Nigeria is the top source country for African students in the US, with universities admitting about 14,000 students yearly. And beyond the US, it is one of the most sought-after markets for student recruiters in Australia, Canada, China, Ireland, and the UK.
Becoming one of the 1.1 million international students that come to the US is no easy endeavor. Students must go through the rigorous process of being admitted to a university, the tiring process of applying for a visa, complete endless paperwork, and pay a considerable number of fees.
While not unique to Nigerian students, what makes studying abroad difficult for them and many other Africans is the process of paying for these fees. Over the years, the Central Bank of Nigeria has occasionally stopped or restricted foreign currency sales, making it hard for students to obtain the funds they need to pay for these fees. These restrictions have often forced people to either pay a significant premium for dollars on the black market or not study abroad at all. To overcome this problem, Sunday “Paul” Adah decided to create Pay4Me.
Founded in 2020, Pay4Me is a payments solution that enables users in Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Kenya to complete payments for educational and travel-related fees and services abroad to countries worldwide. Via the Pay4Me app, users can pay their SEVIS Fee, Visa Fee, WES Fee, and admission application fees within 30 minutes.
I spoke with Sunday “Paul” Adah, CEO of Pay4Me, about what led him to create Pay4Me, building a team of engineers and UX designers in Nigeria, and tips for entrepreneurs tapping into Africa’s tech ecosystem.
How did your journey lead you to create Pay4Me?
I’m Sunday “Paul” Adah; I was born and raised in Nigeria. Seven years ago, I left Nigeria and moved to the US to attend college. I studied web design before coming to America and then transitioned to policy and project management when I got here. Even though I studied sociology, business, leadership, and policy in college, I still enjoy solving problems with tech outside of work.
I started Pay4Me in November 2020, but the journey began 8 years ago when I was applying to study abroad. When I started, I was confused and overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork I had to complete, the number of visa paperworks paperwork I had to track, and the other ““10 million”” things I had to do. I had some help, but I had to do a lot of research and spent a lot of time figuring things out on my own. There was no manual for me to follow.
After successfully going through the process, people started reaching out to me asking for help, and I decided to create a business to help others. One summer, I went back to Nigeria, rented a small office, and hired somebody to run the daily operations while I was away. The company blew up, and we were able to help many students study abroad. That endeavor built my network, a network that later inspired the creation of Pay4Me.
Then, in November 2020, a friend reached out to me and said, I’m trying to pay for applications in the US, but I’m having some challenges because the Central Bank of Nigeria reduced the total transaction amount we can make in a month to about $100. Can you help me? I helped him complete the payment, and a couple of days later, somebody else reached out. Can you help me pay my tuition deposit of about $5,000? I made a few phone calls, and the transaction was completed.
Then, over the next 2–3 weeks, people kept reaching out asking for help. In 4 weeks, I did 50+ transactions and processed over $20,000. I said to myself, this is a business opportunity, and that’s how Pay4Me me was born.
What is Pay4Me? What inspired you to create Pay4Me App?
Through the Pay4Me platform, African students from Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Kenya can pay educational and travel-related fees, including their SEVIS fee, VISA fee, WES fee, and admissions application fee and deposit. Since our official launch in March, we’ve onboarded close to 500 users, primarily through word of mouth, and processed over USD 100 thousand, GBP 18 thousand, and CAD 10 thousand.
Our value proposition is that we allow users to pay in their local currencies. They don’t have to go through the banks or source foreign currency. They can come on our platform, go through the onboarding process, and make a payment 24/7 24/7.
Our focus is the customer-to-business (C-to-B) payments market. Most of the fintechs today are focused on getting money from abroad to Africa (remittances). Few, if any, have solutions for people who want to move money from Africa to other parts of the world. People still have to go through traditional methods or leverage their network abroad.
I believe the narrative needs to change because Africa is not a continent that only needs to receive money. It’s time we start putting things in place and empowering people with the tools and resources to thrive globally. People are becoming prosperous, and they want to do commerce abroad, study abroad, visit doctors overseas and go on vacation.
Due to policies and regulations, it’s difficult for people to move their money, and it’s also expensive. People have to pay a significant amount of the transaction value in fees. With Pay4Me, we want to make it easier for people to make international payments starting with educational and travel-related fees and reduce the cost of doing so.
