While initially an Asian startup was announced as the winner of the Seedstars 2014 “Best startup in the world” competition, in the end an African startup secured the prize! Congrats to VC4Africa member Simeon Ononobi, CEO of SimplePay! He shares his story below.
Congratulations on the funding you secured! What did you win?
“SeedStars World’s first prize is up to 500,000 USD in seed investments from European investors, managed by SeedStars. Because we didn’t need up to that for seed funding we negotiated for just 300,000 Swizz Francs, around 330,000 USD.”
What happened exactly?
“After a grueling deliberation by the jury members at the SeedStars World finale, actually Flitto from South Korea was announced the winner – and we got second place. But then it became clear that Flitto already got some investments from Silicon Valley, some weeks before the finals, and because of that they could not accept the prize. This meant the prize came to us!”
What is SimplePay, and how did it develop?
“Initially, SimplePay was to solve a serious problem: I had an eCommerce store but could not accept payments. When we launched in November 2013, our first product solved this problem, allowing merchants to accept multiple payment types and not exposing the user’s card details on numerous websites. Right now the company has expanded into creating solutions for users, merchants and also cooperate organizations and groups. We now cater for more individuals and merchants and also working on products for not just online stores but for example for brick and mortar stores too.
If you are a merchant we want you to sell your products and make money, but we also have created other tools: from airline tickets sales to airtime recharge and access to other merchants selling what you and your company might need, and 171 other billing platforms. Like hotel accommodation and school fees for children and loads more. So we are creating an eco-system of some sort that allows all our customers access to various services. We constantly listen to our users and clients and create solutions based on needs.
With one of our latest products, SimplePay Pocket, you can walk into any SimplePay accepted shop, scan a product with our app and pay to earn points. It’s another way to make sure that not just online merchants benefit from our unique offering, also store merchants can benefit. We allow even users to get something back by earning points.
We also have partnerships with MasterCard and ZenithBank to provide our own branded MasterCards, and will continue to grow.”
Which milestones do you want to reach with your new investment?
“We hope that this initial seed will take us to a stage were we would require Series A funding, and hopefully we can raise up to 10 million USD. First, we hope to hit a user base of over 1 million by the end of December 2014. Second, we hope to expand our reach across Africa and start with international remittances. We have not marketed apart from word of mouth and we have already seen huge acceptance of our services.”
What investments did you secure before this?
“We have not actually closed any round before this, all funding has come from me and because of my recognition by the Nigerian Government. For the Government I built the YouWin! Platform and also worked with GTBank to build the GTBank Mobile Velocity Mobile app. Right now I believe its time to go out there. We believe to enable us grow globally we would need more funds and I will be ready to accept investors from around the world.”
What makes SimplePay interesting for investors?
“It’s a virgin platform with loads of various revenue streams. We have created a solution that not just caters for merchants but also to users and both local and international. Registrations of 1,000,000 users gives us about 1,000,000 US dollars revenue from just verification of users and accounts. That’s how lucrative it is.
While building the platform and not registering people we were about to turn over 25,000 USD from our test platform. Investors will make a lot of dividends if they invest as we have loads of solutions to push to needy merchants. Nigeria has over 16,000 hotels in Nigeria without websites and online payments for booking and reservations. Pushing out our hotel script 1.0 which we sell for 300 USD, we not only make a lot from that but also generate revenue from bookings as a 1% + 0.6 USD is made on every transaction. I would have to open our plan to show you more of what I am talking about. We have tested it and it works. So investors are guaranteed return on their investments.”
What is the difference between what you offer and what other mobile payment platforms offer?
“We are more like PayPal than mobile payment companies and we are not into SMS money or mobile money companies, we work more with web money and collections for merchants and organizations. Right now we are in the market and solely looking for great impact in providing solutions that meet peoples needs, with low price range, ability to provide more services, and a talented team whom are there to provide world-class support.”
How have you been using VC4Africa? What is your message to other entrepreneurs in Africa, both in and outside the VC4Africa community?
“A big thank you to VC4Africa for its support! I would sincerely recommend this platform to all innovators in Africa. Once you have a business, just take it to VC4Africa and let investors see your plans. It’s a great site for publicity and also convenient for meeting and finding out about investors and also other startups, a great place to meet up and also know what’s happening across Africa. VC4Africa is really helping African startups get showcased to the world. The VC4Africa community offers loads of programs and I would be at the next one.
Let’s try to constantly innovate, the more problems the more solutions we can provide to make Africa and the world a better place for us all. We need to build solutions and companies that will outlive us all and create a better tomorrow for our born and unborn children. And the more problems in Africa the greater the chance to solve and make great start ups.”
Richard Tanksley, Director Seedstars Africa, adds: “Seedstars was really happy to fund SimplePay. It is exactly the type of investment that we look for: existing businesses with some traction in a growing space that can be easily scaled up and into other markets.”
See the SeedStars World website for more info on this year’s competition cycle.