There are thousands of cool entrepreneurs in Nigeria today. And it is because of characters such as the one in this scene below:
We are in a Stanford University dorm room. Stanford, California, USA. The room belongs to a young lady, first name Amy. It is morning.
Amy and Sean are in a light post-coital conversation. Amy is a university undergrad. Sean is… well… we don’t know what Sean is yet.
Then, Amy asks Sean: “So what do you do?”
“I’m an entrepreneur,” Sean says.
“You’re unemployed,” Amy counters.
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“What would you say?”
“That I’m an entrepreneur,” Sean says again, with a self-congratulating smirk.
The scene is from The Social Network, the story about the creation of Facebook. The movie stars the classic geek-looking Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Sean, played Justin Timberlake, is the biopic version of Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook. Before Sean worked at Facebook, he’d been a cofounder (with Shawn Fanning) at Napster.
Napster was huge. As the first peer-to-peer music-sharing platform to scale, it turned the music industry on its head — forever. Sean should congratulate himself for that. He is creative, independent, and free-spirited. He is a big deal, and even if is slightly broke in this part of the film, you can tell he is destined for monumental accomplishments.
Later, in real life, as Facebook found seed capital, and more funding, Sean’s 4% stake in the social media company made him a billionaire. See? You could be a broke “entrepreneur” today and a billionaire entrepreneur tomorrow. It’s about the size of the dream.
Now, guess which other entrepreneurs saw their dream come to pass last week? Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi, two Nigerian software engineers who started Paystack, a digital payments company, while they were students at Babcock University, southwest Nigeria. Akinlade and Olubi are currently the CEO and CTO of Paystack, respectively.
Since its launch in 2015, Paystack has become one of the easiest ways for small businesses (and large ones) to accept payments online and offline. For instance, by simply embedding a line of code, any WordPress blogger can start selling digital and tangible products to their readers. On its site, Paystack says over 60,000 businesses have used its services.
So, when on October 15 2020, TechCrunch broke the news that global e-payments company Stripe had acquired Paystack for $200million, another wave of applause erupted among entrepreneurs nationwide. In naira terms, both Akinlade and Olubi are now billionaires. The dream is alive.
In a video posted to social media after the announcement, Akinlade says, “Over the next few years, there are going to be bigger exits because, now, it can be done.” In startup terms, an exit is the positive culmination of a company. It could be an acquisition/merger, a sale, or an IPO. For Paystack, selling to Stripe is one of the best outcomes anyone could have imagined.
“The Paystack acquisition will have a ripple effect across our entire ecosystem. Investors are getting a payday! This is major!” tweeted Rebecca Enonchong, founder and CEO at AppsTech on hearing the Paystack-Stripe news.
And, for Oo Nwoye, cofounder at Call Base and the dude who first signalled to Akinlade that the original idea of charging a debit card from a laptop was big enough to start a company, this feat was nothing if not sumptuous. “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen,” he said.
Ironically, Paystack and Stripe announced their deal in the thick of the 2020 #ENDSARS protests. The demonstrations, organised against police brutality, especially towards under-40 men and women in Lagos and other parts of the country, were led by people in the same age group as the founders of Paystack. One employee of Paystack, Yinka Wuyi, even posted a “sad story” on Medium in which, one night, policemen seized him and four of his colleagues and, after looking through their phones, took them to ATMs and squeezed N70,000 out of their bank accounts.
According to dozens of stories like Wuyi’s, the police searches and detentions are premised on the quest to capture Internet fraudsters, described locally as Yahoo Boys. The police believe these criminals dress in a certain way, carry a certain kind of mobile phone, and own functional laptops. But, not surprisingly, there are millions of harmless Nigerian youth who fit the profile. Their style sense and the tools they carry aren’t so much an indication of their chosen trades as they are a reflection of pop culture.
With unemployment rates at 27%, internet penetration at nearly 47%, and access to monetisable knowledge at an historic high, more of these young people are having to seek employment away from the traditional system. They have become legitimately self-employed — on the Web.
Which means, thanks to them, the list of respectable business terms — banker, lawyer, managing director, accountant, office, meeting, product, businessman, engineer — has grown longer. The lexicon of commerce now includes words such as lifestyle business, telecommuting, freelancer, four-hour workweek, app designer, game tester, virtual assistant, software engineer, Fiverr, Zoom meetings, Google Docs, Google Meet, Canva, side hustle, social media influencer, social media manager, Upwork, Udemy, Slack, content creator, YouTuber, co-working space, venture capitalist.
The ripped-jeans wearing, tattoo sporting woman who works on her phone all day is not jobless because she doesn’t resume in an office at 8a.m. every workday. The revenue she makes as a content manager is just as valid, even if it appears less backbreaking, as the one her parents have earned for 30 years as salaried civil servants.
As Paystack makes its record-breaking exit, it has not only shown, once again, that the world is now more open to the young Nigerian; it has also demonstrated to older, more conservative Nigerians that the new world entrepreneurs among us deserve more understanding. And, more than anything else, they’ve earned our respect.
This story appeared in The Guardian (Nigeria) of October 24 2020.