Inside the Lazerpay Shutdown: A Conversation with Njoku Emmanuel
In today's episode, we welcome Lazerpay’s Njoku Emmanuel to the show.
In April 2023, Lazerpay announced that it would be shutting its doors in April of 2023. The startup, which was founded at the height of the crypto bull market in 2021, and to much fanfare Njoku who was just 19 years old at the time, promised to bring seamless crypto payments to Africa.
But since it shut down, a lot has been said in the ecosystem about the company and its shortcomings, so we wanted to get the story directly from Njoku himself.
00:00 - Intro
02:49 - Lazerpay's founding story.
05:51 - Pre-seed round, headcount growth, initial traction.
09:12 - Bear market impact.
14:59 - The issue of Njoku's age.
19:55 - Building with transparency.
22:57 - On the decision to shutdown.
34:48 - Njoku's lessons.
40:56 - The future of crypto in Africa.
42:18 - What's next?
- Njoku Emmanuel–Co-founder & CEO,Lazerpay
- Gwera Kiwana–Head of Crypto,MFS Africa
- Justin Norman–Founder & Host,The Flip
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[00:00:00] Njoku Emmanuel:_ “I think, if we had laid off people earlier, we would have extended around way past December. But when it was actually brought up that we needed to lay people off, I couldn't accept it. I was like, does this mean that these guys are going to go out of their jobs, right? Because it's not that they're doing their jobs badly. It’s just because I couldn't pay them. I was being so emotional. I was like, “No one is telling me anything, I'm going to fix this and I'm going to bring in more money. We are going to keep these people.” Then, our head of partnership became our Chief Operating Officer. She called me and was like, “We actually have to layoff people. We've gone one month, there's no money yet. We can't keep being optimistic. We need to lay off people. I remember I cried. I was like, “Oh, my God. I built out a really great team, and to see actually everyone go was really, really painful.”_
[00:00:43] Justin Norman: Welcome to crypto@scale. My name is Justin Norman, and in today's episode, my co-host, Gwera Kiwana and I welcome Lazerpay’s Njoku Emmanuel to the show. As you may know, Lazerpay announced that it would be shutting its doors in April of 2023. The startup, which was founded at the height of the crypto bull market in 2021, and to much fanfare Njoku who was just 19 years old at the time, promised to bring seamless crypto payments to Africa.
But since it shut down, a lot has been said in the ecosystem about the company and short comics, so we wanted to get the story directly from the Njoku himself. If you enjoy this episode of crypto@scale, please Subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast app, and share with a friend or colleague who you think may enjoy it as well.
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[00:02:26] Gwera Kiwana: Njoku, thank you so much for joining us, and for your willingness to tell your story. We'd like to start at the beginning of the story. It was 2021 and you had many lucrative opportunities to work in the global crypto ecosystem, that you ultimately chose to leave Aside to build Lazerpay. Can you tell us what the vision for the company was, and when you and your co-founder set out to build in the early days?
**[00:02:49] Njoku Emmanuel: **Thanks so much for having me, Gwera and Justin. First off, I was already working in the global crypto space. At the time, I was at MakerDAO, which is a leading decentralized finance institution. I was also contracting at Nestcoin as a senior blockchain engineer.
The whole idea of Lazerpay RP came up in, I think, somewhere like on June, July 2021. Then, I called my co-founder, Abdul, who was our CTO, and told him about the idea to build a crypto payment gateway, pretty much like in a blockchain payments part infrastructure. I think then, we're calling it a smart contract-enabled infrastructure for payments. That would actually, make it easier for merchants accept payments in crypto, and also make it easy for people to actually spend their crypto. He told me that he was already doing something like this, that it aligns pretty much about what he's working on.
The next week, he was in Dubai, and we pretty much [inaudible 00:03:49] it out. That's how we started. That's how we started off, just I and Abdul. Building out the core infrastructure of Lazerpay and building out the platform. Then, we brought on Justice, who eventually become our lead engineer, handled everything like front-end related and also lead product designer. Also, we got a third co-founder, who would be in charge of business development and operations, while I focus on the product, and Abdul focus on the technical bit of things.
