Making Borders Matter Less with Onafriq's Dare Okoudjou
Today's guest is Dare Okoudjou, the Founder and CEO of MFS Africa, which this week has rebranded to Onafriq.
The new name represents a new chapter in the company, which is a very different looking company than when we first had Dare on the show back in 2020, after their acquisition of Beyonic. Since then, they've also acquired the card issuer, GTP in the US, and the agent network Baxi in Nigeria.
This current period of the African tech ecosystem is one of increased consolidation and company shutdowns amidst a fundraising downturn. And in this environment, there's perhaps no better and more experienced founder on the continent to learn from than Dare.
00:00 - Intro
01:48 - What's in a name?
04:26 - Cross-border payments
13:51 - Banks vs. Fintechs
15:24 - Onafriq's role in the payment value chain
20:27 - The people aspect of acquisitions
24:08 - On fintech consolidation
29:55 - Dare's take on the state of the market
35:03 - On fundraising
37:56 - The next 5 years for Onafriq
39:19 - Exits?
Dare Okoudjou: We changed our name but we didn’t change our mission. It’s still making borders matter less.
Justin Norman: That’s Dare Okoudjou, the Founder and CEO of MFS Africa, which has this week rebranded to Onafriq.
Dare Okoudjou: We always talk about building a piece of infrastructure that will last 100 years. What kind of name will reflect that?
Justin Norman: We talked all the way back in 2020 about expecting to see more fintech consolidation. How are you thinking about this consolidation question today?
Dare Okoudjou: I’m thinking first that peace times are over and we are entering war time.
Justin Norman: Your argument was that the trajectory in Africa is singular…
Dare Okoudjou: Yeah, first of all Justin, I have to say I was wrong…
Justin Norman: Today's guest is Dare Okoudjou, the CEO of MFS Africa, which just this week has rebranded to Onafriq. The new name represents a new chapter in the company, which is a very different looking company than when we first had Dare on the show back in 2020, after their acquisition of Beyonic. Since then, they've also acquired the card issuer, GTP in the US and the Agent Network Baxi in Nigeria. In this conversation with Dare, we take a deep dive into the work to integrate three different companies and three different cultures into one. This current period of the African tech ecosystem is one of increased consolidation and company shutdowns amidst a fundraising downturn. And in this environment, there's perhaps no better and more experienced founder on the continent to learn from than Dare.
Justin Norman: So Dare, thanks so much for joining me. It's always good to have you on the show.
Dare Okoudjou: Always a pleasure, Justin.
Justin Norman: So at the time that this episode is going to come out, the news will break that MFS Africa has rebranded to Onafriq. I know it's a reflection of the company's evolution as a global fintech. I know a lot of your recent growth has come from outside of the continent. So can we start by you sharing a little bit more about Onafriq, the rebrand and what it means or its relationship to the type of company that you're leading today and how MFS Africa has evolved?
Dare Okoudjou: Sure. As we continue to grow the MFS in MFS Africa was become a bit tight, like, a small clove as you grow. And part of that is number one, that the trademark is actually owned by another company in the US and it was becoming a bit more difficult for us to actually use that trademark outside of Africa. But it's also the MFS in MFS Africa stood for mobile financial services and we picked that name at the beginning when the idea of the business was to really connect mobile money platforms to each other within Africa for cross border transaction. As you know now, we have grown to become now more than mobile money. We have other channels, card being one, POS for offline acquiring being another one. And so aspect of our business was not, again, was not fully representative in that name.
Dare Okoudjou: Last but not least, when you grow for acquisition, there is always that sense of legacy that can get on the way of your integration. So we had the OGM officers, we had the Baxi guys and the GTP people and the Beyonic guys. And so this was also an opportunity for us to bring all of that under one roof, create one identity and one company and also pick a name that fully reflects what we want to be. In my culture as Yoruba, when you actually have a child, you don't name the child immediately, you take some time to think about it. And it could be seven days and because there is a belief that actually the name will play a role in the destiny of the child. So this is where the opportunity for us to reflect a bit on what kind of company we want to be.
