It was August 2015, and I (Chiwete) had just moved back to Lagos from New York; where I attended University. The decision to move back was difficult. My plan was to work in Finance for some years and get my MBA after. Depending on how things went during that period, I would take a decision on whether the hustle of Lagos was for me. However, upon graduation my father encouraged I and my co-founder to consider Lagos as a strong option. He believed we had a viable product and we were unencumbered; so it was the best time to take risk. With his support, I moved back to continue working on a payments system my co-founders and I were building.
During the last two and a half years of my University, we tried to create some structure that would allow us build the product as well as monitor our various progresses. Since we were spread out in three different places; Google Hangout became our best mate. In this period, we had people who were interested join the project. All of those people never stuck to forming the team that we have now. The goal of our platform; like any other creator of a product was to disrupt and revolutionize. That disruption was to occur in the payments system in Nigeria and across Africa. Unfortunately, the project never saw the market and is now parked in our shelf for the future.
One month into moving back to Lagos, I had to break the sad news to Nnamdi and Tobi. This was a scary time for two reasons; first I hadn’t a plan B when I moved back. I was so sure this would work out, I did not create alternative plans. The second was that Nnamdi and Tobi were faced with the question of whether or not to still move back, since our project was with the winds. It did not feel right to convince them to, given what had happened. Naturally Tobi and Nnamdi were unfazed by this outcome. Within the next few months we decided to come up with another budding idea; something that would make coming back still an option. With that we tripled our work rate to find our next big idea.
Fintech has always been a passion of the team. In Nigeria, payments was the only fintech solution that existed in the fintech category; given the nascent nature of it in the market. We believed other fintech solutions could touch the lives of Nigerians and Africans in a positive way. After two months of research, 6 possible ideas, 4 stress test analysis meetings and 24 google hangout meetings, we struck gold; PEER TO PEER LENDING. With this new idea and a semi-formed strategy, we were once again committed to the cause of moving back and working in Fintech.
When we started building in February, a lot of late nights were spent in the office. Trying to build the platform, risk algorithm, setup necessary partnerships et al. Those few months were difficult. We had a vision, but everything was still hazy. We simply just believed. It helped however that our family showed support and we had numerous friends in the same situation(young individuals starting their own businesses). That support framework propelled us to do more.
Having learned from our previous mistakes, we decided to do a number of things differently. We started by engaging two seasoned industry experts in the telecom and finance industry. Their invaluable advice allowed us form better strategic and technical decisions. As well, their access to networks let us meet core decision makers which hastened the speed of things. Although those two extraordinary gentlemen are not here with us today, I respect and value them for their effort. Our new board of Advisors serve the same purpose.
Also, we started to create some formal structure in the way we did things. We registered our company, got office space, communicated through a trackable channel as well as store our information unilaterally to allow access and transparency for everyone. Although these details are minor, they encouraged us to look at things with a greater err of seriousness.
One thing we’ve gotten right on the whole is the people we’ve attracted. Nneoma joined us two months after we started; through an introduction from a mutual friend. She approached us looking to work for a startup in Nigeria with an interesting product and a good team. We did not think either of those comparisons applied to us. So we set out trying to find a startup that would meet her requirements. Our mutual friend had to chime in and tell us she was actually looking to become a part of the team. Since April she has been a driving force in handling risk, operations and overall a champion and ambassador of our cause.
Then came Oreva; three months after Nneoma. A friend of Nnamdi and a pure intellect, I told Nnamdi that he would be a great fit to the team; in skill and passion. He finished his Masters at Imperial and joined the dream. His panache for strategy has seen us position our product in a way that would ensure scale and growth. The growth of our team has led us take in new ways of thinking and improved our approach and structure to our product as well as our ecosystem.
14 months down, multiple unsuccessful partnerships, few colleagues that did not work out, no salaries, delayed launch date, countless sleepless nights and ageing faces; we are finally ready to Launch by the end of this month. The goal of FINT is much bigger than all of us. We just happen to be the individuals that took the challenge of empowering the people directly. What we do will uplift the standard of living across the spectrum in this great country(and possible continent) of ours. It would all be worth it in the long run.