That's pretty much how we started. Then, sometime in August, it was actually becoming real. The platform was all coming together in a very short period of time. Then, I told you earlier about it. I told you earlier about my vision to actually enable people to get crypto up to that point where people are comfortable spending in crypto. I want to show people that crypto was not just an asset for trading. You could actually use it as part of your daily lives and to also show merchants that they're actually restricted by their borders because they only sell or they only accept payments in their local currency. But then, they can actually have access like the entire world rights by accepting stablecoins as means of payment, and [inaudible 00:05:00] was sold by the idea. Then, he made an investment in Lazerpay and that was our first ever investment. Then, he told me that I'm actually building a business and it's totally different from just building a product or just leading an engineering team. I had to leave Nextcoin and quit my other jobs, which I actually had, and turned down all the other offers I had to focus full time on Lazerpay.
**[00:05:23] Justin Norman: **Njoku, I know all-told you raised about a million dollars, and then you had some pretty good initial traction as a bull market, and the company grew pretty meaningfully in terms of headcount. I think you said at the peak, grew to 15 people. Can we just talk a little bit about that period of time? You set out, you raised some money, the company grew, you had some traction. How was the business doing and what was that year or two like for you, as you were building the business?
**[00:05:51] Njoku Emmanuel: **I think our peak headcount was around 24, 25. We actually created that lodge in such a short period of time. But then in that time, where we’re actually really liking our headcount and stuff. We were focused heavily on product development. At the time, we focused mainly on two things, growth and marketing. Basically, putting the brand out there letting people know that, “Oh, crypto is not a scam. This is where you can actually use crypto for.” We needed to do a lot of education for them to even say, “Okay, I want to actually integrate this on my platform to accept payments.
Then, the second pillar we’re actually focused on heavily which I actually led was product development. We actually want that to be the best products out there. I usually call Lazerpay the best app for crypto, because I really love the pay stack engineering culture, and actually how they ship excellent product.
For us, getting a product that works was a priority and we kept on iterating, we onboarded a few businesses, we actually got these businesses start transacting. While doing transaction, we’re talking to these businesses directly, iterating on a platform. What is Lazerpay and what Lazerpay looks like today is a whole lot different. My focus or the points was basically heavily on product development, and making sure that we never have any downtime, or engineering. We’re in business. We’re actually building APIs for businesses. We had this zero tolerance for any failure around engineering or product bit of things.
That was pretty much what I focused on. Then, we also onboarded quite a number of businesses. These businesses we onboarded, we’re basically true founders. They knew that we’re pretty much like, that we saw in a use case for their business, or people that actually just found us online, actually. We got a lot of traction from businesses that found us online as they’re using us. Outside businesses that were not in Nigeria, which was actually our core target audience and our core focus market pretty much.
We didn't do any heavy sales or BD, at the early stages of Lazerpay. Six months in, we’re not really doing much business or better sales. We’re pretty much focused heavily on product development and building the product. That was our core focus at peak. That’s pretty much how the business was shaped at the early stages and we kept on hiring people, mostly people on the product team, and also, the growth team as well. We didn't really focus much on hiring anyone on the BD or sales team, until later in 2022.
**[00:08:29] Gwera Kiwana: **That sounds like an interesting arc. Honestly, I remember back to that time, we were all on lockdown. COVID was ravaging the world. But crypto was just on fire. People were buying NFTs. I was using stablecoin, learning about stablecoins, trying to use stablecoins in 2021, and things were kind of taking off. It was really an exciting time. But we do know that at some point in 2022, things started to trend downward and we started to see a bit of a bear market, which coincided with – and also down trend for Lazerpay yourselves. This is roughly when you announced complete layoffs in November of last year. Can you talk a little bit about what was happening in terms of traction and uptake of the product and how the going from bull market to bear market was for Lazerpay?
**[00:09:12] Njoku Emmanuel: **During the bear market, we actually saw traction on the platform itself, right? Our highest number of transactions and our process volume at the point was pretty much during the bear market. We saw a lot of huge amounts of money moving within and outside Lazerpay. I’m going to give a bit of context around why it seemed the bear market was pretty much the most terrible for us.
From 2021 down to 2022, we had a high bond, actually. Investing a lot in product development. We're investing a lot in security. We did a ton of audits on our smart contracts and our APIs. Then, we’re also investing in growth and events markets as well. Our bond was high and at the rates which were going out right, it happened that at the time, when we didn’t scale pretty much because of the volumes we started seeing, that was also the time where we needed to raise more money to actually have enough runway to carry us through the bear market.
