Olugbenga Agboola

CEO of Flutterwave

Olugbenga Agboola, was born in 1985 in Lagos State, Nigeria. He is better known in the tech world as GB. GB is a serial entrepreneur. Along with Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, GB founded Flutterwave in 2016. He became the CEO of Flutterwave, which is recognized as an organization committed to growing businesses in emerging economies, when his partner stepped down to focus his attention on supporting other entrepreneurs in growing their own startups and giving back to the community at large.

Olugbenga holds an MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as numerous advanced computing and IT security certificates. He has also received advanced education and training in supply chain management, cradle-to-grave product management, retail banking, security management, card management systems, server architecture and administration, PHP, JavaScript and other core competencies over the course of his educational career. He has two patents, one for a QR code payment patent and a C4T data encryption payment patent.

Before assuming his role as CEO of Flutterwave, he worked as an application developer with British Telecom Professional Services and he was on the Guarantee Trust Bank Enterprise Infrastructure Development team. Agboola was instrumental in leading the development of banking and finance technology solutions for PayPal, Google and Standard Bank (Nigeria), among a number of other well-recognized financial transaction-based digital platforms. His expertise in enterprise architecture combined with a software engineering background afforded him opportunities to work with the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Africa Fintech Foundry, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Westminster.

Today, Olugbenga Agboola is leveraging his position as Flutterwave CEO to build relationships within the finance industry on the African continent to expand opportunities for consumers, investors and the company, creating a win-win-win scenario for everyone. Most economists agree that Africa is booming, especially in the Fintech and venture capital investment sectors. If his history is any indication of future success, the future outcome will be bright for all Flutterwave stakeholders and those in GB’s wider social circles.
With more than 15 years of experience building scalable financial technology firms, Agboola has already has two successful entrepreneurial exits and a long list of other significant leadership roles worth mentioning under his belt.

In 2019, Abgoola, and Flutterwave were awarded the prestigious Changing Africa Award. That same year, Fast Company placed Flutterwave on their “ten most innovative companies in Africa list.”

By 2020, GB’s Flutterwave API had transformed an inefficient, fragmented banking system into a central payment system on a national level that facilitated some 80 million transactions worth more than $7 billion across 17 African countries. And, the awards kept coming.

Among his more recent awards, GB has received the 2020 Leadership Magazine’s Young Business Leader of The Year and Time Magazine’s 2021 Next 100 award. He also made it onto Fortune’s coveted 40 under 40 in the Finance category. GB is the only African business leader to make this prestigious list. His latest Fintech venture, eNaira, was acquired by the Central Bank of Nigeria, empowering the bank’s customers with a seamless, simple alternative payment option that is easier to navigate than other existing methods.

In March, 2022, Business Insider Africa awarded GB with the 2022 Tech Investor of the Year Award, in the Fintech Leader of the Year division. Earlier this fall, on October 11, 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari made Olugbenga Agboola an officer of the Order of the Niger. This award recognizes invaluable contributions for innovation and creativity that benefit the country and its people.

GB has a passion for encouraging other entrepreneurs and building relationships throughout Africa and across the world. He was a speaker at the June 2019 Transforming African Economies Through Digitalization session during the US Africa Business Summit held in Maputo, Mozambique and joined Fast Company’s Impact Council in 2019, which includes technologists, corporate chieftains, designers and entrepreneurs who come together to discuss societies’ most challenging issues and possible innovative solutions. That same year, GB was among the six African entrepreneurs chosen to join the 87th Endeavor Panel in Madrid, Spain. Endeavor is an organization that supports entrepreneurs they identify as having a “high-impact” globally.

Where did the idea for Flutterwave come from?

I used to work for Standard Bank of South Africa. In that bank, I was responsible for technology, and for building solutions. We had a client called MTN South Africa. They were going to expand across Africa, and paying their staff salaries in Nigeria became a hassle.
They had money to pay the salaries of their staff. It was possible technologically, but it was operationally impossible for us to pay the salary of their staff in Nigeria, even though as a bank we had operations in both countries. So imagine you’ve got a staff in Nigeria. To pay that staff, you go to your bank. Let’s say you bank with Citi or Barclays, who has a Barclays bank in Nigeria, and maybe I’m banking back in the UK as well.