Building a team in Nigeria?
I have a small team that includes my CTO, two app developers, one frontend guy, and a product manager/designer. Building a team hasn’t been easy. I started out trying to hire freelancers on Upwork, but that did not go well. Then, I transitioned to advertising for a CTO because I wanted to find somebody who understood the vision and could build the team as we progressed. I interviewed a lot of people, but our CTO Stephen Jude stood out to me the most. He’s been with me since day one, and he’s made my job a lot easier.
He hired the rest of the team and now manages their day-to-day. As a team, we have a standing weekly meeting to discuss features and updates. Then he creates a roadmap and works with the engineering team to make sure everything gets done. Overall, it’s taken a lot of trial and error and failing forward.
Advice to people building a team?
It was easy to outsource because I knew what I was looking for, how to start, and what an MVP looked like. I could also sketch, and I knew how to share my ideas with developers. This made it easier to communicate with my CTO and the engineering team.
It’s not a prerequisite, but if you don’t know a lot about tech and are trying to build a software company, one of the best things you can do is find a technical co-founder or a technical advisor to walk through your idea with you. They can help you set expectations, do quality checks to ensure the product is working correctly, and confirm that you have all your IP.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced building Pay4Me App?
Finding and retaining quality talent:
Since we’re small and bootstrapping, it’s hard to find and retain talent. You’ll find a good junior developer, and you will help them polish their skills, and a year later, they’ll find some gig that pays 3x or 5x more than what you’re paying them, so they’ll jump ship. That’s been one of the challenges that we’ve had to deal with internally.
Because we deal with money, there are many regulations we must adhere to and red tape we have to work through. And being that we operate in 5 countries, we have to keep up with the regulations in each country, and there is no uniformity. Each country’s regulations are also constantly changing and changing fast, so we have to stay vigilant. Fortunately, I have mentors to help me navigate the terrain.
How do you see Pay4Me App evolving in the next 3-5 years, and what impact do you hope to make?
The goal is to acquire all the necessary licenses to handle the backend more efficiently. We also want to onboard the organizations that people use our platform to send payments to so that we don’t have to do separate wires or ACH.
We’re currently operating in 5 African countries, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Kenya. In the next 3–5 years, we want to cover all English-speaking African countries. We’re focusing on them because they’re easier to support. We don’t have to retrain staff or hire people. All we have to do is comply with the country’s regulations and onboard users. Once we complete our expansion into all the English-speaking African countries, we’ll start expanding to the non-English-speaking countries.
Tips to other entrepreneurs considering tapping into Africa’s tech ecosystem?
Know your community:
If you’re considering doing business in Africa, you have to know the people you’re solving the problem for. I have seen countless examples of entrepreneurs who live abroad or who are from abroad that want to solve an African problem, build a solution that creates more problems for the people.
Meaning well and having good intentions isn’t enough to be successful in Africa. For that reason, my number one recommendation for entrepreneurs abroad and local is to understand the problem from the perspective of the people that this challenge is their everyday reality. If you can, live among the people and simulate the experience, do it. For example, if you’re trying to solve a transportation problem, go live in this place and learn what options people have, what better alternatives you could provide, and confirm they want those alternatives.
This will give you visibility into how many problems you have to solve. Let’s say you build an application to solve a transportation problem, and while your users have cell phones, they are unbanked or underbanked, so they can’t pay for your services. Now you have to solve another problem, a monetary problem. This is why it’s so important to understand the people you’re building for and try to see life through their lens.
In addition to that, try and involve as many locals as possible in the process, not simply hiring them to do the work but involving them during the discovery, research, and product review phase. They will give you some tangible insights on how to make the product better.
Built In Africa. What does that mean to you?
Interestingly, the phrase Built In Africa is what caught my attention. The phrase is short but powerful. And it embodies everything that we, as an African-focused startup, are trying to do. Personally, the phrase means that we, as Africans, African diasporans, and people of African origin, have the resources and the skills to solve our problems. And we should. Yes, there are people solving problems for Africa, but we could do more, and more importantly, we can do it together.
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