Chief Executive Officer of Splash Mobile Money, Daniel Osei-Antwi talks with the AWP Network about finding his path. Prior to joining his company, Daniel worked with Manocap – the first investor behind Splash. While there, he quickly became a strong believer in the exciting potential for mobile money platforms across Africa. Before moving to Sierra Leone, Daniel was an investment banker with Barclays Capital in New York, where he worked on mergers and acquisitions (M&A), restructuring, large debt and equity transactions for power and energy sector clients. Daniel holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Union College in Schenectady, NY and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
What does your company do?
Splash Mobile Money lets consumers make financial transactions using their phones. What happens is that you go to a splash agent who converts your hard cash to splash cash in your phone. Then you can easily transfer this electronic money to another phone or make payments with a simple text message. A confirmation text message is sent to your phone (the sender) and to the recipient. The recipient can then go to another splash agent to exchange that electronic money for cash. The business started three years ago, but the concept has been around in other countries for a bit longer and promises to transform the financial landscape of the developing world and to change the lives of millions. For ordinary people in emerging markets, everyday transactions are painful, risky, and time-consuming – access to innovative and inexpensive financial tools and services are limited but mobile money can improve things dramatically.
Who is your target market?
Any individual or organization in Sierra Leone looking for easier ways to transfer money or make payments such as school fees, utility bills, salaries, loans, or any other kind of financial transactions.
How did you get involved with this particular company?
The opportunity came up while I was on the investor side of the table to take over management and lead a turnaround after some early stage challenges. I strongly believe that mobile payment platforms are the future of financial services in Africa. Take this into account, there are about six (6) million people in Sierra Leone, two (2) million of them have phones, only 300,000 have bank accounts. There is a market for our service and we are properly positioned for growth.
How have you financed the company?
The business started with equity funding from Manocap, the Soros Economic Development Fund, and a grant from the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund. I later added some savings and raised money from family and friends who believe in the vision.
What challenges have you faced since joining the company?
I can sum up the challenges in three parts. The first is behavioral – we are part of a movement to transform the financial landscape of the developing world. Now, the question here in Sierra Leone is: how do you move this population that is very heavily cash-based to trust in electronic money and use SMS-based payment platforms especially when the literacy rate is less than 35 percent?
(2) Infrastructure – Africa needs the necessary infrastructure to support small business development and growth. Everything from skilled labor to institutional support to keeping the lights on. It’s hard to survive when you have to keep the generator running 14 hours a day.
(3) Transparency – mobile money brings too much transparency into the system and some people don’t want that. It exposes inefficiencies – a heavily cash-based system hides flaws and supports corruption. The reality is that corrupt people do not want their transactions tracked.
What inspired your move back to Africa?
I have always wanted to move back. After more than 10 years in the United States, I started telling my friends that I would go to the World Cup in South Africa and not leave the continent – so that’s exactly what I did. Being on ground is extremely gratifying and I have never regretted it. So far we have about eighty (80) employees most of whom are focused on educating people on the street and registering clients – this I believe, is a significant contribution to economic development.
What is next for your company?
Our growth strategy is to (1) set up more agents and micro franchising opportunities for micro entrepreneurs. (2) Expand beyond Sierra Leone. Our five-year plan is to be in at least six (6) countries in West Africa. What we have done is built an ecosystem and developed relationships with various partners. We have established strong corporate partnerships with companies so that they can use our mobile platform to the pay salaries of their employees. Corporate partnerships also help us to establish credibility. We will continue to build these partnerships and foster relationships with banks to encourage their consumers to make use of our platform to pay back loans. We want to make life easier for everyone. Lastly, we have a plan to target rural areas where we can bring more unbanked people into the formal banking system. Our cross-network relationship with telecommunication operators is what sets us apart.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start a business?
Find your passion. Do something that you are passionate about – when you are passionate, it won’t feel like work. In places like Sierra Leone, it is not easy to navigate through the hurdles. Something that should take two weeks will often take four to six months. You need to remind yourself of your vision and look beyond the frustration.
• Have a strong financial cushion – adjust your lifestyle should you need to.
• Have mentors and advisors familiar with your business terrain. If you want to operate in Africa, identify folks with business experience in that part of the world.
• Be willing to learn
• Do not repeat mistakes – see what others are doing and learn from them.
What key things have you learned since starting your entrepreneurial journey?
I am learning more about my leadership style. It is important that leaders know their particular leadership style. They need to know this so that they can attract the right teammates. Also, it is vital to know how to be a leader and learn how to rally people around you. No matter how big your dream is, you cannot execute it by yourself. People skills are very important and you need to learn how to influence and inspire people. You have to know how to work with others so that you can produce results. I have also learned the importance of record-keeping, book-keeping, and due diligence.
How does your company deal with fraud?
Our company is very transparent. It is important that we keep the accounts of our customers safe. We use pin numbers and have extensive identification procedures to ensure that your information is protected and that the money gets into the right hands.
Things to remember as an entrepreneur:
1. People Matter – people are more important than your idea. No matter how great the idea is, you need the right people and team around you.
2. It can be very lonely at the top.
3. Learn how to turn pain and challenges into opportunities. The more painful the experience, the easier it is to get customers.
4. Money is important – use your own money to prove a concept before finding investors. Raise money from those who believe in you and your vision. Start with family and friends.
5. Start small – demonstrate your ability to know how to properly execute before expanding.
6. Your spiritual life matters: learn to draw on a greater power than you. You’ll need it often.