Dare Okoudjou: We always talk about being, building a piece of infrastructure that will last 100 years, what kind of name will reflect that and that's how we arrive at Onafriq and which is really a combination of Ona in Yoruba, which means path and Africa, but with the French, a bit of claim there to my fellow francophones across the continent. So it's this idea that we can create pathways from and to every individual in Africa, every businesses connecting them to each other and connect them to the rest of the world. So it's the beginning of a new journey.
Justin Norman: Yeah, it's very exciting. I know you were a bit sentimental in the past about MFS Africa, but you told me before we hit record that it's growing on you and you're excited about it.
Dare Okoudjou: Indeed. And yeah, I look forward to what the child becomes.
Justin Norman: You and I have also talked in the past about the cross-border payments flows that you're seeing being trade and not just remittance. I'm curious to know as a reflection of MFS Africa becoming a global company and acquiring GTP in the US and becoming an omnichannel payments company and having partnerships outside of the continent as well, what should we infer about the nature of the business and the way in which money is moving today, and how much of it is a better connection to the rest of the world versus increased trade inside of Africa as well?
Dare Okoudjou: No, look, as much as we are spending, touching multi-part of the world and we do have global aspiration, we remain firmly rooted in Africa. And the way I describe this is at least one leg of every transaction we process is in Africa, most of the time actually both legs. And GTP acquisition, and I know it makes a lot of headlines on Africa company buying a US company, but the main attraction for us to acquire GTP was that the revenue was actually in Africa and GTP, although was an American company, most of the business was being conducted in Africa. So Africa remains front and center of what we're trying to do. But there is part of our mission, which is to connect African people and their day and businesses to the rest of the world. And we are seeing a growing part of that.
Dare Okoudjou: Now, broadly speaking, you have fastest growth is still with China. We're seeing and it still trade, that has not changed. Fastest growth is still with China from different part of the continent. But we are also seeing sustained growth between Nigeria and the rest of the continent. And remember that was a bit at the heart of our thesis of acquiring Baxi, was that we could A, grow it into a substantial business in Nigeria, continue to grow the network which we have done when we did the acquisition. Baxi had about 90,000 agents. We now per close to 400,000 agents. So we have grown it substantially, but we have also put a lot of work and a lot of effort to make sure we can enable cross-border payment between Nigeria and the rest of the continent. And we are now seeing that from a TPV point of view becoming a substantial part of what Baxi process. And then the rest of the continent continues to grow. We continue to move more and more and the more we onboard enterprises onto our hub, the more those trade flows become a bit more fluid and also become a little bit more capillar.
Dare Okoudjou: So, partners who started with us in couple of countries, like you know, Uganda, Kenya, few years ago, last time you and I spoke, have been able to expand their business with us in West Africa and Southern Africa. And this is also true for partners who, you know, outside of Africa who have connected with us. So all and all we continue to make sure that at least one side of the transaction is in Africa and we continue to make sure that we offer all the relevant channels to our partners. You know, mobile money is really where we started, whether it is in sending or receiving or paying or being paid, but we've added the card now, prepaid card, which is also becoming a growing channel onto our network. And we believe that offline is playing and will continue to play a big role in Africa. And we do have now plans to expand Baxi outside of Nigeria.
Justin Norman: I want to get into the weeds a little bit on just the direction of payments because I think that there might be different perspectives on inbound versus outbound, depending on the country as well. And you know, you're talking about trade, you talked about China being a big market for trade with the continent. Obviously there's considerations around regulation with money moving out of the country. Maybe there's different perspectives from regulators with banks versus fintechs. And so I'm wondering, just speaking about the outbound flow of money first, if there's different perspectives or considerations that you have. And then we'll talk about inbound afterwards.
