This is № 2 in a series of stories about Paystack before the acquisition. Ezra flipped the switch on January 10, 2016 and wrote about it two days later.¹ In the months that followed, we lived and worked from 1281 Lawrence Station Road, Sunnyvale, Apt 475.
Many people wanted Paystack to work. Days after go-live, Abdul (wkyo) shared the news with other excited nerds on Radar. In the 98-comment thread that followed, Ezra fielded and answered questions with class 💅🏽.²
Radar was a safe space to say “this is broken” and Ezra would suddenly appear to explain or note the issue. He was the face of the company at the beginning. It’s very befitting that the exit was no different.
The months that followed were different for us. Shola was often out to meet people, Ezra followed along for weekly YC events, and I mostly worked from home. In many ways, they were also similar. Ezra and I watched a lot of We Bare Bears and Steven Universe, looked out for exhibitions or movies to see and partied with Shola a couple of times. But mostly, we all worked.
There was no crazy product thinking to do at the time because the MVP was quite literally Stripe, but for Nigeria. I hated being compared to Stripe, but it really was the north star. Shola once started a requirements document with “Sadly, this is another page where we have to be heavily inspired by Stripe”. But it wasn’t just them. We also studied Braintree, PayPal, GoCardless e.t.c.
So, the first few months at Lawrence Station went something like this: we had a working MVP, people earnestly using the thing, great advice, fantastic inspiration, comfortable housing and thousands of dollars in the bank. With the benefit of hindsight, we’d have had to work hard to fuck it up.
Early Paystack was a democratisation of services that companies like Interswitch already provided. At first it was design — API, documentation, website and dashboard — that set us apart. Paystack was refreshingly nice and easy to use. The YC hype was far reaching and the experience was as advertised. More businesses signed up.
Here’s an excerpt from Shola’s first draft for his Demo Day speech:
There are 180 million people in Nigeria and they paid businesses $150B last year. Even though 60 million of them are active internet users, most of these payments were made offline because paying on the Internet is broken. For instance, setting up recurring billing requires the customer to fill out a paper form. Well, that was before Paystack.
By March, we had ~700 customers³ and a much-evolved product. Our first set of original features were to solve operational problems. Querying transactions from the DB got inefficient so we built Watchtower. It was difficult to debug Checkout complaints, so we added Transaction Timelines. People without websites wanted in, so we built Payment Pages. We started to see fraud so we hurried up DSS. The battle between chasing scale and trying not to crumble from the growth had begun.
Demo Day was a success and Shola’s calendar never looked back. Ezra and I continued to add improvements and security features. A month later, I was first to return home. We kept the apartment for a while and even went back later in the year.
1281 Lawrence Station was a non-smoking apartment so Ezra had to come downstairs and go all the way across the road when he wanted to smoke. I joined him often and, frankly speaking, this was probably the hardest thing about life those days.
See why I can’t let it go?