somebody in his company. Who would, he personally, basically wanted mixer GTB on Stripe and made sure to help out.
And sure enough, we got on strike because of that little bit of, Oh, what I wonder is it doesn’t seem like you’re just making for the sake of making it, if I’m understanding you right. You are taking people’s problems instead of minimizing them. You’re trying to help them with understanding. But when you can’t do that, you accept that you need to fix this and build a solution for them.
You have limited resources. Was there anything that you built because somebody had a problem that later on, you said this was just a waste of our time. It’s not working.
Shola: Yeah. Yeah. Um, I wouldn’t say it was a way the loan. But I think again, piss stack is all going to be a platform. Um, because I. Definitely had like very big visions of like scaling this and making it easy for like more people to build things on top of it. But I would admit that in the early days there were things I just wanted people to build on pay stack, and we just agree on Halloween.
Let’s just build it. There was a time where a lot of like Linden companies. We’re trying to use, pay Slack, you know, and they would want to, like, if you want it to like, like a microfinance bank or like a credit union, um, when, if you use it as a way to just receive payments from their customers and in a lot of them have very specific requirements and we’re like, you know what?
Let’s just build. Like a tool that would allow lending companies useless, you know, and we built it. I didn’t feel that, uh, and we still have that to get around somewhere,
but most of them became more sophisticated. Um, and most people act as someone that’s actually now built a product like that, you know, I think it’s called main square, you know? And so, yeah, and we just didn’t need to like somebody to gain an outside. Yeah.
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So it’s host gator.com/mixergy, hostgator.com/mixergy. let’s come back to your story then. So, The thing that I, the thing that I wonder is you are working for banks because you created this Dropbox, uh, clone.
Right? What was it about the work you were doing for banks that alerted you to the opportunity to became pay stack? What were you seeing?
Shola: Yeah. Yeah, it was, it was random actually, because I think what happened was I was doing something else and then I had access to like a MasterCard documentation and I played with the documentation. Um, and I was able to charge it the con from my locals, from my computer. I’m just like, Whoa. And I told him I should one of my friends.
So for me it was like a cool thing. I was just like, yo, can you imagine that I can charge you a card? And I bought my card out and I tagged it from my competent, and that felt very powerful. I showed one of my friends, uh, and it was like, yo, this is a company. This is, you know, I was like, okay, actually, I wasn’t even thinking about it as a company.
I was just thinking about it as, Oh, this is. What cool thing I just figured out. Um, and then eventually just figured I can build a company on top of it
Andrew: I think, Hey, you know what? This is Stripe. You were told this to Stripe. Stipel just get here. What are we doing? Trying to reproduce Stripe. No.
Shola: again, if you had someone like me that grew up, I grew up in Nigeria, um, and just knew that like, It’s been very difficult to like, to just like connect like the global. Ecosystem will like Nigeria and like market, you know, and for multiple reasons, I think infrastructure is just complicated, you know, like the very local nuances.
Um, and so like, we already knew, like I knew that there was no PayPal, there was no Stripe. There was like, none of those things existed, you know? And so it wasn’t, it wasn’t about them. It was, it wasn’t about them. It was about like, yo, I want this to work, you know? Um, if you think about it, Yeah. So one of the things I talk about is every time I fly, maybe I fly from like, JFK to Nigeria and I’m just like, wow, why is it different than the airport’s like, why can’t like, you know, obviously different, you know?
So I think those are some of the things that drive me, you know, even for my first company to pace that. Cause it’s like, you know what, if it’s something, if there’s a future that needs to be built on the continent. I don’t want to wait for somebody else to come build it. I want to just build it because we have to be the ones to build it ourselves, you know?
So, um, I think that was, that was where that came from. And I’m just like, you know what? Someone needs to build this and I’m not going to wait for anybody else call me, they let me just deal with it. Um, yeah. And I also felt, which is very strange, not in retrospect. I also felt some form of power. Like. When in the early days, people would ask me the same question and I will feel very confident in the fact that I thought I would be able to solve problems better than, um, foreign company.
Um, I don’t know where that came from, but it just came from like big feeling, like, like I’ve suffered this pain. Like I’ve had
Andrew: Understand it better than someone who who’s just remote saying let’s port our idea to, to Nigeria.
Shola: Yes. So, so I think it started from, I was probably naive to be honest, because I think in retrospect, it’s killing piss stack. Now I realized that like, I’m not the one that was killed skilled to Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Civ, but it’s not really about me. It’s about my team and we’ve been able to figure out how to skills.