Dare Okoudjou: Outbound tends to be, I mean, technically you have kind of two use cases, right? Person to person. So, migrant remittance, that is pretty well known and well documented. We don't need to spend too much time on that. Then you'll have the trade as you mean. So typically African countries will be importers from China, for instance. So they will be making payment to Chinese exporters using our network. I think the regulatory regulation around that in most places is pretty clear. What is more complicated is the shortage of dollars that you find in many countries because in general this means somehow settle this transaction in dollars and that continues to be a problem. And the problem moves around. You know, six months ago Ghana was like a big problem. You know, Nigeria is always a problem, you know, Cameroon, Zambia, so it moves around and it gets better and then, but by and large, I think there is a trend of dollar being a problem.
Dare Okoudjou: And there we are seeing numbers of increasing options of substitution. So first of all, not all flows needs to go through dollars and especially when it's intra Africa. And through our network, that is becoming more and more true because we are able to cross the African currencies between each other fairly easily between Kenya and Uganda, Uganda and Rwanda, you know, in different places or across Africa. The other thing that is growing quite a lot is the use of crypto as you, I'm sure you were aware, especially with stablecoins. I think two years ago when you and I were speaking, there were too much volatility in Bitcoins and crypto per se, and people were not adopting this because they were thinking about it as store of value. They were just looking for better ways to settle quickly outside of their borders. And I think stablecoin by and large have brought that.
Dare Okoudjou: And as you know, we've done quite a lot of work since Gwera join us a bit more than a year ago in understanding and leveraging these rails as well in complement to what we have. We've announced partnership with Ripple. And we have few others in the making and we are certainly looking or working, committing quite a bit of resources around the stablecoin aspect of things. Regulation, I think as I mentioned around these flows are more to do with countries struggling with foreign reserve than regulation itself. I think digital transaction, the way we processes them at the risk compared to the alternative, whether, you know, people flying to Dubai with cash or using other channels that, you know, you and I won't mention here, you doing this through for our network is obviously way lower risk and is visible and traceable and is compliant. However, what is hiding behind regulation issues is actually dollar shortage.
Justin Norman: That's interesting. I think if we flip gears and talk a little bit about inbound, I also wonder, while the remittance channels has always been sort of flow of money into the country, you know, it's interesting from a business perspective, I suppose payout still remains underdeveloped in my view. And I think if we're talking about connecting to the global marketplace, right, you know, it's either global companies building local entities or being unwilling to build local, it's still hard for Africans to get paid, for example, if they're, you know, a freelancer, right? And I also wonder to what extent that's like a KYC AML thing, like versus a technical thing, right? And I guess you talk about from an outbound perspective it's just dollar shortages being the challenge. So can we talk a little bit about what inbound looks like? It still is hard for Africans to get paid from outside of the country, and why is that? And what sorts of ways is that being addressed from your perspective?
Dare Okoudjou: I agree with you and I would argue actually that the inbound opportunity is still pretty large and we are seeing it in our own transactions. Yes, you'll have the remittance that I mentioned, but the gig workers payments is a really, really big space and it's fast growing. Now the couple of problems there, one is just you take the average size of the transactions, mobile money usually is not the best place to do this because typically the transaction size tend to be bigger than what you would normally see on mobile money. So you have to go to bank account. Now, then you go back to all the problems with bank accounts, you know, the lack of APIs, reliable APIs, ability to really process in real time, to manage exception automatically to your settlement. So that's where we are seeing, I think, and we will continue to see in the probably medium term, some innovation and probably some companies coming in there. But we can also see mobile money as it develops and start moving.
Dare Okoudjou: Becoming better from a UX point of view, from compliance, from the size of the store of value to also be able to capture this opportunity. So I wouldn't rule that out, but I will agree with you that there's still a massive opportunities there that is not remittance at all, but it is growing because there is a part of the workforce in Africa that is now accessible to global companies. And that is a trend that will continue and these people will need to be paid. So part of the problem is just, you know, how do you modernize the banking infrastructure across the continent after we all snubbed it for the last 10 years just building something next to it? So we are now being brought back into it to say, okay, actually you can't run away from this. You have to modernize it, and there will be opportunities created around that.
