His name may not ring a bell in certain quarters, but Dare Okoudjou is well known in the e-Payment world as a revolutionary. He is the founder and CEO of MFS Africa, a leading Pan-African fintech company operating the largest digital payments hub on the continent.
How MFS Africa started
At 18, Dare, in a bid to obtain a better education, left his parents back in Port-Novo, Benin Republic, and travelled abroad. But life in a foreign land was not quite what he expected because the sudden weather and cultural change were a constant battle.
Dare kept in touch with his family by calling and sometimes helping out with some cash. Over time, the process of calling home significantly improved, but the same could not be said of money transfers.
So every time Dare wanted to make remittances to Port-Novo, it was an uphill task.
The challenge was not exclusive to Dare; it was a common problem for millions of African-born diaspora citizens.
But where others saw problems, Dare saw solutions. In 2010, he decided that instead of just complaining about the situation and doing nothing about it, he could become the solution provider. That led to the establishment of MFS Africa, a pan-African payment company.
Like most startups, MFS Africa had to rely on angel investors for its take-off. The company built a brand-new network that connected disparate mobile network operators and then experimented with using mobile money for insurance, loans, and other financial products to solve development challenges.
Struggled to pay salaries
If Dare thought starting a company would be easy, he was confronted with reality very early after the initial funding was exhausted.
The liquidity problems exposed him to hazards that pushed the company to the brink of bankruptcy. Dare struggled to fulfil essential obligations like salary payments and utilities. The electricity at home was cut off as a result.
“To survive, we needed to focus on scaling the MFS Africa hub, narrow down our use cases to those that were simple and scalable, and find investors. Despite this pressure, I was hard-nosed about getting into the right partnerships with credible partners,” Dare explained.
Amidst his trouble, MFS Africa turned down an opportunity to be acquired. This could have provided the much-needed liquidity, but Dare said he didn’t think it was the right decision for the company’s future.
“I decided that this move was simply not right for the direction of the company at that time. I made this decision with less than two weeks’ worth of cash left in our account. The two weeks following the decision required a lot of determination, as we urgently needed to secure additional funding from a different source,” he recalled.
Partnership with Vodafone
It turned out that the decision to reject the acquisition proposal was the best because shortly after that, Vodafone came into the picture and offered to partner with MFS Africa.
Dare said it was a great moment for the company. According to him, the partnership radically improved the business profile and credibility of the young company as well as accelerated growth.
MFS Africa Growth
After the initial struggles, MFS Africa has enjoyed solid growth. By 2020, ten years after it was launched, the company’s operations cover 35 countries, with more than 80 partners connected and over 200 million mobile money recipients covered.
e-Payment industry in Africa
The e-payment industry in Africa is a fast-growing wealth creation space for young African tech-minded professionals like Dare.
In the last few decades, many young Africans, some of whom acquired education in top universities abroad, have set up multi-million dollar e-Payment platforms and created thousands of jobs.
In a recent report, the electronic payment segment on the continent is expected to sustain the growth of 18 to 20 per cent per annum until 2025, reaching $27 billion, up from $8 billion in 2018.
And according to the World Economic Forum, two of the countries driving the fast growth are Kenya and Nigeria. This reality is why Dare is optimistic about a much brighter future for the African digital payment industry.