Olugbenga Agboola is co-founder and CEO of Flutterwave, a pan-African payments solutions business.
1. Describe one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
As an entrepreneur, every day I’m fighting just to stay alive, to scale, and to grow. It’s like firefighting has become part of the job description.
In 2016, I faced one particularly tough situation, I was pitching Uber to be their payment processor in Africa. I was in San Francisco and nobody knew Flutterwave.
I didn’t know what Uber would say. I didn’t sleep for days, as I needed to figure out how we would execute if they came on board. We even had lingering doubts about whether we even had the right capital and skillsets. But after sending the proof of concept, they finally signed on. It was a crazy few days.
2. What business achievement are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of having brought a group of people together to build an amazing company.
Every day I realise we’ve done a great deal of work in impacting lives, not just for our customers, but also for ourselves. Growing the company from one person to over 100 employees is like a miracle.
The company has grown so big that I don’t know everyone as I did in the past. I pride myself on knowing everybody’s names, what they do, their background. But it was at the moment after we reached the 100 mark that I realised we’re scaling so fast that I simply don’t know everybody. And that’s a good thing.
3. Tell us about your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
My biggest weakness is assuming everybody thinks the way I think and assuming everyone can solve problems the exact way I want it solved.
I can hold multiple conflicting views in my head at the same time for the same problem. I don’t believe one answer can solve a problem; I believe you can have multiple answers to the same problem. So I get frustrated when people don’t see that there’s not only one way to solve a problem.
I think being deeply analytical can prevent this quality from negatively impacting our company. Before I take action, I might have thought about it a million times. I’m more analytical than action biased.
4. What conventional business wisdom do you disagree with?
I don’t believe that you need prior experience in something to do it well. I’ve seen instances with people who have extensive experience in a subject matter but perform the worst in that subject matter. And I’ve experienced instances with people who have zero experience do well because they’re generally curious. If you want to do something, just go for it.
Also, there are some things that you hear in the Valley about building a business that is often taken as a universal truth, but wouldn’t really work in Nigeria or other African markets. A key example is sacrificing revenue for growth. There’s no unlimited capital in Africa for entrepreneurs. You don’t have the chance to make a lot of mistakes, unlike folks in Silicon Valley.
I think maybe the next five, 10 years, it will be easier for new entrepreneurs to focus on actually building companies. At that point, hopefully, I’ll be a billionaire and have unlimited capital to invest in startups, and there’ll be more opportunities for younger folks to build without worrying about failure.
We have this massive opportunity in Africa, but what we need to do is build real companies, not focus solely on high growth.
5. Is there anything you wish you had known about entrepreneurship before you started?
Oh my God, maybe I should have taken that Microsoft job and be like my friends right now who are SVPs and making ridiculous amounts of money! I’ve stopped courting Microsoft but, if I were to go back in time, I would still go down this road.
The only advice I would give myself now is to say ‘no’ quicker than I did back when I started the business. I kept thinking that you have to be nice. But now I don’t think it’s worth it.
Overall I think it’s been a great journey. It’s been challenging. Nobody promised it would be easy, I taught myself that a long time ago. Nothing is going to be easy, but we are where we are, and we move on.