Michael Femi Simeon is the CEO of VoguePay, a secure payment processor and borderless banking platform. It offers personal digital wallets and business payment accounts to users worldwide. Individuals can send and receive payments from other VoguePay accounts in a manner similar to PayPal’s user offering.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
It is common knowledge that there are uncertainties in business. Some of these can be dealt with within yourself, but there are others beyond your control. In my current line of business, which is fintech, some of our biggest constraints seemed out of our control.
We have, for example, a brand promise to help users send and accept payments easily and securely from anywhere in the world. Our technology is top-notch, but sometimes our partnering banks might not be forthcoming in terms of service delivery because of legacy issues, and this can be frustrating.
However, in the last few years we have chosen the option to disrupt the market and even help banks to “disrupt” themselves by collaborating with them to solve payment needs for the modern generation. Also, we began expanding our scope and built new relationships with international and local gateways, as well as card providers.
In the process, what I found out is that the mindset of disrupting the market, “as sold” by most startups, will not achieve maximum penetration, instead choosing to focus on collaboration is a win-win for everyone.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
My journey with VoguePay has been rewarded with several little and a few big wins. One that stands out happened in 2016, four years after we launched.
That year, we were selected for the highest recognition in Africa alongside Cellulant (Kenya) and Interswitch (Nigeria) as the top three-fintech companies in Africa. Our selection was in recognition of helping to create more than 17,000 small businesses within 18 months, which use our business tools to accept payment and manage their businesses online, as well as our growth in onboarding customers globally. We were recognised as the payment bridge that connects Africa with the rest of the world.
When thinking about the journey to such recognition and other awards we have received, I realised that most fintech companies needed to raise millions of dollars to get that far, but VoguePay has bootstrapped all the way. It makes me feel we can all achieve much, with even fewer resources.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
Most people who know me are aware of my empathy – I have a deep sense of obligation and concern for people. This is good in your personal life, but it hurts business. A few people have, of course, taken advantage of this soft spot.
It is tough to change yourself, but it is easier to have business rules that put the interests of the business first. For me, the mantra is the “client matters and business comes first”. So, with every one of my business ventures, including the realtor business I grew to a multimillion-pound venture as a student in the UK, I ensure that there is structure to guide business decisions.
If I take a decision on something, I have to make sure it is equitable and becomes a standard for future decisions. That is the same structure I use at VoguePay now.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
The two sides to the argument about “entrepreneurs being made or born”. One school of thought says entrepreneurs are born, while the other one says they are made and that entrepreneurship can be learned.
I believe the spirit of enterprise and instinct cannot be learned, but the delivery of it can be harnessed.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
One of my regrets is that I was not exposed to opportunities in Africa earlier. I spent years successfully building businesses in the UK, especially in real estate, but these do not compare to the potential in helping fix the gaps and opportunities I see in Africa’s economy.
Given the results we have achieved so far, I am optimistic that if we had been on the ground earlier, we could have done better than we did. But it is never too late. Hopefully, I can double my efforts to reclaim lost time.
6. Name a business opportunity you would still like to pursue.
I believe there is huge potential in value-added services built on top of waste recycling and renewable energy. There are many waste materials, from plastics to biodegradables, that can be recycled with the right technology. This can be turned to new products such as plastic toys, curtains, interiors of vehicles, biogas, cleaner water and so forth.
Labour costs are low, so the rubbish can be assembled quicker at low-cost and such businesses will help to achieve a healthier environment while also making money as a business concern.
I have seen a few iterations of such business models already, but there is still potential for any player to come in.
The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip, and content production by Justin Probyn and Nelly Murungi.