It was just, I was just naive, you know, but, but, but, but then I just, I was just natively confident that it wasn’t going to be a problem. I could do it. Yeah.
Andrew: You know what I’m wondering. I remember when last year I traveled all over the world to do interviews with entrepreneurs on every continent. And I, I interviewed the founder of connector, the payment processor in Mexico. And I wondered what was so different about Mexico, any, and you explained it, he said, did you notice, even when you buy a bottle of water, you have to signed, you have to sign a receipt.
And I said, yeah, I guess so that was kind of odd. He goes, well, because in Mexico, if there’s nothing signed, they won’t honor it. Said. Okay. I understand that. He said, did you notice how many of our, how many grocery stores say that they accept connector? And I said, yeah, he says, because people don’t have credit cards.
You can just say, we’re going to create this Stripe of Mexico when people don’t have the credit card of America. And so they need to take cash into a store. Where they could pay for something they bought online. And that helped me understand you’re smiling because you recognize some of these differences.
What is it that someone who’s outside of Nigeria, outside of Africa, wouldn’t wouldn’t know that you knew about the differences in the way things are done, where you were, where you grew up.
Shola: Yeah. Um, again, just to not like give myself too much credit. Um, I would say I stumbled on it. Like it wasn’t a safe, like I had like a checklist of things I thought, but, but in retrospect, looking back, I think. One of the, I learned quickly how people think about like reliability, you know, like how there are some fundamental problems you have to solve before you sold the core problem.
You know, we just, it, you know, like even like, even like literacy levels. So for example, one of the things I realized early to piss doc in a lot of people that were using pay stack, we’re using pay stack, we’re using. The pain on the internet for the first time. And so it wasn’t enough to just put, uh, mm.
Why, why on the credit card form? Because if you look at a lot of American credit card forms, that’s my expire date
Andrew: Oh, month, a month. Year, year. Yeah, for the credit card expiration date. So it would be Oh one 20, right? So you’re saying first part it’s the first time somebody sees it, they don’t even know what that is.
Shola: And they’re like, is this my date of birth? Is this like, like, you know, so it, it had to be important to like, think about things in first principles. Think about it from like, how are you?
Like in this, that’s the first part number two reliability. Like, how are you making this reliable? Like if someone had the problem with back, it wasn’t. They will have problems. They will literally have a problem with digital payments. So we had to take a lot of responsibility for that, you know? Um, and yeah, so I think it was just more of like, I would say more empathy, maybe that’s the direct answer, like look at them, but ties better with like the users.
Um, and we were willing to like, just like make all the right changes and prioritize things that will make that work.
Andrew: Did you solve the issue of people not knowing what M M Y Y means that it means the, the month in a year, their credit card expires. How did you explain that?
Shola: Thankfully, we had a very, uh,
It was really cool. And so we had to stop playing a lot with the designs, but I think it found something that works eventually. So yes. Yes.
Andrew: Um, and just don’t remember the details of it, but you do remember it was a design solution.
Shola: Yeah, it was, it was definitely a design solution.
Andrew: How did you know that people had that problem? What did you do? Did you look over your shoulder?
Shola: Yes, we were calling like, we were very, again, we were very, very in touch with our users. Like I spoke to the first 300 customers or peers that, you know, if anyone had an issue pain, I would call them and ask like, why did this transaction fail? You know, uh, for some of them, I will ask them to do it again.
You know, some of them, what were you confused about? You know, so. But a lot of people were just saying, you know, like it was, it was, it was where I thought I heard about the, Oh wow. They did the date. What date is this? You know like, Oh, wow, sorry, it’s on your card. You know, uh, at all, uh, Yeah. So, so I think a, we just like, we’re very close to, I used it.
I was still very close. I think customer intimacy is something that I care about and just like being super intimate with our customers is something that we continue to figure out how to scale. Even as we got bigger, as we had like more customers, it’s like, you know, like let’s just continue to learn more from our customers.
Andrew: this quote from Patrick collision, whose company bought you. Um, and then as you said, they also led the $8 million funding round back in 2018. They bought you this year. He said a lot of companies have been, let’s say, heavily influenced by Stripe. What by what you mean is copied Stripe. Right? But he says with pay stack, they’ve clearly put a lot of original thinking into how to do things better.
