Startup profile: VoguePay's African ambitions

Startup profile: VoguePay's African ambitions

With offices in Lagos and London, VoguePay is looking to build a payment processing bridge connecting Africa's one billion people to the global market. Founders Geoffrey Weli Wosu and Michael Simeon speak to Finextra about their startup.

Boasting a landmass of almost 12 million square miles (enough to fit in it the USA, China and India with room to spare) - Africa isn't just a geographical behemoth - it's a latent economic force waiting to be tapped.

However, feelings of mistrust towards government and little co-operation within its individual countries has left Africa missing the boat when it comes to global commerce - VoguePay, a Lagos-based startup with offices in London, is hoping to rectify this problem.

Borne out of an ambition to unify African payments and bridge it with the global commerce market, Leke Ojikutu, a seasoned software developer, launched VoguePay in 2012.

The startup focuses on payments processing for the B2B, B2C and P2P market - any business which wants to connect with Africa is a potential client for VoguePay.

In a country where disposable income has risen steadily over the past years - co-founders Simeon and Weli Wosu, noticed a problem.

"Our research shows that 70 million people in Nigeria have extra money to invest or spend - but no way to spend it - there were very few connections between Nigeria, Africa and the rest of the world," says Simeon.

Further adding to the problem - global payments players like PayPal were hesitant about expanding their operations to Nigeria - only arriving in June 2014.

Michael Simeon and Geoffrey Weli Wosu, VoguePay

"Have you ever bought anything directly from Africa?" asks Weli Wosu rhetorically.

The African e-commerce market lags behind China and Europe for a number of reasons - lacking a dominant payments processor is certainly a factor.

The VoguePay offering is based around APIs which merchants can integrate into their stores - it does the heavy-lifting in both directions, converting global currencies between Nigerian Naira while conducting the necessary AML and KYC checks.

One poignant example of where VoguePay could be used is in paying university fees for international students. As it stands, African students in London wishing to pay the £14,000 a year tuition fees face a convoluted and dangerous process.

"Typically, you would withdraw the money in cash from your Nigerian bank (withdrawing millions of Naira is not uncommon), take it to a bureau de change, convert to sterling and transport it again for it to be wire-transferred," says Weli Wosu.

The dangers of this process are clear - it is in dire need of an electronic alternative.

Nigeria's success on a global scale has been hindered not only by its reputation for internet fraud but the laissez-faire attitude of Nigeria's government which, unsurprisingly, has spawned a new, determined type of entrepreneur.

"This is a country where often we need to supply our own electricity and pump our own water - so we are not only a creative and talented people - we are independent too. If we want to build something, we don't wait" says Simeon.

To further VoguePay's standing as a reputable and serious organisation, Weli Wosu, who is already equipped with degrees from the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics, is undertaking the required FCA exams to put his business in line with necessary regulation.

The self-financed company hasn't received a single penny in investor funding yet has silenced critics by building a client base of thousands with 25% growth year on year. This milestone did not come without sacrifices, however.

"We sold our personal properties to make VoguePay happen - we didn't pay ourselves wages for 18 months - but making money was just a side effect of what we want to achieve.

"We want to inform, educate and support businesses abroad helping them tap into the African market as well as linking payments across the continent - now we are the biggest SME payments processor in West Africa," closes Simeon. 

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