Justin Norman: So you think it is a role for the banks to play or startups or fintechs to play in partnership with banks? Or is there gonna be a, I guess like a middle layer built on top of, I don't know what, to make it easier for people to accept payments from outside of the continent?
Dare Okoudjou: I've said this before, I think the champions are likely to be local and, you know, for what we're talking about here and there will, that will then create opportunity for people like MFS Africa to aggregate across market. I think the person who really managed to create a seamless experience of bank, store of value, receiving money, spending money in Zambia may not be the same that will get that right in Benin. And maybe it's a bank in Zambia and it's a fintech in Benin, so that I wouldn't be able to call. But what I do believe is it will create local opportunity, will create opportunity and incumbent and new entrant will kind of face off on that. And if you give it couple of years, because that flow is there and then the demand is there, we will see a massive improvement on the infrastructure that can actually support those kind of flows now.
Justin Norman: Can you talk a little bit more maybe about MFS Africa and Onafriq, your role in all of that? I think we talked a little bit about the company's acquisitions and product integration. Obviously you're wanting to move more towards an omnichannel payments company and you've got, you know, I think thousands of partners, whether it's banks or telcos across the continent card issuing. So what then from a, you know, product integration perspective and the evolution of the company, does that look like in the future that we're talking about?
Dare Okoudjou: We change name but we didn't change mission. So it's still making borders matter less and we remain convinced that the opportunity is into actually wiring up the continent into one network of networks when it comes to payment. And that's what we'll continue to do. Now what does that mean where we are now, number one, markets, and you and I had a discussion about that in 2021. We continue to believe you have to select your market carefully. And now that we have had that first level of aggregation at the level of the continent, we are going to the next level, which is we splitted our business now in four regions and we wanna go deeper in those regions. So Southern and East Africa, Anglophone West Africa, which is Nigeria plus, you know, in the West, Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa and then rest of the world.
Dare Okoudjou: So we will continue to do that and that means, you know, we will, in the next few years, we will decide, as I mentioned, to expand the offline acquiring business that we have in Nigeria, Baxi for instance, into selective countries. And that means, you know, if we pick a country as you know, this is a bit heavier than just the hub. So that means we gonna make heavy investment in some countries and you know, we're still deliberating which one and which other, but you will see us trying to build that omnichannel deeper the way we have it in Nigeria now in more markets across Africa. The second part is product. So which product actually available on our network? The network itself is a product. So the hub, as you mentioned, the card, you mentioned card issuing, but card issuing on its own, it's interesting but not that interesting to us.
Dare Okoudjou: What is really interesting to us is card interconnectivity or interoperability with mobile money. Is the fact that if I have a prepaid card that is processed by Onafriq anywhere on the continent, I can load that card with any mobile money that is also connected to Onafriq network anywhere and I can do the opposite. So that is also one thing that we gonna double down on. And it means that also when you need to issue a card being a mobile network or a fintech or a bank, you get the interoperability native coming. When you get our APIs for card issuing, you don't need additional APIs for interaction with mobile money to load a card or disperse account or connect to the card. So that's on the card side. Last but not least, we have been investing quite a lot in foreign exchange services.
Dare Okoudjou: So FX, which is inherent to our business and for a long time we have treated it as just part of the business. But increasingly we are also seeing that there are opportunities outside of transactions. So OTC opportunities, our ability to just do over the counter transactions. And because we sit in the flows of payment across so many market, what you will call exotic currencies, also making us market makers in many of those places. So creating opportunities. So over the last just few years we will focus on those product, the hub/the network itself. Cards offline acquiring/Baxi and FX services. We have been pretty clear about the segment that we want to serve that is mobile network. Historically where we started, we'll continue to be a trusted partners to them. Banks, we have our acquisition of GTP made us more relevant than we were, but it's also creating a lot of opportunities to connect to the hub with the banks to allow them, as we were talking about earlier, you know, how do you get this gig workers payment done well and seamlessly, well probably more through the banks.