There are some details of Stripe that we consider mistakes, but we can see the pay staff gets it. It’s clear the site and the products sensibilities that it has nothing to do with them being an Africa or African that get something that even they didn’t get it Stripe. Do you know, do you know what he’s talking about?
What did you get that, that, that he didn’t
Shola: I don’t know. Uh, I dunno. I dunno. I didn’t know, but I think the correct part is it’s correct in the sense that we just, like, we’re not trying to be. A clone of Stripe, you know, like I think when we say what Stripe for Africa, we mean, we use it for a lot of clarity, like so that people can immediately get what we are trying to do.
Um, so that when I got to Silicon Valley, I was having a lot of conversations with investors and I didn’t want to have to spend two minutes explaining everything. Like, let’s start with Africa. Perfect. Yeah.
So that was, that was bad, but we were also very clear in building the company that, you know, what, like we’re building a way to accelerate commerce in the continent. And so we just had to like execute from first principles and
Andrew: That’s the thing. It always comes back to accelerate commerce in the continent that you want to just make it easier for people it’s not even online, make it easy for people to buy and sell in Africa.
Shola: Exactly. Exactly.
Andrew: So, you know what? I was just talking to someone who said, I don’t even know why Stripe has a publishing arm.
What the hell does Stripe have to do with publishing books? But they do it.
Andrew: imagine if I could see you maybe four or five years from now doing something that feels out of left field. And the only way that I would understand it is if it’s. They are trying at pay stack to help accelerate commerce in Africa.
And if it means educational events, if it means books, if it means that’s what it means. If it means posters, they’re going to be in that business. Am I right?
Shola: Yes. Yes, we do. Some of those things. We have like a podcast we’ll have like newsletters. Like we do things that don’t necessarily like. Like caught our product, but just because of the, we were trying to solve it. Like, in fact, some of the things we’re also seeing is that. We will do talents. Like when we hire people and we have like maybe seven finalists and we pick just one, well, like what can we do with the remaining six people?
Because a lot of our customers need them. When we ask our customers, what is the largest bariatric company you scale for? Some of them is not even pissed off. It’s like, okay, We’re not going to be jealous. We can help you find talent if we can’t, you know, so yeah. We just need to do what we need to do. Yeah.
Andrew: All right. A lot of the stuff that I’ve read about you, here’s another quote from Patrick collision. He says, uh, you guys are highly technical fanatically, customer oriented, unrelated, unrelentingly, impatient. I get all that. I get how you understand your customer. I get how you keep driving the product.
Well, we don’t talk enough about in these. In in the startup world is hiring the process of, of managing people. The stuff that almost feels so corporate, that it’s out of a Dilbert comic. How did, how did you learn how to hire? You mentioned the third hire. Do you remember your first hire?
Shola: Yeah, no. Um, well first it was me and then
Andrew: got it. So the third, the designer was technically the first person you hired in your company, a pay staff.
Shola: Exactly. Exactly.
Andrew: hire that person?
Shola: Yeah. I think the first set of eyes were just people that we really looked up to. You know, I was like clearly the best designer in the continent. And I had worked with him and I’ve seen his work. So what I was going to build a design space, I didn’t have a choice.
I had to figure out how to get him to call, help us like build it. So I would say first few hires. But I think of a first five, I, as a first seven to 10 eyes were people we really looked up to. Um, and like, you know what? These people are doing amazing things. Um, can we get them to join us? Um, and so that’s, that’s that, I think that’s the, one of the higher end principles that we still like there too, which is like, you look for what you want.
You don’t take what comes to you. Literally you live,
Andrew: you convince this designer to work with you when it was a brand new idea?
Shola: Yeah. Um, I think it was the good thing about pace stack, which is why sometimes I feel lucky because I think so many people can’t connect with the vision and the mission. So like, of course you also wants to like, Payments will be easier, like how things will work better. So it’s like a personal problem by a lot of people.
And so if it has the opportunity to rebuild the user interface for pivots. In the country, like, it doesn’t feel like something you can do too easily, you know? So, um, so I think we were looking to editors because the work was very, it was easy. We didn’t have to convince people that the work was important, maybe compensation.
And they went for that. Thankfully the early people were not necessarily driven by financial know, they just wanted to make it work. Um, and the opportunity to like, make it work. So we, like, I just, literally, I paid him and I’m going to talk about this later, but it probably to design the first UI for like the checkout form.
