The journey so far: Iyinoluwa ‘E’ Aboyeji, co-founder, Flutterwave

Iyinoluwa ‘E’ Aboyeji

Flutterwave provides banks, enterprises and entrepreneurs with the underlying technology platform to make and accept payments anywhere in Africa. Prior to Flutterwave, Aboyeji was one of the founders of Andela – a company training African developers and hiring them out to global tech companies – which received investment from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

Oftentimes in the progress of a venture you need to let your venture grow, and that comes at the sacrifice of taking a back seat and allowing people who are more experienced and with a high level of skill to take the front seat. Ultimately you just have to make a decision about what is more important to you – whether it is building up your ego or building up the institution.

Which business achievement are you most proud of?

I think for me it was helping to build Andela. I think because it was such a big, somewhat impossible mission at the time we started. And because of its broad social impact, I was very, very happy to be part of that.

Tell us about your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.

I can be easily distracted. And I can very distracted because I am a very abstract thinker. So I tend to be able to put together multiple different pieces of one thing and then it fits in one big picture, but I am not able to finalise. I am not the most excellent executor or operator – I really suck at operating systems. So what I do is I look for operator co-founders. I am not a finisher, so I just pick up stuff, put the people together and connections together and typically rely on my partners to help me complete.

What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?

I think one of the worst misconceptions about starting a business in Africa, is that your idea really matters, or even execution really matters. Neither your idea nor the execution matters – the most important thing is the market. Have you found a market that actually has a problem worth solving?

Another really big one that I actually disagree with a lot is, “You should avoid starting businesses with high capital requirements”. I actually think that is a really big lie. I think there are cheap ways to grow businesses that have high capital and high regulatory requirements by leveraging existing infrastructure and building partnerships with existing companies. Those hard problems need to be solved, and the idea that every problem worth solving is to do with an app or website is actually pretty silly in my opinion.

Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?

I think, being market-led in my entrepreneurship and not avoiding difficult problems that are high risk for high reward. I wish I knew that better.

There is this whole idea of disruption, which kind of when you’re very young and naive, you get sucked into. And it is really just a big scam, because there is really nothing to disrupt in a continent where not a lot of stuff has actually been built. We are just in a very different phase from the US and EU. And what you actually find is that the people you are trying to disrupt are actually more progressive in their thinking and in their work, than that you might imagine. You talk to the average Nigerian bank MD – they are talking like fintech start-up CEOs. So what exactly are you disrupting when your disruptor-to-be, [your Nigerian bank MD], is literally speaking the same thing you are, thinking exactly how you are, executing exactly same way as you are, except he’s got a 15-year head start and more resources and trust in the ecosystem? So that puts you in an impossible spot. So thinking about collaboration with companies that are older, rather than thinking about businesses that disrupt – that is actually a good way to start things.

Name one business opportunity you would still like to pursue.

I have got a lot of them. I don’t have enough hours in the day for them. I think someday I would actually like to build a new kind of asset management company. So one of my big bets is that data and the internet is changing how people act with infrastructure. For example, data about where people should live. People will go online and look for rental property – and rental data basically gives you an open window to where people want to live and the prices for rentals. So imagine if you had an asset management company that was helping optimise assets in that respect. That would be a really big thing to enter. And you can apply that same thing to roads. if you look Uber’s data or Taxify’s data on roads and try overlay that over where most people travel, and then you know what roads to prioritise for fixing potholes. So one day I would like to do that.

Another super crazy idea I have is venture capital for politicians. The idea there would be you come to us with ideas about what you are going to do when you come to office – and if we like your ideas, we will fund you to run.