This is № 1 in a series of essays I hope to write about work at Paystack until the acquisition. I’m writing this because, well, I like to write. But also, looking forward, I’m compelled to reflect on how we got here as it happened to me.
My story starts with this email.
I’ve always shared my work publicly and attracted goodwill because of it. Every job I’ve had has been because someone found my work on the internet: Chris Ogunlowo. Dika Oha. Timi Ajiboye. Lanre Oyedotun. Mayowa’s email was one in a series of first contacts that changed my life. Unfortunately I was busy, so I politely declined and he agreed to reach out again.
At the time, consulting was the common tech company model. You find a gig through family and friends. You make a demo. You print business cards and attend some overdressed meetings. The deposit hits and it’s the most money you’ve ever seen. You put together a small team to build or deploy the software. You continue to chase deals. Suddenly, there’s a stream of work and you need more people. You start to hire full-time and spin off teams.
Eventually, consulting gets overwhelming, so you start to look for a way out. You’re lucky enough to sign a deal that earns you a year or more of runway. You begin to focus on problems you’ve seen your clients struggle with. You split your team into two, hoping your new product idea makes enough recurring income that you can quit consulting for good.
Mayowa and Shola ran a latter-stage consultancy called KleinDevort. Their flagship was an intranet solution called Precurio, which they sold alongside an accounting and a loan management app. Working with clients, they realised the need for a business intelligence tool, a dashboard that could plug into various sources to summarise the health of the company. This was going to be a modern SaaS product. So, two years after his first email, Mayowa reached out to me again to work on their new product Seegad.
This time, I was more than eager to take on the offer. I had a full-time job at Delivery Science, but I was consulting to pay the bills. I joined the project as Designer / Frontend Engineer in May 2015 alongside Namzo and Larry. The gig lasted about two months, and although I mostly worked with Mayowa, he and Shola both liked my work. So when it was done, Shola asked me to help with something else.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Paystack was Shola’s golden ticket out of consulting. While working with banks, he’d discovered APIs he could use to charge any card. With this, he could build a product for recurring payments, a Stripe or Braintree for Nigeria. As a developer, he understood the need deeply, so he put together a demo.
Shola knew about YC from Hacker News, and with a little help from OO, applied to the W16 batch. The business was relatable and Shola’s experience slash conviction was good enough. For the first time ever, the Silicon Valley funding and hype machine was going to cast its net over to Nigeria. But first, Shola had to get a CTO.
Enter Ezra. The two friends had kept in touch since uni and he’d been giving Shola technical advice on his side project. Ezra and I worked at Delivery Science (and at the time it wasn’t pretty). Before DS, Ezra had helped scale Jobberman and dabbled in payments with SoftPurse and Eyowo. He was Shola’s man for the job, and the offer couldn’t have been better timed. Ezra agreed to join, and in November they travelled together to San Francisco for the interview. They got in.
By the end of the year, we were working as a team and seeing often. Shola wrote product requirements and moved on to other stuff; Ezra started on the API; I started work on the website and Dashboard. The Dashboard was to have four modules: Transactions, Customers, Plans and Settings. The goal was to go live early January 2016.
Between consulting for Shola and being friends with Ezra, I knew the YC stuff was going on, but I didn’t understand the implications. I had an internship offer from Bakken & Baeck and was just waiting for my visa to Norway. But I still needed the money so I was happy to consult.
When my visa was denied, Shola and Ezra offered me accommodation in San Francisco. They didn’t want to hire until after Demo Day, so I joined as a contractor earning $1000/month. My mum called Shola and, in nine minutes, he managed to convince her to let me travel.
For the first time, I was going to America.