Chijioke Dozie, CEO and Co-Founder of Carbon (formerly Paylater), a Pan-African digital financial services platform shared insights on his work and thoughts on financial technology with The Spark team.
My interest in fintech really began to peak after I finished my MBA back in 2008. I began to notice just how big the market for unbanked consumers in Nigeria was and the wider continent.
However, to make a real impact with the traditional banking model, it would require a lot of branches in different areas, which would’ve also needed a large amount of capital expenditure.
That’s where fintech came in – it offered us an opportunity to reach a wide demographic at a fraction of the cost. On top of this, there are so many hurdles we’ve been able to navigate which wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t embrace technology.
The Beginning – Paylater
When we originally launched as Paylater, it was to provide loans using a paper-based application process that required supporting documents.
But this was really limiting our market in a country where more than 60% of working adults are in the informal sector and didn’t formally record the information we needed.
But a lot of things changed for us with the bank verification number (BVN). This launched in 2016 and linked all bank accounts owned by a single user to Nigeria’s central bank, allowing us to be more flexible with our digital lending services and expand our markets.
Alongside this, we developed an AI tool to calculate the credit-worthiness of consumers who didn’t have credit history, opening the door to marginalised groups in the financial community.
One example of this is our Bloom account, which is targeted at female entrepreneurs. Many of these women have been consistently overlooked but we can now provide them with access to advisory services, loans and other financial services to help them scale their businesses.
Pushing Through Obstacles
One of the biggest challenges was convincing customers that it’s possible to receive a loan from an institution they couldn’t see. Before Paylater, most people thought you had to go into a bank and apply in person to get a loan.
The challenge for us was changing cultural attitudes and getting people to acknowledge that we’ve simplified the process down to five minutes on a smartphone.
The Next Level – Carbon
When you think of Paylater, the first thing that comes to mind is credit and whilst we do offer loans, we also offer so much more.
Savings, funds transfers and bill payments are just a few of our other services and we’ve got plans to move into health insurance soon.
Our previous name didn’t match up with the range of services we provide so we needed a change that reflected our focus.
That’s why we chose Carbon. We’re focused on becoming a financial partner with our customers, and being flexible enough to meet their needs.
When you think about carbon as an element, it’s one of the most common and versatile in the universe and key to all life forms. We want to be that for our customers and constantly have them at the centre of everything we do.
When we first started, we actually bootstrapped the company for a short period, which was a good way of testing our model before we reached out for external funding.
After this, we were fortunate enough to raise seed funding from an Asian family office in 2014 and that provided a solid foundation for us to raise our Series A round from Net1 in South Africa.
Since then, we’ve recently raised debt financing of U$5mm from Lendable in 2018 as well as funds from brokerage firms and HNWIs (high-net-worth-individuals).
One thing I’ve found is that it’s about having a clear rationale for the funding you’re trying to obtain. The objective shouldn’t be to raise funds just for the sake of it – if you can’t make a clear case for why you need capital to yourself, then it will be near impossible to make to investors.
It also lays the foundation for a proven track record of where funding has gone and how it’s helped you grow, which will make conversations with investors much smoother in your next round.
Turning Back the Hands of Time
Asked what he wished he knew a decade ago, Chijioke said, “I wish I knew how fundamental technology would become as I would have focused on this more instead of finance.
It’s penetrating so many different industries and if you’re someone with the right skillset, crossing over to different sectors is a lot smoother than it would’ve been in the past.
However, I am thankful that I got involved when I did and I’m happy to be part of a company in Carbon that is ahead of the curve.”
Dear Young Entrepreneur
He has a word for entrepreneurs looking to play in the Fintech space. “If you’re an entrepreneur, focus on the customer’s pain points and not on the technology.
Whatever your service is, it needs to be built around the customer and has to make their lives easier which you can miss out if you’re not in tune with them.
If you’re young and looking for experience at a startup, I think it’s a great time as there’s a lot of companies, such as ourselves, who are always on the lookout for people with the right skill sets.
We’re actively hiring across our team so we’re open to meeting enthusiastic people.”
I do a fair amount of reading but without a doubt, my guilty pleasure is my PS4. You’re more than likely to catch me with my eyes glued to the screen playing Call of Duty without a care in the world.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.