Before we even started raising funds, started in a proper seed round, our metrics kind of changed. At first, revenue wasn't top of my list. I'll be honest, revenue wasn't top of my list at first. In the bear market, we actually had the head of partnerships. When she came in, a lot of things around business development and sales changed in the organization. We had a proper sales structure. Maybe I should have done that since day one. I think one of my biggest mistakes wasn't bringing her on early enough.
We had the head of partnerships, there was actually – the employees within the organization, everyone within the organization could actually feel there was this change in terms of, “Oh, we are actually making money. We’re actually bringing in businesses that actually brings in volumes.” That was why I said, the bear markets was actually the period where we had the highest number of transactions, right? That was actually when we hired this head of partnership. She became my right-hand man, and actually took out a lot of pressure on me, in respect to business operations. She basically was filling in for the role of a chief operating officer. Operations internally and externally got extremely better.
So, we started thinking about our business models. I think this is also something that I wasn't thinking about early on, where we're just making money on incoming payments. But then, when I started thinking about ways where we could leverage architecture and leverage – because we built an entire blockchain infrastructure seed. We started thinking about how we can leverage this to make more money. We introduced our on-ramps, and off-ramps feature, like, the API part and liquidity parts. We also introduced instance swap, so you can swap between stablecoins as well.
We also started building out components that we're going to lead to a subscription-based business. That was around the time we started raising our seed round. That’s when we’re raising our seed round. I went out to do the fundraise, pretty much. Taking us back to the $1 million raised. We raised 400k earlier in 2021. Then, we raised 600k in addition to the 400k around, like, very early 2022. That was going to be the beginning of our seed round. We posted ramped up growth so that we can actually go back raise more money to actually expand our own way to execute what we had.
We onboarded a couple of businesses that we're going to do up to a million dollars in transaction volume, which translated to $10,000 in revenue for us, baseline revenue for us. We onboarded five, six of these businesses. That would have translated to 50k to 60k in revenue for us. This business is actually integrated our platform. Some for off ramp and on ramps, some for crypto payments, which was going to be where a chunk of our revenue was going to come from, but then we ran into a major blocker. At the time, when these businesses were supposed to go live, then we realized that their compliance shut down, and then we realized that, oh, that regulations in our market is actually the core problem that’s actually running trend to be like the biggest blocker. That was pretty much what happened around that time where we're basically building in bear marketing, raising money, and trying to structure operations properly.
**[00:13:27] Gwera Kiwana: **One thing I want to pick out of that story, because that sounds like such a crazy time. You guys, Nook, at heart you're a hacker, right? You and your team are hackers. You guys are engineers. You just want to get in the weeds, build the really cool things and you did that, right?
One thing that I really want to make sure that comes through with this story is that that was what you started with. You really wanted to build a good product, and you built a phenomenal product. Then, just so happened that a bear market came and that's also when you were raising, and then started having to think about commercials and all these other things. But the beauty of that time sounds like you found that product market fit, which is something that we talk about a lot on this podcast and in our work, even. Njoku, you and I've talked about it before, is this thing about the utility of crypto and specifically stablecoins.
When I first heard about Lazerpay, what blew me away was that you guys clearly on the website said we're only touching stablecoins. And that click, right there, that's exactly what is really the utility of crypto for payments that Africa is making it easy to understand, easy to use. It's really great that you guys are able to do that. Can you tell us a little bit about – there was a time obviously in that, that you started to – you moved from hacking to not building a business and, and one thing really, that was talked about in the media in the last few weeks is about the inability to sell to enterprises. I don't know if this was fair or not. But there were some titans in the industry like [inaudible 00:14:44] from Future Africa, who brought up the topic of your age, and eluding to that being a factor in missteps, like a lack of focus on selling to enterprise. From what it looks like, it sounds like you were building and learning in real time. Educate us a little bit about that time, please.
**[00:14:59] Njoku Emmanuel: **My age has never come up in any business meeting that I attend. I get into rooms where people that are way older than me can't even said things like this. I don't think the problem was my age. No one ever asked how old I was at the time. Instead, I think, my age was even a good factor for us. Because the time when partners or investors actually hear how old I was at the time, they were really surprised at what we were able to achieve or what I've been able to achieve at that young age.
I'd say the age was a good factor in the progress of Lazerpay, and not necessarily the reason why the business didn't work, or why we basically ran out of funds and stuff. As you said, it was a very new experience for me and I was learning on the job. Before Lazerpay, what I did was leading product teams and building out engineering products. But then, starting to think of stuff like fundraising, finance, legal stuff, I was actively learning on the job. I'm grateful that I actually had great mentors and great partners, who didn't look down on me because of my age, but they actually taught me how to go through this process.
