Michael Simeon, CEO of VoguePay shared with The Spark team how the company is flying the flag as a proud African company in the global payment space.
Receiving an award for the Payment Personality Leader of the Year 2018 means a lot of hardwork had taken place before then; with that comes a responsibility to do more. And Michael says he is ready to take up more challenges to lead the payment space.
With determination and as a focused strategist, Michael has now become a recognised shareholder in the tech ecosystem. He has a dream to change the status quo and impact society, a disposition that led to his initial transition from Politics and Economics to Tech.
VoguePay was launched as a beta product between 2011 and 2012 – a period when online payment systems were a luxury and took as much as $1000 to set up. It is for this reason that Michael says, “we got into the payment space because we saw an opportunity where we could make a big difference, especially to SMEs and individuals. We saw ourselves as basic activists who really wanted to help people solve payment problems. So, we walked into the market, introduced free integration – which is what everyone now uses in the market – and that’s how we get to manage our staff and serve hundreds of businesses.”
Bootstrapping and Growth
Would you have thought that there are payment platforms, who have a large share in the market, and got to that level with little or no funding? Well, Michael has this to say: “Many times, we don’t see customers, we see partners. When you have good, strong partners and are very fair in the way you treat them, then your business surely grows.”
He says the team initially thought about opening their doors to investors but saw exponential growth and decided to “take a pause to actually maintain, control and solidify growth.”
It is for this reason that the visibly empathetic CEO says giving value has been at the core of the company’s mission.
He stated that VoguePay is “the only payment processing or tech company in Nigeria or Africa that never raised money. We started the business with $1,000 and today, we have processed over $1,000,000. This is a success story – a tale of how talent can be harnessed and directed to the right corner. Basically, we represent Nigeria’s potential; what everyone in Nigeria can achieve.”
Any business that wants to remain on top must consciously do things differently to stay ahead of the curve. VoguePay is clearly doing more than expected. The CEO says, “We haven’t stopped tuning the payment space as we are adding new products and fixtures that none of our competitors have. In essence, we always lead but more importantly, we like the fact that we are creating employment opportunities for young people.”
He adds that the team has partnered Nigerian Association of Computer Science Students in Nigeria, so as to mentor the students, then select about half of them for internship and ultimately invest in the obvious talents. “We feel this is a movement in the right direction for us because we want to see the impact we are making on society.”
No business is without challenges and VoguePay must have faced its fair share as a Nigerian business wanting to play internationally. Distrust was one prominent challenge VoguePay had to overcome early on, as not too many people within and outside Nigeria trust Nigerians to handle their transactions without defrauding them.
Michael explains, “if you go to London and say that you are a Nigerian in the payment processing business, everyone laughs. I initially found it very uncomfortable because my competitors did not need to prove their trust to potential customers. We had to consistently explain that this was not some new type of Advanced Fee Fraud (419) or ‘Yahoo Yahoo’. It’s been a constant demonstration of our integrity and we’ve been able to win them over.”
The other challenge, he says, has been trying to get qualified young Nigerians. “We always try to ensure that most of the things we develop combine international practices with our local knowledge. This motivates our decision to employ more young Nigerians but getting qualified candidates always seems Herculean.”
Seeing the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria, Michael Simeon says he will always prefer to have more young Nigerians on the team but “this can only happen when young people focus on learning and the government pays attention to this space.”
Entrepreneurship or 9 to 5
The techpreneur admits that starting out as an employee before becoming an entrepreneur depends solely on the field and discipline.
“Still, there is some level of experience you will need to run a business. I believe that when you are starting out, you should first understand yourself and never stop feeding yourself with information, or else, you will be torpedoed at one point by your own naivety. Also, before you scale, try to observe how your competitors are doing it.”
The Tech Space in Nigeria
Michael couldn’t wait to be asked to assess the tech space in Nigeria. He has been a player in the game, so he definitely knew that Nigeria isn’t, “harnessing the demographic dividends considering our size, energy and capabilities. This is fueled by expectations of external investments, forgetting that there are willing investors around who only need to be told what is being done. No doubt, Nigerians are one of the most creative people on the global scene, and that’s why we thrive abroad, but we need to do more, especially when we compare with how other countries nurture their talents. The government also needs to formulate policies and give tax incentives to help businesses grow.”
With all these accomplishments, one might be tempted to think that Michael is all work but he quickly allays our fears. “I am a foodie; I like good food. I read and I also like to dance. Aside from that, he says he has several favourite quotes from different but one from Nelson Mandela always catches his attention: ‘We shall not remember the noise of our enemies but we shall remember the silence of our friends.’”
It’s difficult to see him wearing other shoes but Michael tells us that if he weren’t an entrepreneur, he would either be a barrister or a developer. While he might have done well in either career, there’s no doubt that the Payments space will remain forever marked by the impact of the VoguePay team with Michael Simeon at its helm.