Dare Okoudjou: So we will continue to serve that enterprise whether they are in Africa or outside of Africa will remain a focus for us. When I say enterprise here, a team or an organization that is able to implement APIs is kind of our definition of enterprise and it can be safe border in Uganda or it could be all the way to Canal Plus or across Africa. The last bit is small and medium businesses and we are putting them separate. Mainly in that category, people who needs a UI or UX. So an organization that will not implement an API, this is your shop in Lagos, this is your influencer on Instagram, on Google or in Uganda. So that is where we play more with UI UX, whether it's a POS or just web app or application. We will continue to serve those five segment with the four products that I mentioned. We've a focus country by country, more organized around the region as I described them at the beginning.
Justin Norman: I mean, it sounds very clear to me you know, obviously the breadth of the network from a country perspective but also now from a product perspective allows you to just continue to serve your existing customers and more customers well with this entire suite. Speaking about the integration of all of that, I know that you guys have been very busy over the past couple of years from a technical integration perspective. And we talked I think all the way back in 2020 about expecting to see more fintech consolidation. I think that that's definitely starting to happen. One under-discussed element is like bringing the companies together not just from a technical perspective, but I know culture and people perspective is something that maybe you guys have focused on a lot that we haven't talked as much about. So I'm curious to know if you have some lessons from that experience of really bringing three companies together at the same time and what sorts of advice you would give for the fintech consolidators we're seeing today.
Dare Okoudjou: Well, first of all I says don't do it. I think Beyonic was relatively straightforward but it has the challenge of being during COVID. So we literally signed the transaction documents on Zoom end of June, 2020, but it was a small team, about 20 people and we were a small team back then as well. We were about 70, 80. That went well. Some lessons learned, things we could have done better but by and large well. Where we really challenged ourself was to acquire Baxi November, 2021 and acquire GTP June, 2022. So within 12 months, different products, different geography, one different continent. We knew it was going to be challenging and it has been and continue to be challenging. However, our relentless focus on mission and the North Star has helped us pull things together and you are absolutely right. The difficult things are not the technical parts, are not integrating your platforms and all that. It is actually the people side and how do you bring together the dreams and the aspiration of different teams into one dream and aspiration which if you don't get right, you lose a bit of your impact and your efficiency. The way you do that for a team in Port Harcourt or in Kano or in Lagos, it's not the same way you do it for a team in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as you know.
Dare Okoudjou: And that is something I've learned. Kind of assumed it but I've learned and I think personally I have had to understand quite a bit about my own leadership style and my ability, how do I actually bring people along, that was very challenged in this exercise. Now luckily, I think the few things we betted on turned out to be true. One was that together it will be a better company that can deliver better on our missions, that has been true and we've been able to show that and by ensuring that we've also been able to move people. So all of us we are moving into the right direction. The other one is that spending time and making sure that we actually understand each other always pays off and again we've done that. My piece of advice will be that people don't skip the chemistry part, that it's not just cap table alignment.
Dare Okoudjou: It's not just, okay, you're running out of money, I'm running out of money. Together, we'll be able to raise money and our chances are harder. Those things are true but if you skip over the ability to work together, understanding really what makes each other tick, and I'm talking founders here, there's a lot of recipe for disaster if those things are not done properly. So as much as you and I would like to see more deals, I'm actually happy that it's taking a little bit of time. I'm hoping it's because people are spending time actually understanding a bit more about each other dreams before they combine them.
Justin Norman: So is that how you're thinking about fintech consolidation today? I think that there's a little bit of distress assets going around market downturn and that seems to maybe not necessarily be a recipe for success post acquisition but how are you thinking about this consolidation question today?