Also, around comments that my age was basically the reason why we couldn't sell to enterprise businesses, I don't think that's actually true. First off, no matter how old anyone is, what matters in any room is pretty much the amount of knowledge you have at a point, and how much value you actually bring to the table. That was what people were looking at, not necessarily how old I am. What mattered to me – I don't even think about my age. What matters to me is pretty much how much do I know about this particular subject and how much network do I actually have as well.
I would say, I never think about my age. I see a problem, I'll go out and I’ll build a solution for that problem, and I wouldn't wait until I'm 50 before I start solving problems. Life is all about learnings, and you actually learn on the job and you learn as you go. We respect to selling to enterprise, the major problem around our business not working, or us not being able to scale. It was not the fact that we couldn't sell to enterprise/ We tried selling to enterprise in Nigeria. When I told you about the number of businesses we onboarded, we’re going to bring in over 60k in revenue, when our head of partnerships came in to man the business operations.
We realized that the problem was not even selling to these guys. The problem was regulations. We underestimated the impact regulations could actually have on our business, and not us not been able to sell to enterprise. We spoke to – I think, I've told you this, Gwera, around who we actually spoke to during the course of the business. Think of like the biggest payment gateways you know in Africa, in Nigeria. We got into the room with the highest person in the organization, and we sold to them. But then the problem was compliance always shuts it down. Because the regulatory framework around crypto in Nigeria, which was our core market was not clear at all. These enterprise businesses, they don't want to put their business in harm, or put their business at the mercy of the central bank, because they wanted to add crypto to their offerings. That was the problem and we realized that later. We realized that, oh, maybe we would have started from the African markets, maybe we would have started from the Middle Eastern markets. Regulations was actually the biggest problem we faced and not being able to sell to enterprise on my age.
**[00:18:34] Gwera Kiwana: **You’ve articulated so well. I always say that if someone tells you that they're a crypto expert, they're lying to you. To be an expert, you have to be doing this thing for like, 20 years, right? That means that we're all learning this stuff in real time, especially people who are brave enough and bold enough to build businesses in this space. That's something that was really commendable, I think, something that we don't appreciate much about founders of crypto startups, is they're really pioneers. Even companies like MFS Africa, like Stripe, for example, these larger incumbents who are now embracing crypto, are doing it a lot slower and a lot more deliberately. But that can only have been done by people who were forging a path early and learning these lessons that you learned already.
One thing I want to kind of touch on is how commendable it was that you chose to be radically transparent throughout this whole time. You were upfront honest on Twitter, and interviews about what you were building. You shared news and learnings as they happened, and you continue to do so. I think that one thing that was commendable is that you did that was bad news. I think that's something that you should be proud of, I think, when you guys had layoffs last year than the shutdown. In an ecosystem where this isn't the norm, can you tell us a little bit about your decision to be transparent as a core value for Lazerpay, especially, blockchain for example, public blockchains that by definition, they're transparent, they're public. Can you tell us about your thinking about the ethos of transparency at Lazerpay?
**[00:19:55] Njoku Emmanuel: **Yes. So, when we actually started Lazerpay, again, I look up to like [inaudible 00:20:00] of Nestcoin, these are people who are mentors to me. When we started out Lazerpay, I was working on Nestcoin at the time. The way I wanted to operate, I wanted to create a flat organization where anyone can actually have access to me. Anyone can actually bring up something and say, “Oh, this thing that we are doing doesn't make sense.” Or, “Njoku, this idea is stupid. This is how we can make it better.” That was the core of the culture of what it’s like to create Lazerpay.
We actually did that. You can't create that kind of culture and stay hidden, or not being transparent. I saw how [inaudible 00:20:40] was transparent. I also saw how Paystack and Shola is transparent. For me, I don't have anything to hide. One of the things I want is for other founders or for users in this space, to come out and actually talk about what they're building and be an open book pretty much. You can actually see people that are willing to help you.
Transparency for us was core, because we needed to view certain cultures at Lazerpay. Metrics were pretty much public, both internally and externally to our investors. It was connected directly to our database. So, if someone makes a payment of $1, it goes there and you see $1. We’re not hiding anything. You could actually see our bond rates, how much we're spending, what we're spending on, and how that progress. I was very, very open with – I think I started with being very, very open and honest with the team, and that actually set the path for me to be transparent in public as well. Because I'm actually building stuff and I'm building stuff in a new industry. We don't know it all. We learn as we go. For us, in general, I wanted to build a variable culture at Lazerpay. For us, do that internally. I, myself, as the leader of the organization, I have to be 100% transparent.
