Founded in August 2019, Payhippo is on a mission to serve the 40 million SMEs unable to gain access to the funds necessary to grow their business. To date, Payhippo has disbursed 10,000+ loans worth $16.5M to small businesses across Nigeria.
I spoke with Uche Nnadi, the co-founder and CTO of Payhippo, about how they successfully disburse short-term loans in less than 3 hours, their plans to expand Payhippo’s product offerings and geographic reach, and what it takes to build successful software solutions for Africa.
Journey into tech
I was born in the southeastern part of Nigeria and moved to the US when I was 8 years old. I went to UC Santa Barbara for college, where I studied political science. Sadly after graduating, I realized my degree didn’t offer a clear career path. Since many of my friends were moving up to the Bay Area to work in tech, I decided to join them.
I started in tech sales, and while I was doing that, I began teaching myself how to code. Then, I got into an intensive coding boot camp, which helped me land my first job as a data engineer for a fintech company. I spent the next few years working at various companies and even started my own startup called SeatJoy.
Then, I went to work at PIX System as a Software Engineer. I spent close to 3 years there building distributed systems, breaking things, and learning how to respond when things go wrong.
Knowing I wanted to go back to the continent, I started thinking about how I could begin my transition from abroad. I co-founded a non-profit called Enye Inc, which helps upskill Nigerian engineers. I ran Enye for 5 years, and during that time, I met Zach, and we started working on Payhippo. It’s been two and a half years since we started this journey, and so far, so good. We are growing and have a unique value proposition that has well-positioned us to expand in our current market and other West African markets.
What separates Payhippo from other players in the market?
We provide financing to SMEs. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for SMEs to get the funds they need and, over time, become the one-stop shop for all the tools and services a small business needs to run efficiently. The most difficult is financing, which is why we’re tackling it first.
While there were other players before we came into the market, and there will continue to be new players, what distinguishes us is our technology, our people, and our customer service.
The biggest players in the market do not leverage technology at the same level that we do. We are all about automation and speed. SME businesses can get a loan within 3-4 hours through our platform. The verification process, KYC collection, credit history analysis, and underwriting are automated.
We specialize in automating the underwriting process. We are good at getting the data to make an underwriting decision. For about 10% of our customers, we get their banking data from Mono or another platform. But for the rest, we use our custom-built solution.
Hiring the absolute best people also gives us a slight edge. We are a tight family and are strict about whom we let in, but once they are here, they stay. No one has left my engineering core to date, and that’s because I hire slowly.
Our Customer Service:
We’re not perfect, and there is room for improvement, but I know our customer service is degrees better than every other player in the market. Our philosophy is that every person on the team is a part of our customer service.
Our engineers can hop onto a Zoom or WhatsApp call with a customer to help troubleshoot any technical issues. We strive to provide a white-glove-like service to every customer. And I’m no exception. Just because I’m the co-founder and CTO doesn’t mean I can’t get on a call with one of our customers and help them with an issue.
What's coming in 2022?
We are extremely ambitious and currently in a position where all of our hard work is paying off.
For 2022, we plan to expand our product offerings and geographically. We are also rebranding ourselves as “The business bank for Africa.” We have already figured out the most difficult thing you can do in banking: lending efficiently. Next is taking deposits and adding debit and credit cards. These are a lot easier to figure out because it’s about plugging into the right partners.
Major product rollouts:
- Accounting and bookkeeping software for businesses
- BNPL — buy now, pay later
Biggest challenges you faced building Payhippo
Hiring good talent on the continent can be difficult because people tend to talk themself up, but many can’t always deliver. We have great aspirations to hire 50 people this month, but we’ll probably only hire five.
And then, once you find good talent, the challenge becomes keeping them. In an increasingly remote world, people can easily get an offer with some US or UK company that pays more. You have to build a company that people are proud to work for. Yes, give them equity, but also let their ideas be incorporated into the product.
We deal with money, and so we do have syndicates that try to attack us all the time. Last year, we focused on building better security measures to defend ourselves.
Every solution on the market is incomplete. Even the most reliable platforms are still only 95% reliable. So as a startup, you have to figure out how to cover the 5% of potential downtime.
Funded by Nigerian investors
We’re a 3rd or 4th generation Nigerian tech startup, and I think Nigerian founders from the prior generations like GB at Flutterwave and Abdul from Mono have understood their role, which is to invest in tech startups, so they have the runway and the best chance at success. If you reach out to these founders, you can pitch them, and sometimes they’ll even become angel investors.
Some of our seed round investors included Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled, the co-founders of Chipper Cash; Olugbenga “GB” Agboola, the founder of Flutterwave; Bolaji Balogun, the CEO of Chapel Hill Denham; and Hakeem Belo-Osagie, the founder of Metis Capital Partners. It’s great to have the validation of our peers. For them to bet on us spoke volumes to the market and helped our story when we went to the US, Europe, or the Middle East to pitch.
The keys to building successful software solutions for Africa
The real battle isn’t talent; it’s hiring good talent and retaining them. You can’t afford for people to leave. It will set you back at least 3–6 months because it takes time to find and onboard someone.
To be successful, no matter what you’re building, hire good people, retain them, and then give them product ownership. We don’t have a product manager, so our engineering and marketing teams make up our product team. They all go out and do user research to figure out what the product should look like. Then, in our product sessions, we discuss ideas and then incorporate them into the product.
When people see their ideas in the product, they automatically feel ownership. That sense of ownership and pride that the product was built by our collective knowledge and experiences goes a long way. It’s great for morale and retention.
Also, don’t create an environment where the pressure is so high that your team can’t be a person. We set up our product where none of our loans are due on the weekend, so no one has to work weekends.
Coming back to Africa
The simplest reason is why not me? There are so many things broken in Nigeria, and I wanted to do my little bit to move that needle forward .001%. And so, if I were to give any diasporan advice that wants to come back, I would say just do it. Fail, figure out what didn’t work, and keep going.
Come with what you’ve learned and your perspectives. Recognize that none of those ways will work in Africa, but it is great that you have a different perspective. And then, once you come, you can tailor it for the African use case.
If you have an idea, it’s most likely possible, especially in Nigeria. You can build whatever you want here, and you can get far with it. And once you have gone far enough, turn the idea into a proper company that can hire and feed people and then grow from there.
I also didn’t want to build for the US because everything had already been built. It is way more difficult and harder, but the potential is boundless. Whatever you can dream up, you can do. It is the land of dreams, just tough ones, like nightmarish dreams.
We are an African company, and we’re building with African talent. We are strict about making sure that most of our team is African. Our new management team members are from different parts of the continent, Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, and Nigeria.
We are also now in a position to get the Diaspora involved. We hired a guy who’s worked for various tech companies, heading their sales teams, and he’s bringing all that expertise and tailoring it for the African use case. It’s something that I’m extremely proud of.
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