Dare Okoudjou: Look, I'm thinking first that peace times are over and we are entering war times and war times mean survival first. So I will caution even about I know a lot of talks about M&A and so on but first focus has to be on survival. At least just make sure you can make through it. Many people kind of dying around you help your own survival, so you have to figure about that. It's not necessarily that survival means you have to catch the falling knife. Sometimes it's better to just let it go. But through it all and I think we've been about maybe a year into this, we will start seeing good assets that indeed combined can get better and as we move into 2024, I think those will become a bit more apparent. And I do think that we'll see the consolidation. Now, which direction will it go, regional you know, allowing people to quickly get scale across the continent will be a theme.
Dare Okoudjou: So good company in Kenya merging with a good company in Nigeria to cover quickly important geographies will be a theme and we'll see who can do that. Across product or vertical if you want, may also become a theme, although it's always difficult at least in our experience, to really understand what you get for those to say, look, versus unless it's some sort of acquire higher situation. It's actually quite difficult because in many cases you end up rebuilding but maybe you'll pick up a few clients with it, but I'm not too convinced how quickly we'll move in that direction. Then I think there will be cap table forced that investors and kind of combining and then force deals to happen and we will see more of that than the second type. Again, those come with some risk but as long as the decent capital behind it and you have time to make few mistakes before you get it right, it should work as well. But my money will be that we'll see more in 2024.
Justin Norman: So you guys are buyers in 2024 and everyone should be contacting you.
Dare Okoudjou: We are always buyers but I also said we'll also be happy to roll into something else as long as we can get to the mission. But right now our focus is a lot on consolidating as you mentioned, just making sure we actually realize those synergies that we put out there and make sure that the thesis around the acquisition we made, how do we make Nigeria fully part of the payment network of Africa? We have to realize that, how do we make sure that all cards on the continent are interoperable? We have to do that so we got our hands full.
Justin Norman: This season of The Flip is all about sharing lessons and insights from some of the most experienced and esteemed founders from across the African tech ecosystem and it's a mission for which we're proud to partner with Norrsken 22 to share wisdom and insights from the Funds Unicorn board as well. We know that advisors and mentorship are an important part of the venture funding process and throughout the season, we are speaking to and learning from the successful founders, operators and investors from Norrsken 22's Unicorn board. In today's episode, we're joined by Funke Opene, the founder and CEO of MainOne, the West African telecommunications and network solutions provider that was recently acquired by the global digital infrastructure company, Equinix for $320 million.
Funke Opene: In 2005 when I returned to Nigeria, access to the internet was not commonplace and there were increasing efforts to connect different parts of the country and different parts of the continent. However, the international piece which was a submarine cable, there was one solution but it was inadequate and inefficient. In 2008, I founded MainOne to build a submarine cable which we put into service connecting West Africa through Portugal with the rest of the world in July of 2010. We found that there was actually more of a challenge in getting that capacity to be built to the submarine cable. We were not having the kind of impact we anticipated in bridging the divide and we realized we had to do more in building local infrastructures which meant we started building terrestrial fiber. And we would also expand the value chain and our role in the value chain of content distribution to consumers and also content creation and commercialization which is where local tech ecosystem came into play in giving them a platform to deliver their services and hence the evolution of MainOne to the digital infrastructure company across West Africa that we have today.
Justin Norman: It should be said that leaving aside the technical component for a second which I know is challenging to be integrating a team in Tulsa, Oklahoma and an agent network in Nigeria is a pretty wild thing to do at the same time.
Dare Okoudjou: I know, I know. Next time tell me before.
Justin Norman: Yes, I will, I will. I'm curious to know also I guess we kind of talked around it a little bit, but how you're thinking about market. You actually wrote something for The Flip last year talking about the slowdown is going to be short-lived and your argument was that the trajectory in Africa is singular. Obviously, a scarcity of capital or more expensive capital in general perhaps has an impact on how you run the business, fundraising as well which we can talk a little bit more about. But what's the general vibe that you're getting today and I guess how is it informing how you're operating? You talked about being a wartime CEO at the moment.