**[00:21:58] Justin Norman: **Njoku, I want to move forward just to the decision to close down. I guess, I'm going to be the bad guy and bring up all the painful decisions. But, of course, you made that announcement in April. Again, I think, the fact that you came right out and did it publicly is a brave thing and I'd imagine a very tough thing. It sounds like there was a lot of learning lessons, some things you would do differently with respect to the seriousness of the challenge of regulation, and related to your burn rate, and some of the things that you spent money on in advance, versus later on the greater focus towards sales and building out business operations.
My question to you is, if there was any alternative paths to shutting down that were considered? I think that there was some reporting, I don't know if it's true or not about a valuation that you guys are unwilling to budge on as well, which made it difficult to fundraise. I'm curious to hear from you, what was the set of criteria that you considered in advance before deciding to shut the doors in April?
**[00:22:57] Njoku Emmanuel: **It reminds me of [inaudible 00:22:58] influence. First off, within [inaudible 00:23:01] rigid evaluation is totally false. We had a proposed lead investor, and then, the reason, I think, $50 million valuation. Yes, we’re at a $50 million valuation. Then, we signed a term sheet. They were doing the – just took four months. Also, went past that. It was pretty much time for them to wire the money, because we had already gone through the DD process.
Again, like I said, we're very transparent from day one. We’re like, “Look, this what we have strongly. This is our strength, which is products building. We are actively working on setting up a proper business operational structure”, which was doing well, at a very small scale, and hindered by regulations. Look at how much we're actually making. If we're able to onboard X, Y, Z businesses, we're also making plans to pivot market focus down to the Middle East, because I have a large network there, as well. Middle Eastern markets is known as strenuous like the Nigerian markets. We respect regulations.
We already started making plans, even hire someone that would actually lead growth and be the CEOs, like, in the Middle East, during this process. We realize that EU regulations is a blocker. We’re like, “What can we do? How can we fix that?” I accept that we actually realized that really, really late. We started looking into the Middle Eastern Market, and we had all, the list of prospective businesses, and I had already reached out to their CEOs. People actually, leading the organization we’re targeting. We're very transparent with all that during this process. Then, they came back later and was like, the market is really bad that the valuation doesn't work for them anymore, based on the analysis. This is the valuation that works.
I called a meeting with my co-founders and the core management. At this point, we needed money. At that point, valuation didn't matter to me anymore. I just needed to save the business because we had something great going on. I just needed to save the business. Then, I remember, when they actually sent the message around valuation doesn’t work for them anymore. I remember, I started panicking. I was freaking out, because it seemed like the entire world was coming down my head. I started calling all my investors. My coach, [inaudible 00:25:17]. I called the guy at [inaudible 00:25:19] to tell them the situation of things and stuff.
Plan A was pretty much like reduce the valuation as much as possible. Cut down bonds like the barest minimum, reduce valuation. We did that, reduce the valuation, went back to them, and they were like, “Oh, they will get back to us and they are keen to invest even with lower valuation and [inaudible 00:25:37] the market.” That was the time where the crypto markets was also crashing.
We're able to extend our own way down to December. I think, if we had laid off people earlier, we would have extended around way past December. But when it was actually brought up that we needed to lay people off, I couldn't accept it. I was like, does this mean that these guys are going to go out of their jobs, right? Because it's not that they're doing their jobs badly. It’s just because I couldn't pay them. I was being so emotional. I was like, “No one is telling me anything, I'm going to fix this and I'm going to bring in more money. We are going to keep these people.” That was the first thing that happened. I refused to layoff everyone. Then, our head of partnership became our Chief Operating Officer. She called me and was like, “We actually have like layoff people. We've gone one month, there's no money yet. We can't keep being optimistic. We need to lay off people. I remember I cried. I was like, “Oh, my God. I’d built a really great team and to see actually everyone go was really, really painful.”
I sent out this internal message. Then, what I did was, instead of just getting on a call with everybody. Also, everyone internally knew about the progress of stuff. We’re like, this thing can actually come down to two things. It's either we get more funds, or we have to lay off everyone pretty much, and leave the core people that need to keep the business operational.
