When Olugbenga “GB” Agboola founded Flutterwave, his goal was simple: He wanted to provide businesses in Africa with a way to utilize modern financial systems. But what ended up happening went far beyond what he envisioned.
Born in Nigeria and educated at the MIT Sloan School of Management in Massachusetts, Olugbenga Agboola knew a few things about modern payment methods. His career has included stints at global banks as well as both PayPal and Google, where he worked on the cutting edge of modern payment services.
Having lived in Europe, Africa, and North America, he saw the differences in financial infrastructure up close. In the United States and Europe, credit systems have existed for decades, but Africa was behind the times. However, as new kinds of payment systems were gaining traction across the globe, he saw an opportunity for Africa.
Olugbenga Agboola believed that African small businesses would benefit from a singular payment infrastructure. It was a revolutionary idea because of the low usage of credit cards on the continent. Even as recently as 2021, only 3% of Nigerians had a credit card. But Agboola had seen the need firsthand and knew a payment system could boost African businesses.
“I used to work for a bank called Standard Bank of South Africa. In that bank, I was responsible for technology and building solutions. We had a client planning to expand its services across Africa, but paying their staff salaries in Nigeria became a hassle,” he explained. “Now, they had money to pay the salaries of their staff. It was possible technologically, but it was operationally impossible for them to pay the salaries of their staff in Nigeria.
“This was true even though we, as a bank, had operations in both countries. But the bank couldn’t simply pay the staff in other countries. They had to use them, which meant that the money had to go from Ghana to New York and then from New York to Nigeria, and that took three days and cost extra money. It would be quicker and less expensive to take the one-hour flight from Ghana to Nigeria with cash.”
Flutterwave’s Origin Story
That’s how the idea of Flutterwave was born: Olugbenga Agboola wanted to create an infrastructure that enabled a direct and swift payment system. He wanted to make cross-border payments in Africa seamless.
“The pressing thing here was that we needed to build a payment system that connected every payment type together so that businesses could literally make transfers in seconds instead of spending three days wiring money to the U.S. and back,” he continued. “We wanted payments in Africa to be as cheap as a local transfer even when they crossed countries, the same way that companies in the UK can do things.”
The result was a new kind of fintech company. Although it was built first to accommodate larger companies, its potential for small businesses became apparent almost immediately. Quickly, Flutterwave became Africa’s first unicorn startup, and most recently reached a valuation of more than $3 billion.
But its impact on small businesses has been even greater.
“In the last seven-plus years, we’ve built the infrastructure and implemented technology that now makes it easy for a small business in Nigeria to pay someone in Ghana, and they get the money instantly,” Olugbenga Agboola said. “Or for a large enterprise merchant like Uber to pay their drivers in Africa and for those drivers to get paid quickly.”
And it didn’t stop there.
As Flutterwave entered new markets, its utility for smaller and smaller companies grew. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the company shifted gears and opened a digital store where smaller merchants could sell their products — and take payments — online. This opened a global market to African sellers at a time when they needed it most.
In 2021, the business launched Send, another new product that allows individual Africans to send and receive money from people anywhere in the world. It’s the first remittance service that has catered to Africans. It’s already made a massive difference in the lives of millions of people who have easier access to money from family and friends to help cover medical bills, rising rent costs, and more.
And Olugbenga Agboola still isn’t finished. He has big plans for the future of Africa’s financial systems and how the Internet can help small businesses. He believes Africa can catch up to the rest of the world quickly and become a direct beneficiary of new financial technology.
“Right now, everybody is seeing the [artificial intelligence] trend, which is quite fascinating. But beyond the AI trend, what I see is the way people interact with money is changing massively, and that will impact the way payment will get done,” he stated. “That can give us an edge as a company in the future. So that’s what I’m looking at very closely.”