Dare Okoudjou: First of all, Justin, I have to say I was wrong that in saying that the slow down was going to be short-lived, I was clearly too optimistic. It's continuing and we are feeling that and it's playing out in different ways. One is that expansion got cut back, so part of our own growth was with servicing a fintech in country A, now they're going to go to five other countries in next year. We are seeing less of that. People are not spending that much. That means slow down for us as well. It also means everybody's going to unit economics and profitability which means you have a lot of renegotiation going on, you got pricing and the point and so on. And we got through some of that this year which I believe will stabilize. And then lastly, obviously there is capital and I think a lot of people kind of hold their breath a bit like it will get better but now you have to learn to breathe in carbon.
Dare Okoudjou: Like, it's not great. So those three are happening, what the market will look like... We're still seeing deals being done. But I think one of the key things that is unclear for investors is still the exits. And I think if we were able to create a bit of a better view of what the exit market is, it will help people get over this because you can find yourself invest in companies and even if this company were to pull through all the challenges and all the complexity that we know across the continent, how do you exit? So it would be good. I think that quite a number of talks around IPOs on the continent, it would be good to see those. It would be good to see a bit more M&A as you and I said and it could be a bit, to see a bit more trade sale.
Dare Okoudjou: So this market being a bit more of a buyer's market, I'm hopeful that we'll see a bit more of that, that we will actually see more exit and that more than fundraising deals, I think that for me is the real signal of can we start pulling off. Now, how do you run business in this environment? As I said, first of all you have to make sure you're going to survive this time, so make sure that double your time, double your money, whatever it is that you're doing. And then this is also time to really go back to some basics of economics. Competitive advantage has to translate into higher margins. So all those nice things you put on your slide that you are the best at in your pitch deck, well it should show up somehow in your margins.
Dare Okoudjou: So we got a lot of pass on that for the last few years as founders that look, it can be in the future that yes, we will get there and everybody kind of noted and we moved on. I think now we have to show it and we have to actually focus on and the people who will be able to do that and do that quickly will be able to attract capital and grow. And the one who won't be able to, well maybe they caution more serious question around the business and the economics and the business models and so on and so forth.
Justin Norman: Is it in your view that the challenge that a lot of these companies are having is simply that they can't get to where the unit economics need to be?
Dare Okoudjou: It's hard to talk in general but the thing is at the end, why would someone give you a dollar? And we know, you and I know that especially if you're playing in the consumer side, the disposable income is not that big. People really have very little money and why would they give you some of it? So you have to really be doing something and especially if you think you're getting a million of them or 10 million of them or 20 million. So that as I said, I think in the last years in peace time there was a bit of pass like okay it sounds like a good idea. Yeah, indeed it should work, right? And then okay, let's figure it out. But now in wartime, no, you have to actually show it. And what it is can be different for different, I mean if you're in agribusiness and agri-tech, the value chain looks very different than if you are in fintech as I mentioned. But the fundamentals of being able to show somehow that you can either get some sort of pricing power at some point or you can actually have bigger margin or you have a moat around your business is becoming more important than just the idea of that.
Justin Norman: And so maybe speaking specifically about MFS Africa then, a couple of years ago you told a story of a near-death experience early on and your takeaway was you need to always be fundraising, it's a permanent thing. You talked a little bit about I think sorting out some of your unit economics, but you raised a sizable series C obviously I think the growth stage is maybe the biggest question mark. So I'm assuming you're fundraising right now and how are you thinking about it? Always, yeah. And what are the sort of conversations that you're having versus when you raised the series C a couple years ago?
Dare Okoudjou: We are actually at the end of a cycle as MFS Africa, so I defined our first cycle, call it 2010 to 2015 was just try not to die, just exist. Okay. And that's kind of when the hub eventually got traction and we start getting revenue and all that. 2015 to 2018 were institutionalized somehow. That's when we got our first institution capital and then diversify a little bit from just mobile money or mobile networks. 2018 to now has been really grow up, establish a continental presence, be relevant, claim our space and we're getting to the end of that. The next five years for me is about really how do you scale this up? And when I say scale up for me it's like how do you 10x this in terms of growth, right? That is what are we thinking about at the moment? So still along the lines that I mentioned to you, our markets are pretty clear, our products are pretty clear.