I spoke to a lot of investors, but then when you're raising funds the first time, when you've not started building the business proper or when you not started getting any traction, pre-seed stage, it's a lot easier. But when you're now raising funds at a point where it's like, what are your numbers? I don't care about productivity. I don't care about kind of productivity. How much are you making the revenue? That's a lot more so far. That was the situation we're in, and one of my biggest mistakes as well was when it’s the first round, I didn't think about I needed to be to be able to reach the second round. I think that's something that founders should actually do before you touch that first $1,000 from an investor. You need to have a plan on what do I need to be before I break even or start making money to cover OPEX or raise money. I didn't do that.
We did a plan B, plan C. We had then result to laying off employees. The deal didn't go through with the proposed lead investor, because of valuation. [inaudible 00:28:10] at all, it became a whole messy situation. This is another mistake I made, one of the lessons, pretty much. Before that deal, I had investors in the [inaudible 00:28:20] that give me money. But I held them back because I wanted to raise a specific amount. I stalled them and then was focused on this because it was not just going to like bring in 200k. It was going to bring in a million dollars plus there was a commercial agreement with – so our business [inaudible 00:28:40] would have skyrocketed our numbers. We were going to go insane.
My focus wasn’t like, “Oh, look at my weakness. These guys are coming to fix this thing for me.” My focus was there. Anyone's like, “Here, I want to give you money.” No. Hold your funds. I’ll come back later and see. I think that was also – I just collected any money that I can actually I've collected at that point. That became a messy situation. We couldn't align on terms. We had to call off the deal. That was basically us resulting to plan B, which was having to lay off our employees.
I think that was the toughest moment, I think, in my life, where I got to this point where something that I built from ground up. The reason why I can't see it progress was because of funds, money, pretty much. It was so emotionally and mentally draining.
I sent these internal letters to everyone on the team, and then I asked people to schedule like a one on one call with me. Instead of just sending out the general message that, “Hey, you, you're being laid off.” I was like, everyone gets on a call with me. Sorry, before we got to lay offs, the [inaudible 00:29:47]. Then, after like a month, I also got on a one on one call with the team telling them that, “Look, we'll have to slash our salary or we have to let you go, so that we can actually have more impact.”
To my greatest surprise, when I was talking about that, everyone was asking me how's your mental health? They weren’t really bothered. For me, that was an extra push to go get some more money to keep these ship sailing. When we got to Plan D, where we had to result to laying off people on the team, I have this call with them. I remember I cried on the call, and I turned off my camera, [inaudible 00:30:22]. I actually cried on the call, because it was actually so emotional for me, because I had already seen what wasn’t working, and what we could fix. It was beyond my control.
I told the team, and then, to my greatest surprise, again, and I think this is one of the benefits of being transparent and open, is that if you're a good leader, your team will actually have your back. They will definitely have your back. To my greatest surprise, again, people were like, “We want to work pro bono. You don't have to pay us. You don't have to record it like we owe you or whatever. We just want to work pro bono. Maybe until when we get some of that job.” I was really amazed by that. I was surprised. But then, I told them, “Look, inasmuch as I would love you to work pro bono here, you all have lives, and you need to start looking for the next things to do, ASAP.” But then, I was like, “I would make it my job within the next two weeks to get you guys on a roll, or at least an interview in two to three organizations.” I actually did that.
I reached out to all my networks, “Are you hiring? Are you hiring? I have the best guys.” I plugged them in, got them to interviews. I literally texted or emailed people that I knew that could potentially be hiring to actually hire the guys that worked at Lazerpay. It was a really emotional one for me. I think at the points where we're laying off, we actually run out of runway, we had until December, and what was advised was that we will shut down at the time. But I was like, “No, I'm not going to shut this down. I'm still going to see this through.” Then I was like, “Okay, how much personal funds do I have? Abdul, how much do you have?” Then, my parents were aware of the situation. My dad even offered to sell one of his houses to actually give us funds to invest in a company, to survive. Because, I mean, it was a very heartbreaking one for everyone involved.
December came, I'm going to push this through that. I spoke to Abdul and I spoke to two or three people that were still on the team. I was like, “Look, we have to do all we have to do.” The plan was people in the Middle East, we are going to do that. We kept on going. We're like, we're not going to just turn off the lights on our customers. We are going to see that we actually make this stuff work. That was very, very important for us.