They tell you they can’t pay the salary of that staff for you. And you’re asking, “Why? You’re in both countries.” It’s like, “Yeah, we’re in both countries, but we’re really separate companies with the same name. We have the same shareholders, but we’re separate still.” You’re wondering, “How does this make sense?” They’re saying, “Look, if we have to pay that staff in Nigeria for you, we’re going to charge you .5% of that money as a fee.” So your HR cost, professional costs to pay that staff’s salary might even be more than what they’re getting, right? It’s crazy.

That was the problem I saw at Standard Bank, and I know that technologically we could have done it, but we were not allowed to by regulatory pressure unless we use SWIFT for that transfer for that wire. And if you do a wire transfer from Nigeria to Ghana, that money goes from Nigeria to New York, New York to Ghana because of the SWIFT system. It’s a US system. Nigeria to Ghana is a one-hour flight. You can swap, carry that cash, get on a plane, and go there. It takes three days if you do SWIFT. One half a flight with the money there.

So the pressing thing here is if we build a payment system that connects every payment type together, you literally can make that transfer in seconds, and it is as cheap as a local transfer. I’m making faster payments in the UK to somebody at another bank. It’s that swift, that cheap, and that quick. That’s what we’ve been able to do.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

So my typical day is really starting my day by looking at our revenue. The first thing I do in the morning is open my Slack, and check my Slack bot. That tells me how much money we made over the last day, the growth, the drop, and who are customers responsible for that growth or that decline. That’s the first thing I check every day for the past seven years.
When I’m done with that, if I am home in the US, what I then do is to wake my daughter up for school. I enjoy that a lot.
If I’m not at home, I use that time to do more work. So after checking my numbers, what I do next is basically to build on what is the current theme. I work in themes. I tell myself what’s my theme for this month or this week. My theme can be soft, so customer experience or grow revenue by X, Y, Z percentage. It could be make marketing world-class by doing A, B, C, D. My themes are always very, very specific.
I would then obviously speak to the leader of that team that owns that theme to say “Hey, where are we on this? What have you done there? Is there a strategy for this? Is there a plan?” No matter how much I get derailed in the week, I still go out to my theme. Am I on course? Because I have my plans for the weekend, I make sure I always meet them. So I plan for the week on Sundays. Sundays, I plan for my week, and then I use that to work. That’s the way I do it.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have a skill whereby if I have an idea, I’m able to see the steps to making it happen and getting to the end of that goal. When I do and I have a clear set of my goals, I quickly build plans to make it happen or assign someone who can be the plant to make it happen.
One thing that also helps me a lot is being very goal-focused, not process-focused. I don’t really care about the how. I care about the outcome.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I mean, everybody’s seeing the AI trend, which is quite fascinating. But beyond the here 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. That can give us an edge as a company in the future. So that’s what I’m looking at very closely.

What advice would you give your younger self?

One big one I use is the Colin Powell rule, which is that you have to be data-aware, not data-dependent. When you know too much about something, it’s too late. For example, I imagine that to make a decision, I need just 60% of the information required. By the time I get to 95 or 90 and I’m sure, then it’s late for a decision to be made. It’s past. I believe in that a lot, and it’s something that I use in my work, and it’s worked for me all my life. That’s one piece of advice that I would give and also to ensure that I do that.
The other piece is to trust my gut. Most of the time, in trying to be fair, I become over-fair if that makes sense. Then I end up not doing what my gut tells me is right. When I then wait for that to do what I want to do, and I’m then wrong or I’m right or I’m wrong that I’m right, I get upset because I’m wondering. I knew from the get-go I should have done this way.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Being people-centric. In how you do everything. My own approach that I use is being people-centric. I listen to people a lot. I think of what people will feel. I think of their own career growth, will it work for them? I realized very early that people are the secret sauce of the company.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Trust your gut more. Don’t ever second-guess yourself. Sometimes being the guy who has a vision, you might see things somebody isn’t seeing. I was watching Satya Nadella of Microsoft interview on OpenAI just before this call, and he said, “There are those people that you see dancing and you thought they were insane because you couldn’t hear the music.” I’m like, “Wait. So sometimes we are the dancer as entrepreneurs and only we can hear the music.” People tell you then, “Stop.” But you’re like, “No, there’s music playing.” “No music is playing.” You’re like, “You can’t hear it, and that is okay.” You need to know that you’re not crazy. You can hear that music. Go for that thing with all your might. But if you’re wrong, that’s fine. Well, what if you’re right? Sometimes people think you’re crazy, and it’s okay.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Slack. I just know how to use it very well. That’s all. I have built so many things on my Slack. I build scripts to remind people of something. I have so many bots. I talk to people at the same time.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.