Tayo Oviosu is a trained engineer with a penchant for venture capital and private equity. His journey to spearhead Nigeria’s first mobile money company and foremost mobile money transfer service has been long and winding.
Oviosu was born and raised in Lagos, then moved to the States in 1994, aged 16. He earned an electrical engineering degree from the University of Southern California. Later, he began with a couple of start-ups where his entrepreneurial spirit was born. Regardless, he went to work for Deloitte Consulting where he led a number of system integration projects. The thirst in Tayo was far from quenched and stirred him to seek formal business knowledge at Stanford University, where he obtained his MBA.
While at Stanford , the thought of moving back to Nigeria drifted through Oviosu’s mind.
“Many people had warned me that Nigeria was still too much about who rather than what you knew,” he says.
This was a major deterrent for him and instead, he started thinking of what he wanted to do long-term.
“I concluded, I wanted to help build an ecosystem of early stage venture capital in Africa, help build entrepreneurs and see businesses come to life,” he says.
Oviosu thought of ways to marry his tech background with these lofty aspirations and this led to his next venture with one of Silicon Valley’s priced tech houses, Cisco Systems, where he helped develop strategies for businesses’ investments in Africa. This project brought him back to Africa. As an early stage venture capitalist, experiences with colleagues and business partners—while carrying out the project in South Africa—drew his entrepreneurial fantasies closer to Nigeria.
“I get a real kick out of bringing ideas to life,” he says.
In 2008, Oviosu took up the gauntlet and returned to Nigeria. Loaded with ideas, he joined Travant Capital Partners, a private equity firm, within which he executed investment strategy in West Africa and also spent time identifying opportunities within the Nigerian market.
A few months into his involvement with Travant, Oviosu knew the time was now.
“I was more convinced about Nigeria and the opportunities that are present in this country more than ever,” he says.
Of all these opportunities, one particular issue stood out for him—having to carry cash, to make payments and transactions, was rather frustrating. This led to the quick realization that there was very limited access to financial services in the country.
A huge number of Nigerians are unbanked, but an estimated 60 million of the country’s 160 million people, have mobile phones.
“This got me thinking—what if the phone became the primary means of electronic transactions,” he says.
That is where the mission to bank the unbanked, for profit, started.
Oviosu raised seed capital from friends and family, while he nursed the idea and hunted for the right people.
“Learning to navigate and operate in Nigeria is indeed, an art, one I’m still yet to master. However, if you’re passionate enough about a course, you will overcome any hurdles,” he says.
Oviosu’s passion did the trick and in 2009, Pagatech, the company that was to make his fortune, was born, a direct consumer mobile payment service. Its first product offering, Paga—a direct to customer mobile service—was launched in February 2011. The service allows users to send cash, pay bills and make payments using the cellphone or the internet.
“I’m extremely motivated about what I can see Paga doing for Nigeria and that inspires my team and I to overcome any frustration that may come along,” he says.
“When I’m not working or thinking Paga, I enjoy listening to good music and dancing away. I’d like to be remembered as a fun guy.”
With more than 200,000 transactions, since it launched, 153,342 users and $16 million in transaction volumes, Paga has taken off like a rocket and there seems to be no stopping Oviosu now.