At the time, I was also thinking that I'm going to run into personal finance issues, where I didn’t have any more. I didn't care. I was like, “Put everything in.” While I was still doing that, I texted a couple of my friends, and I actually borrowed money from my friends to actually keep going. But then, we got to the point, I think, which was in March, April. We went to an investor conference that our largest investor invited us for in Kenya, I think. Then, I had lots of clarity. I spoke to my largest investors. I pretty much made peace with the fact that without a lot of money, we can't push this beyond what's this and for something as fragile as crypto. Compliance regulations is something that I suppose to be on your own – I mean, after security, compliance and regulations. For you to get that sorted, you need a lot of money, and then entering into a new market.
That was when we basically made the peace that we're going to shut it down. Then, I had one on one calls with my investors and said, “Look, we've tried. We can't keep going for that. It seems like our life was just in hold, while trying to make this work. We can't continue to push this further. We've tried, and it's not working.” Then, we just made that decision in April to shut it down. It was like a very, very hard one. Before I could actually come to the fact that we're shutting down, he actually took in a lot for me to accept that. We needed to shut down and move on to other things.
**[00:34:16] Justin Norman: **Yes. I mean, I think inside of that story, the entire story, and especially, the last four or five months. There's a lot of key lessons that you learned, some hard-earned lessons, for you as a young founder, and starting your first company. I'm curious to know if there's maybe like a key lesson or one key lesson that you have to take away or one or two key pieces of advice that you have for either your younger self or for other young founders who have similar aspirations as you do.
**[00:34:48] Njoku Emmanuel: **I have a lot of lessons to learn from this. I've gotten to the point where I no longer see Lazperay as a failure. But I see us as like, we did our best and we learned lessons. We actually learned hard lessons. I'll call it lessons instead of failure.
Yes, I have learned a lot. There's this book I read while going through all the stuff, Hard Things About Hard Things. I started reading it this year. But when I travel to London, my friend, [inaudible 00:35:17]. He saw me, I was a total mess. That was when I was trying to raise money. He hugged me for five minutes. I was like, “I can see what you’re going through.” He now recommended the book. He said, “Read his book, Hard Things About Hard Things.” But then, in the spur of the moment, I was like, “I need money, I don't want to read any book.” I dropped the book one side, and then went on, that’s all.
But later he really recommended it again, and I was like, “Okay. Now, I'm not looking for money. I can actually, read it.” That was when started getting comfortable with the fact that we are going to shut down the company.
About lessons, one key one for me was that if I will start this again, the way I was taking product development, I'll take business development and sales that seriously. It doesn't have to be enterprise sales. I'll take BD and business development is not just about selling to enterprise. Business development is also looking at your market, tweaking business models, talking to the product team as well. Basically, building that very intertwined and close relationship between the business development team and the product team.
I had this definition of product lead growth in my head, and I thought, I was like operating a product lead growth organization. Then, as I started reading stuff, say experiencing these things, and I became like, “Oh, fuck, I’ve been been doing the wrong thing.” Where I was abstracting for a lot of men BD and sales, in the real sense of product lead growth, sales, BD, compliance, regulations, growth, marketing, everything had come down to product development.
Product development needed to be at the center of all these things happening. That’s usually the definition of product lead growth. They’re not saying ignore BD or ignore sales. They’re like, at the center of – your product organization is to be at the center of every other thing happening, that no product is greater. We talked with BD teams saying, “Oh, how can we treat this business model to work?” Our regulations is like, “Oh, no, in this market, we potentially run into X, Y, Z issues. Why don't we try all that stuff?” It was like, we’re just building. There wasn't this close relationship between BD and product team.
Next time, the way I think product building seriously, I’m going to take business development, business operations really, really seriously as well. I think, founders should not ignore that part of the business because it creates products without a good business model or a good business is a bad business in general. You're not just building a product, you're building a business. Founders and me myself, and starting another thing, that will be the first lesson, I'm bringing to what I'm building next.
I'll say the second hard lesson was actually around high bond, pretty much. We didn’t need to spend that much to achieve what we did achieve. When I look back at it in retrospect, I'm like, “We could have actually achieved the same thing with a team of 10 people, and not a team of 25 people.” The problem wasn't even how much we're paying salaries. I think, when the media team came out, and we’re like, “Oh, we're wiping this much.” They have to be very, very comfortable.
