Ashraf Sabry is the CEO of Fawry, an Egyptian company that specialises in electronic payments.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
In 2008, I left my job and had limited time to convince investors that customers would trust paying their bills electronically at a grocery store. The challenge was establishing the company before my financial resources got depleted.
Overcoming the challenge needed a thorough understanding of the business model, sharing experiences in other markets, committing to invest 80% of my personal financial resources in the same project and, finally, not giving up quickly. [This also involved] … trying to find new investors all the time, until I managed to convince the founder investors.
The second challenge was convincing the first biller to join the network; I still remember, it was Vodafone. The problem was that Vodafone had to allocate resources to develop the integration with their systems and had to introduce a new competitor to their valuable distribution network, so many of the stakeholders resisted the idea.
I think I managed to overcome [that] … challenge by deciding to carry the cost of the implementation, to find a champion within Vodafone to support me, [putting together an] … appealing commercial deal and, most importantly, never giving up.
Other challenges include being almost bankrupt after three years, as well as attracting and retaining good people. I think the one factor in overcoming all challenges is, never give up and be persistent.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
I solved a problem … [for] unbanked and banked Egyptians, and we became a role model to other companies and to the entire fintech ecosystem. Additionally, [we are] … ranked as one of the leading brands in Egypt, with 95% unaided awareness.
… [I am also] proud that the entire technology was developed by Egyptians. Everybody doubted that we could [do it]. Now, this infrastructure is … [available] countrywide and processes almost 2.5-million transactions a day and is used by 22-million customers.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I am always in a hurry and want to do many things … [at once]. This can cause lack of focus, poor quality and stress my colleagues. I was always with the people, motivating them, apologised when I made mistakes, and I learned to listen to colleagues and change my opinion when I felt I should.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
That a startup … [does not need] institutional shareholders at the beginning and an entrepreneur has to be young. I think [the] entrepreneurial spirit is more important than the age or the shareholding structure.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
No, because I never thought that I was an entrepreneur, and that was actually good.
My basic belief was that, to succeed, you need to be persistent, work hard, be on top of things and continuously educate yourself. I still believe that this mix is the recipe for success. And to this day, that is how I do business. The classification is not as important as the basics and principles of doing business.
6. Name a business opportunity you would still like to pursue.
[Developing a] supply chain ecosystem connecting retailers to suppliers, and farmers to distributors and factories. The entire interaction [would] include ordering, payment, promotions [and so forth]. [This would] enable small retailers and farmers to be digitally connected to banks, suppliers and customers, [and] … help small businesses to grow and be more efficient.