Here on Whoot Africa, we not only showcase brands, but we also talk to the people behind those brands and have them share with us their back stories as well as give tips on how to successfully start and run a business.
Welcome to Whoot Africa’s – 15 Questions with the CEO.
Today, we will be talking with Sirak Mussie, CEO and Founder of FLOCASH
1. Can you tell us a little about Sirak Mussie and Flocash as a brand you currently represent?
Sirak Mussie, born in Ethiopia, grew up in Sweden and lives in Britain; is an entrepreneur dedicated to help drive trade amongst African nations as well as making them more accessible to the rest of the world. Within Africa, trade and commerce has often been restricted due to several trade barriers. One of the main barriers was the lack of payment and other infrastructure to enable cross border or cross water trade. FloCash has worked tirelessly to build and implement the necessary tools and capabilities to help remove the barriers to trade to make the world more reachable for local African businesses, as well as make Africa consumers more accessible to the world. FloCash would like to become a catalyst that can help support the growth of the African economy. FloCash is utilizing this new technology to help African businesses establish themselves across Africa and the World.
Whilst we are a company based in the UK, we truly believe we are an African business, solely focused on the betterment of African nations.
2. What were you doing before Flocash? How did you get started in business and what did it take for you to get to where you are today?
My background is in telecommunications and at the start of my career I worked as a senior consultant with large corporations such as Unisys, Motorola and Cisco. I was founder of De La Phone Communications Limited in 2002, a technology company building telecommunication billing and voice solutions. It was this time at De La Phone where I built entrepreneurial flair and knowledge of business.
The initial years were a struggle, as I worked tirelessly to generate ideas and build solutions that could be deployed by businesses. Once the technology was built, I set about developing the network that would get into organisations that needed my solutions. This is where I developed the tenacity and willpower to keep going and succeed.
My ventures in Africa started in Ghana. I got involved in projects to provide solutions to a bank and utility company in Accra. Lack of local expertise and inability to accept payments identified a niche in the market for payment solutions in Africa, and today we have FloCash.
3. With the success of Flocash in the last 3 years, one can’t help but ask what the real inspiration behind Flocash is; and why the focus on Africa? Especially considering the fact that established platforms such as PayPal refused taking the risk into certain African economies.
Being an African myself, I want to take this opportunity to help Africa flourish and change the landscape of commerce and trade. If I can do this through business and the solutions we provide, that is a real achievement for me and FloCash. There is inertia about Africa that doing business here represents high risk, that there is a lack of infrastructure available to trade effectively. Some of this is true, but we have moved on a lot in the 21st Century. Africa is a fast-growing economy, developing its infrastructure, utilizing new advances in technology to move ahead of many developed countries in some spaces. It has access to sought-after Primary Industries, industries that the rest of the world can utilize. Its people are willing to embrace these new developments and FloCash relishes the opportunity to work with these latest technical advances. All we have done is created a platform to allow local businesses to provide access to these industries.
The opportunities in Africa are immense, and we would like to be part of the revolution that transforms Africa into a world leading trading continent.
4. Flocash was described as “Africa’s answer to PayPal”, you have also charted a course by taking the risk on Africa despite the risky financial terrain and have succeeded in doing so, how do you plan to handle PayPal’s sudden aggressive expansion into the African market especially with some of the countries formerly considered “financial high risk economies”. Do you feel pressured by this move?
No pressure, we enjoy a challenge! More competitors coming into this market will only encourage more growth and challenge us to develop our product propositions to make them more attractive to our customers.
This would mean our customers would get a much better product and proposition which is a great thing. Having said this, the PayPal offering is still a very light service that only really supports remittance and payment to pre-approved international merchants. Local merchants will not benefit from a PayPal offering, and it is exactly this market that FloCash targets. We want our local merchants to be able to trade and our technology is designed to enable just this.
With regards to ‘high financial risk’, yes, there have been many challenges with the economy historically, but every economy around the world has had these challenges. By supporting the development of the economy from within Africa, we are trying to show the world the capability of Africa. We were amongst the first to recognize the capabilities of Africa. We were amongst the first companies to step into Africa in this space. No one can take that away from us. We have built strong relationships with our customers and our partners and we would like to think that these will hold strong in the face of any competition.
5. Flocash operates in 30 Countries and can reach over a 100million account holders across Africa and connecting 120 payment networks in 120+ countries, did you envisage such growth in 3years and what are some of the obstacles you encountered along the way uniquely to Africa?
To be honest, we always like to set ourselves a challenge as this drives us to do more, and do it better; but we never envisaged the customer base that we have today, not in 3 years anyway. There have been countless obstacles in our way, some of them are related to the business culture and some challenges have been related to the infrastructure. And each country has its own style of business, so you cannot use a common approach across countries. Our success comes from our capability to recognize these differences in culture and ways of work, and embracing these to help us move forward and build relationships. It is through these relationships that we have been able to make FloCash the success that you see before you.