It wasn't really about how much we're spending on employees, but it was more around the number of employees you need that to actually – again, and that’s the other lesson I talked about. Whenever you're taking money away or you’re starting a business, you need to know where you want to be in the next one year, next two years. That goal must be very clear. When that goal is set, what do we need to get here? And how much will it cost for us to get to this point? And track every single data. No data should be left untracked or monitored. Track every single thing and make sure that you're actually on track to actually achieving your goals. The goal remains the same, but what you do daily is very important.
That guy who actually affects and control how much you spend and it's like, you don't have to hire 25 people to do that. What we need is to get X points to make X, Y, Z is two people, is three people. These are the number of people that we need to that stuff done. That's very important, as well. Having a sense of where you want to be in the next 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, and planning based on that, so we didn't really need that much people on the team.
Another lesson I learned that we applied, which I'm going to apply again and apply over again is the lesson of communicating we are investors being totally transparent and being fully open. Whatever you’re actually doing within the organization, it’s not like, without your team and without everybody being in the know of what's going on, then that’s the beginning of chaos in your organization. That's something that I like. We're very open, we're very transparent. That's something we did really well and we prioritized our customers as well. That's also something great that we actually did well.
Our customers were number one or our funnel, right? We prioritize them. We make sure that if they run into any issues, we fix instantly. We listen to them and ensure it as we go. We actually had like, a very, very good structure with listening to customers and making the product and the platform work for them.
**[00:40:35] Gwera Kiwana: **Thank you. I want to close with a thought which is a question that you have received a lot, I'm sure. I've received from people who are asking me if I can get in your head, and I obviously can't. But the question is, what's next? Maybe I also rephrase that by saying, are you still feeling optimistic about the future of crypto in Africa?
**[00:40:56] Njoku Emmanuel: **I got into crypto in 2019. My entire career around crypto has not been about Binance, selling shit coins, or trying to make money from crypto. My entire career around crypto has been that – I see what this technology can do and I'm like, how can we leverage this technology to actually bring a lot of impact on values like our society. There's just a lot of value that can be created from crypto and blockchain technology in general. It's not even about price of Ethereum or the price of Bitcoin. That never concerns me, right? Whether there's like, in a bull market or a bear market, my stance on crypto remains the same. I'm very, very bullish about crypto. I'm also bullish about payments, like, stablecoins. You can see how crypto can actually bring borders in Africa, actually, together. Where people can move money around the world instantly. I can send 10,000 USD, 100,000 USD to someone in Singapore, sitting from my house in [inaudible 00:41:56] and it gets to them in one minute, which other technology does that. So, crypto has a lot of potential and I'm still bullish about the potentials of crypto, and it's now my life's mission to see we actually drive the adoption of crypto globally, and in Africa.
**[00:42:14] Justin Norman: **You didn't answer the question what's next, though.
**[00:42:18] Njoku Emmanuel: **Okay. I get this question a lot. When people ask me, “What's next? What’s next?” I’m like, you guys should just chill. I’m coming out of this thing. I’m still trying to process more of my thoughts, and get things together pretty much. Also, get my finances in order, because Lazerpay drained everything. What's next for me? I don't know. I don't know what I'll be doing in the next two years. I don't know what I'll be doing in next five years. But one thing is sure, and I also said that, what I do best is actually build stuff, build solutions for problems, and I'll keep doing that. But the exact thing I'm doing next, I don't really know. For me, it’s taking time to think about the lessons learned, and just reflect on what has happened and, get better and also, garner more experience as well to do whatever comes next.
**[00:43:10] Justin Norman: **Absolutely. Well said. I think we should leave it there and just wrap up today's discussion. But, Njoku, on behalf of Gwera and me, we really appreciate you joining us and telling the story. I hope it wasn't too painful to recount some of those memories. But everyone is still interested in what's next. They'll give you the time and the space, but with Lazerpay shutting down, where can more people follow along on your journey and see whatever's next for you?
**[00:43:32] Njoku Emmanuel: **I think, Twitter for me. @njokuScript on Twitter. I think, @njokuScript on all my social media accounts.
**[00:43:39] Gwera Kiwana: **GitHub?
**[00:43:40] Njoku Emmanuel: **Yes, GitHub. Everything. @njokuScript.
**[00:43:43] Justin Norman: **You can find us on Twitter @cryptoatscale. If you enjoyed this episode, please do hit that follow button on your favorite podcast app or on YouTube and share with a friend or colleague who you think may enjoy it as well. Njoku, thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
**[00:43:55] Gwera Kiwana: **Thanks, Njoku.
**[00:43:56] Njoku Emmanuel: **Yes. Thanks a lot guys.