He sent me a bill of maybe like a hundred dollars or something
and it finished it and I give him something else. Just don’t work with us or moving to San Francisco, the YC, what do you call it? So that’s how that happened. So, yeah. So I think the higher-end principal here and which you do now is. Really and, and so high personality, like I have a very large. Read for like impressiveness.
You know, when I meet people, when I interact with people I’m trying to sniff
and all the leaders in the company, they also know that great leaders build great teams. And so, and. The way to build a great team is to have a good pipeline. So it’s not to wait for like, leave it to just come to you. Like you have to continue to figure out how to build your pipeline of talent and like build strong relationships with them so that when you need to convince them or when you need to walk with them, it becomes easier.
Andrew: How do you, how do you do that? How do you manage your pipeline? I imagine you just having a CRM or a spreadsheet or something where you keep track of people. Is that it? No.
Shola: No, no, no, it’s not scientific. It’s literally like building a relation, impressive people. Like when I meet someone that is doing amazing things, I just like continue to like, learn more about them, learn about their work, see what they’ve done, you know, and just stay in touch and sometimes interview them without necessarily interviewing them.
So when I have problems, um, I get them to. See if they can solve my problems. And that was why it also became easier for us because we never run out of problems. And so we will just find someone that we thought could help us solve a problem. And informally, I would like. Convince them, Oh, I will do. I have to get them to help me solve my problem, but then it will be good because I guess they feel, they feel compelled to help us solve our problems.
And we will solve that. I will see how closely we can work together. And at some point, you know, maybe you should just come work with us. And that was how we built the team. So maybe like 20, 25, 30 people now that were much bigger. Um, I still get a lot of. In shows. I still tell everybody to introduce me to like the most impressive people they’ve met.
When I meet someone, I asked them or was the best product manager you’ve ever spoken to is the best engineer, you know, uh, introduced me to them. And I just like put it into like, find the best people. And just like, if you watch superhero movies, like at all,
Uh, trying to figure out how to like, create that too.
Andrew: Was a designer at Wally Bobby. Is he the first guy? No, I’m hunting. Try to and figure out who. I’m just looking up all your, all your designers. I’m getting a sense of what they’ve created by looking at what they do online. All right. Let me take a moment to talk about my second sponsor and then I want to come back and let’s go back into and understand the first product, the beginning of the product, how you, um, how you got credit card process, credit card companies to work with you, what issues you had, how you dealt with fraud.
Okay. And I’ll come back also to a question that you, that I meant to ask you earlier, when you said that you, the refund process, how did you get people refunds faster? But first, my second sponsor is a company called top towel. You’ve heard me talk about them for developers, but what you might’ve heard in this interview is the power of a designer.
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That’s top isn’t top of your head, talent, talent, T O P T a l.com/m I X E R G Y. How, when you had the idea that you were going to make credit card processing easy. I think you said that you had a visa that you charged when you were experimenting. Was it easy for you to work with the, would you have to work with, to make this the development part?
I understand that you can handle who’d you have to work with what banquet, um, did you have to work with visa? W how does it go?
Shola: Yeah, no, you’re not exactly a MasterCard. Exactly. It was actually a MasterCard. Um, yeah, so I think I just spoke to the team, but I didn’t charge up to someone at MasterCard, um, spoke to the bank I was working. We already, um, I just started learning more, um, and then started talking to merchants because I think one of the things I realized very early is like, it’s really not about like, The idea of what you’re trying to do is like a very specific problem you’re trying to solve.
So just finding much chance to have the problem. And one of the people I worked with was a comical ginger box and it was selling, they were doing food deliveries. So they will come to like offices and agree on like timelines and say, we’ll give you foods, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. And they needed a way to charge for that.
And like I said, there was no way that would happen. So I think it was just convincing people that yo there’s this kind of company. And they need this kind of solution and I’m trying to build it for them. Okay. Makes sense. Makes sense. And just giving me your purchases to do it, and then I have to figure out how to do it for ginger bolts.
Actually they have a website for them just so they can,
Andrew: To build ginger boxes, first website.
Shola: the second website.
Andrew: Got it. So for them to accept payment, you had to, you rebuilt their website. Okay.
Shola: Exactly exactly. It’s I had to do that. Um, and then, so it was just like, again, this has been resourceful enough to like, make all the parties, understand what I’m trying to do. I’m moving with the, uh, I was able to pilot with them and then. Talking to his friends about it. Uh, but his friends are original to me.
