#Goals: This 26-Year-Old Nigerian Tech Genius is 'Building the Future of the Continent'
For our latest installment of #Goals, we talk to tech maven, Iyin Aboyeji about building two wildly successful startups.
During the month of August, we’ll be highlighting aspirational folks who are setting major #goals and achieving them, and asking them to share their stories and insight to help motivate us all to “live our best lives.”
These athletes, artists, fashionistas, scholars, entrepreneurs, and more, are a reminder to us all, that dreams are valid!
Previously, we speak with Gabonese fashion designer Teddy Ondo Ella. For our latest installment, we speak to Nigerian tech maven Iyin Aboyeji. Read our conversation below.
Don’t let his age fool you—Iyin Aboyeji is a tech mogul in the making. At just 26 years old, Aboyeji has racked up an impressive set of accomplishments as co-founder of Andela, Nigeria’s premier coding academy that received a cool $24 million in funding from Mark Zuckerberg, and now as CEO of Flutterwave, the company modernizing Africa’s digital payment infrastructure.
Earlier this year, Aboyeji was appointed an advisor to Nigeria’s Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council. And just this month Flutterwave secured $10 million in Series A funding from Silicon Valley heavyweights Greycroft Partners, Green Visor Capital, Y Combinator, and Glynn Capital.
OkayAfrica spoke to Aboyeji about his journey so far, and his mission to ensure that Africa is included in the future of the digital economy.
Akinyi Ochieng for OkayAfrica: How do you think your education prepared you for your career as an entrepreneur?
Iyin Aboyeji: I believe education did prepare me for this. From secondary school at Loyola Jesuit College where I got involved very early in the Junior Achievement entrepreneurship program, amongst other leadership assignments, to the University of Waterloo, where I participated in a few summer internships and embedded myself in Velocity, the schools' entrepreneurship incubator. I believe I've been building businesses formally and informally since I was 15. I've made mistakes. Made money and lost money. I'm certainly not an overnight success story.
Is there such a thing as 'entrepreneurial education?' and what does it look like?
I think an entrepreneurial education exists, but not in the four walls of a classroom. It definitely can't be taught by textbook. An entrepreneurial education creates an environment where young people can learn by experimentation with only a little general guidance how to identify problems, create value by solving them and capture some of the value you create to make money.
What does Yaba, the home of Nigerian’s tech scene, know that Silicon Valley has yet to learn?
When did you figure out what you wanted to do? Is there a common thread that unites your work from Andela to Flutterwave?
Absolutely. Very early in my life I knew I wanted to do work that puts Africa on equal footing with the rest of the world on the global stage. I am very passionate about answering the question “what can Africa do for the world.”
My belief is that as software eats the world the structure of the global economy is changing. While before companies had all the power, today individuals have all the power. Both Andela and Flutterwave are giving young Africans the power to leap frog limitations and barriers put in place by pseudo colonialist forces so they can participate in the digital economy and build the future of this continent.
Flutterwave aims to develop Africa's payment infrastructure. Why is that mission personally important to you, and how do you think you'll reach it?
For me, I believe if Africa will come to the table on the global stage we have to come as one. We are far more powerful economically than our politics suggests. I also believe in Pan-Africanism and that how we get there is by making it an economic reality first. How can we get Africa to do more trade within itself—to see itself as a unit. I think if we can leverage modern technology to build the future of a more united Africa, it will become a political social and economic reality sooner than we think.
What has been Flutterwave's biggest milestone to date, and what has been your biggest personal achievement as CEO?
For me, our biggest milestone is crossing a billion dollars in payments processed. It was really important to me to prove than an African startup could do it and I'm super excited we did.
For me, my biggest personal achievement, as CEO, is learning about the intricacies of this business so fast and I couldn't have done it without my team. A year and a half ago today I would have been completely lost in any of the conversations we have today about our payments processing business. However, my team had the patience to coach me, and I had to leverage extra resources to level up in my knowledge of the space in a ridiculously short period of time.
— Iyinoluwa Aboyeji (@iaboyeji) September 4, 2016
How do you define success for yourself and for Nigeria's start-up ecosystem? What will make that success sustainable?
I think for me success is showing others that it is possible to do this as an African, in Africa from Africa. In my context as an entrepreneur it means building a world class company that makes money by serving Africans and solving African problems. One day I would love to build an ecosystem where a tech company can make $1 billion dollars in revenue and list on multiple African stock exchanges.
What will make that success sustainable is building enough trust between us to share and work together on our society's largest problems. So many startup teams we see are solo teams when they can collaborate with a few others to make a truly wonderful thing. If we don't get talent together to solve big problems we'll fail.
What is necessary for you and Flutterwave, respectively, to achieve the next stage of growth?
We need to build the company. And the way I define that is building a scalable engine of growth by finding the best people and enabling them to solve problems with a repeatable process in a mission driven and growth oriented culture.
We are getting there but doing this across Africa will be an incredible challenge, but by the grace of God, nothing is impossible.
I just published “FLUTTERWAVE RAISES OVER $10 MILLION IN A SERIES A” https://t.co/63AYX88VWx
— Flutterwave (@theflutterwave) July 31, 2017
What does Yaba, the home of Nigeria’s tech scene, know that Silicon Valley has yet to learn?
Yaba is unique because it is an ecosystem that has evolved naturally. Most other technology ecosystems are built by design or fiat. However in Yaba a community emerged from the constraints of the environment. For example, being in Yaba to be close to customers on the island but close enough to where my staff can afford to live.
I think Yaba has learned how to innovate in an atmosphere of great monetary constraint by involving community. For example, the fibre network that power Yaba's tech innovation exists because of a community collaboration between Lagos State government and Mainone. A few years later over three thousand people work in the region as a result. That's what community can do.