Dare Okoudjou: Our segment, who we're selling this product to are pretty clear but how do you find the right combination and capital allocation to 10x what we have right now? And that's the story for us now. And that capital allocation is important because obviously we are profitable as a company now. So there is some element of funding our own growth that you can do from but that gives you a certain pace of growth because we're not making a huge amount of profit. So if you want to grow faster then you have to finance that with external capital and that is the kind of conversation that we are having now. So yes, it is that and some things are going to remain true. The fact that the circular trend of Africa that you and I and many people discussed five, 10 years ago are still true. Demographic, there may be some setback on the macro and the moment, but the trajectory is up, the labor force, the technology advances, all those things remain true. Now, the question is if you put yourself five years from now, what will that look like and what is a place for a company like Onafriq and how do we get there? That's the kind of work that we have to do now with existing shareholders and future shareholders.
Justin Norman: So what does it look like maybe if we manifest five years from now?
Dare Okoudjou: Look, I do think that we will continue to see a big place for Nigeria despite all the up and downs. I think it will still be an important place. Same for South Africa and probably Côte d'Ivoire will emerge on the francophone side in the west and Kenya and Uganda will continue to consolidate and those will be important nodes on the continent that things can gravitate around. And for a company like Onafriq, it will be making sure our network reflects that that indeed we have those big nodes indeed and we are able to service economical activity that are likely to intensify in those places but in connection with the extremity of the networks. And there's a question mark for me around Egypt, whether we will connect more into Africa or we'll pull more away to the Middle East. It's a question mark. There's a question mark around Morocco indeed that is pushing in the other direction, getting more integrated to the rest of the country. And depending on how those two plays out, you may have, there could also be important node to add. So that's kind of the picture I have in my mind and we just need to make sure that the Onafriq network will reflect that reality and is able to adapt to it.
Justin Norman: Maybe the last question. You talked last time we talked and before the Baxi acquisition about being very patient with your expansion into Nigeria, and I think there's a question about just the sort of patient growth that is required or the stable growth that is required for companies trying to do stuff across borders. The exponential complexity of going across borders, obviously reconciling that or balancing that with the growth expectations and the desire to exit and the exit time horizons for your shareholders, in particular your investors, how are you thinking about that today and how, I guess really does that inform all of the decisions that get made from today onwards?
Dare Okoudjou: It's a balancing act and it start with being clear about expectations. And I mentioned this few times in our conversation. I want us to build a piece of infrastructure that connects the continent and that can last a hundred years and which will outlive all of us. So I'm pretty clear about that. Which means exit may not be all at once and that for shareholders or investors, it's like a train or you are on the highway you know, there could be stops that people get off and it may not be everybody get to the final destination. So that's one thing and we've been able to do that successfully. We've been able to organize exit with good return for shareholders along the way in the different fundraising and we'll continue to do that. Having said all of this, the path we can control is probably the path of a listing.
Dare Okoudjou: I've seen too many, I would say contortion or mental back flip being made to try and look attractive to a certain type of trade buyers and so on. And I think that will take our eyes off the mission, that will distract us from building what we're trying to build. For me where the size and the stage where we are now, the path we can control is the path of a listing. And that's the one we need to just kind of stay on but remain clear that the outcome is not the exit itself. I mean, it may be for some of the investors but the outcome is to build what we set out to do which is a Pan-African network that makes money move, that makes border matter less, that can dissolve itself in the fabric of society that people use without even thinking about it. And as long as we can deliver toward that, do our piece on that path, I think we should all be proud of it. And then the exit is secondary for me.
Justin Norman: But then just promise me when you do have that exit and that listing that you will let me tell the story with you guys.
Dare Okoudjou: Of course, you are part of the story, Justin.
Justin Norman: Yes. No, I appreciate that. I appreciate that.