I was like, okay, let me put up a waiting list. Like I need to do, as I had a website, I had a landing page and the like put your email. And so people were signing up on the wait list. I have about 300 before I got into. I see. Um, and I was calling each person, okay, what are you trying to do as you know? So I was just going through that process.
And then when we got into YC life, I feel like, you know, They’ll put artificial barriers to growth, hopefully though. I’m like, Oh, wow. Okay. So we just opened it up. Yeah.
Andrew: And so you opened it up, but you didn’t have an automated way for people to start using space stack. Right. Did you have to go and work with them? One-on-one.
Shola: Yes, we kept building at the back. So I think it was very early days. A lot of things were done manually. Um, in fact, I was one of my customers, um, and those are the visits. I knew this had to work because one of maybe the customer number three was someone that was building like a ride sharing app. Um, and.
I told him, you know what, I haven’t built the way to pay you your money. Like Butte, the settlements, Leah. I can only collect the money. I can’t pay. I was like, yo, don’t worry. I don’t kick the body. Like I just want to be able to like run my own business to stop my business, you know, I guess so. So I think we, we were catching up, but like the different parts, uh, after that.
Andrew: Was getting MasterCard to work with you tough or were they open to doing it?
Shola: No, they were open. I think again, the good thing about payments. And I think I consider myself very lucky because I think I took the right industry, like the standards, you know, like you have to have PCI DSS, you need to do this. You need to do that. So. Um, the payments landscape is pretty standardized. And if you can like figure out how to like meet those standards, then it’s, the conversations are like really easy.
Um, and so the hard work was on me to like, meet all the standards and once I could meet the standards, it was easy.
Andrew: All right. I wouldn’t have even thought to ask you about fraud, except I read Jessica Livingston’s book, um, founders at work where she had this. Did you read it? The conversation that she had with max Levchin about the early days of PayPal opened my eyes to how much time he spent on fraud. It was more time in the book anyway, talking to him about how he had to deal with fraud than it was about product.
And I did see on the early version of your website, you guys said fraud is a top priority for us. How did you solve it? Or was it something you had to deal with yourselves?
Shola: of course we were lucky again, that. Firstly, we didn’t have a lot of, um, there was an I use cases, but very, very simple. Like it was people that knew their customers. So our customers were very good, like tinderbox, for example, where like they’re delivering fruits, their offices. So there was like, thousands of product are very low.
Uh, but at some point we started like seeing some furrowed and we quickly built like, A decision support system, like a tool to just like con transaction rules and all that, you know? Um, and I think at that point, like I think they have like three days. So literally we only had like three day period where we did pick them out it and we sold it like three days later.
And since then, like we haven’t like really had like a big problem.
Andrew: You able to solve it in three days?
Shola: Yeah, because again, we’re small, we’re nimble. Like it was a big problem. This is how we’re going to solve it. We’re going to no, it’s like building rules, building tools and you know what? This is how much, if you, if you try more than two cards, Experience, we know something will happen, a trigger as this, you know, so we just built in those rules.
Um, I started like modifying the learning and so we just, yeah, I think that’s it.
Andrew: Got it. All right. And one of the things that stands out for me on your website is you take credit cards. You take U S dollars. Am I right about that?
Andrew: And then also there’s a woman who’s holding up like a standard phone, not a smartphone, but a phone. How do you do
Shola: Yeah. Yeah. Um, there’s something called, there’s a technology called USSD in, um, in my engineer, aware like you can have like a code, you can dial a code and pay. So for example, a pay stock, if you want it to pay. Um, you can use like USSD to pay and they will dial code and we will run the payments. It’s called the multiple times that different codes.
So different banks have their different codes. So G2 bank, one of the biggest banks will have seven 37. So you just seven, three, seven X, X, X, blah, blah, blah. And the money will go from your account to the Magellan’s account.
Andrew: I so wish that last year when I was doing the Mar um, when I was doing interviews on every continent that I would have had time to go to Nigeria, that’s where people told me the action was. And that by going to South Africa, especially where I’d gone, that I was really missing out on the African experience, but I just had so much trouble booking every continent and all that.
Shola: Call is doing amazing. Your goal.
Shola: Um, it’s one of my favorite it’s like square. Uh, my favorite combination,
Andrew: but what I mean is I didn’t see people pay with their phones. I saw people pay, you know, using Apple pay
Shola: I feel you live isolated.
Andrew: the part that I feel like I missed. Oh, okay. So you’re not, it’s not like you accept U S dollars when I saw USSD I thought that was us dollars. No, you don’t accept dollars cash.
It’s just the cell payments.
Shola: Yes. Yes, you can. In my German merchants can accept payments from you via USB. So that’s different in us dollars. Exactly. And then USSD the technology on structured
Andrew: Okay. Um, and you mentioned
Shola: such as supplementary data.
Andrew: how did you, how did you figure out what’s the solution for paying people, for giving people the refunds faster? Was it taking money out of your own account and giving it
Shola: of course. Yes,
Andrew: ugly? So you pay first and then you wait for the money to come back into the account.
Shola: yes, yes. Um, and also just understanding the funds flow and understanding why it’s taken like. So long and where the blockers are. Um, and yeah, and solving, but yeah, correct. Like I think the primary one.
Andrew: W I was trying to figure out what you were like as a kid and how you got here. The only thing that I could see was, I guess, at one point you discovered Photoshop and did you start a business where you were helping people or consulting services for Photoshop?
Shola: Yeah. I was like, I think when I got my computer, when I got the first computer, I think I was 15 or 16 then. Um, and like I said, I used to make things, I guess my, my evolve, but what are the things I, that I don’t know what happened, but I realized that. I could like take a footballer. I like soccer or football and I would,
and I would like take a photo of my face. I’ll put my head on his head. Uh, I don’t recall. I’ll show my friends. I’ll be like, Whoa.
Andrew: Like you’re the footballer that you admire. Got
Shola: Yeah, exactly. Now he feels very stupid, and so I will do that. I’m super excited about it. And so I just kept pushing the limits of what I could make, and then at some point I started, I went to college, I studied computer science and so I had to like leave real software. Uh, then I got a job. Cool. And I was building websites for like box, um, in Nigeria.
And I built a website for like three banks, like very big banks, but I was, I was on the inside of the company, but I was, I was able to like, just let it out, build it. And that’s how I started building on the internet.
Andrew: And you met your co-founder Ezra in the computer lab. In school.
Shola: Exactly, correct? Correct. Yeah, it was, it was like the best engineering school. And I was just, like I said, I like 15, it probably started out maybe like seven, you know? So it was like a genius. I was like, so that’s how we became friends.
Andrew: Where’s that from just all he’s he’s local also. All right. Um, let me close it out with this. You’ve done this interview. I told you, I looked you up on Twitter for years. I’ve gone back in your history. I even saw like you thanked, Oh, the Nigerian, who many of us know from like years ago for making an introduction to this and that you’re super active.
I wonder why, why are you doing this interview? Why are you so active in the startup community? What’s your thinking here?
Shola: one of the things that I found very strange was when, like, when we announced that position and I was my face, that was everywhere. I’m just like,
The results of the entire ecosystem. Like people making introductions, people advocating for me in rooms I couldn’t get into. So like there’s a lot of ecosystem work that had to create a peer stack. Um, and so just recognizing that and knowing that, you know, what is, it’s not about me, it’s not even about peace.
That is about the future. We want to create the future. We want to build, you know, the right for me, happiness will be where we talk about a lot of problems for people in the continent. You know, like I’m a software engineer myself, but sometimes I feel bad that not a lot of software engineers are building for the continent.
You know? So as much people are confused. For the continent as what people that can solve local problems. Like those are the things I really care about, you know? And yeah. And it’s something I’m super passionate about and yeah. Any opportunity to like, be part of that, I’m all always like interested in doing it.
Andrew: That is something that I’ve seen from you throughout, right? I usually, at this point, I tell people, go check out your website. They will check out your website, pay stack, but that’s not the big win here. The big win for you is if they are, especially if they’re African to just create more companies to sell more, to contribute to the economies.
Shola: Yes. Yes. Yes.
Andrew: I will personally, I’ve seen, um, I’ve seen people make intros for you over the years and how appreciative you are. I will personally make an intro of you if you guys want an introduction, if it’s a good fit, right. I’ll act as a gatekeeper. I’m not trying to send them on your way.
Andrew: All right. Thank you so much for doing this interview.
I also want to thank my two sponsors who made this, uh, let me think. The two sponsors who made this interview happen the first, if you’re building a website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. I moved mixer D to them and saved a lot of money. Nobody even noticed because the site’s still just as Zippy as ever hostgator.com/mixergy.
And if you’re hiring a developer, a developer or designer, go to top towel.com/mixergy. Alright, thanks so much for doing this and congratulations on the sale
Shola: Thank you so much.