6. Your organization runs with approximately 30 staff members with your headquarters in London, how do you keep the Flocash team motivated and where do you see Flocash in 5-10years?
Whilst we are based in London, our employees are spread across Africa.
We have local offices in over 12 countries in Africa and hope to increase this to 20 by the end of 2014. Our employees recognize the importance of our mission to help Africa flourish in trade and industry. Many of them are local and share our vision to help the continent prosper, motivating themselves to drive our business forward. We work together as one global team. There are no barriers to communication, or hard drawn lines of management and hierarchies.
Anyone can talk to anyone in the company openly. We also encourage our new employees to work across the business to understand the different roles and work within the company. This equips them with the knowledge of how our business works, but it also allows them to appreciate the activities and pressures of their colleagues.
In 5-10 years, we see FloCash as the gateway to Africa, establishing ourselves as the trade enables across Africa. We want to be able to connect local businesses to the rest of Africa and the world, and we hope to enable these businesses to be able to trade across the world. We want to be able to walk in New York or London and see people consuming products and services purchased from local businesses in Africa.
7. What do you love most about your business and your life as an Entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur, I enjoy the freedom of being able to pursue my interests, my day to day life revolves around what I enjoy doing. I am my own boss; therefore I can make my own decisions about what I want to do. This flexibility keeps me motivated. In addition to this, no one day in our business is the same. Every day presents new opportunities and different challenges. We deal with different people from different cultures and backgrounds. I like this variety as it keeps our work interesting. In addition to this, the possibilities are endless…the sky’s is the limit.
8. Flocash was named as number four amongst the top ten technology start-up’s in Africa by Forbes magazine. Forbes magazine remains the holy grail of business success and recognition, when you reflect on the last three years of Flocash, what words come to mind? Are you pressured in any way in your journey as a businessperson?
Appreciation! Recognition! Humbleness! Excitement! Drive! Ambition! Challenges! Opportunities! Success.
There are pressures in every journey we take, be it as a businessperson, a teacher, a farmer etc. I obviously have pressures but I have a very supportive team behind me, and we work together to overcome any challenges.
9. If you had to choose repeatedly, would you decide for or against doing business in Africa? Would you encourage your colleagues to come down to Africa to invest, especially those in the Diaspora? If you had to sell your African business experience to an investor in a few words what would they be?
I would always decide for doing business in Africa and would always encourage my colleagues to invest in Africa.
Business in Africa is exciting. Why? Because, no day is ever the same.
Every day has its challenges and successes, but Africa is a truly welcoming and hospitable place. There are many challenges, but as Africa is a fast growing economy, there are plenty of opportunities here, and the business community is open and accepting to change and new ways of work. You can really make things happen and you will enjoy doing business here in Africa.
10. How would you describe your leadership style? Who was the most influential person or mentor in your life?
I work with a democratic style of leadership in that I like to involve my team in the decision making process by talking to them on a one on one level. This helps us to overcome complex decisions and it motivates my team as they are involved in the development and growth of the business, helping set direction. When necessary, I do mix and match my leadership styles and at times there is a place for operating an autocratic style. But involving the team in the business is very important to me.
Management has been on-the-job training for me. I learned a lot from talking to various managers and how they deal with the challenges of organizing and inspiring their team to be more efficient and get the job done.
11. What do you think are the most important personal skills someone must have to be successful in business?
I think the three most important things are hard work, discipline and patience. Of course a vision is the starting point and the need to be ambitious, have a drive, be tenacious, be positive, quick thinking, be approachable and be a good listener. Be able to see the big picture and stay focused.
12. If you had to share with a room full of young aspiring business people, what are some of your tips on building a successful brand and hard work?
You must understand your market and you must understand your customer.
This will help you develop your product or service offering and ultimately your brand. Be focused, don’t ever lose that, and you must be able to stand strong in the face of adversity. If you work hard, you will reap what you sow…’What you put in is what you get out’.
Keep going and stay determined.
13. How do you envision Africa’s growth in the next decade, especially with Information Technology? Do you believe technology and ICT is capable of creating the continent’s economic growth and next set of billionaires?
I believe the 21 century is Africa’s century. I think Africa has come leaps and bounds to become a fast growing economy today. We are at the start of this technology journey. We have a significant telecom infrastructure already set up throughout Africa, but we still have the problems of getting electricity to people to be able to power their phones. So we still need to invest in our infrastructure. The advantage that we have though is the opportunity to invest in emerging technologies and emerging infrastructure immediately that will give Africans access to the latest technological solutions. Coupled with the willingness of the African people and businesses to embrace new technology, Africa can make it in the IT arena. There is a long way to go and a significant amount of investment still to be made to put Africa in a position that can start to incubate the next generation of tech billionaires. This investment is not just in the technology but also in our people, through funding and implementing a robust education system that gives all African children access to the basic right to educate them and access to food and clean water. These children will then go on to become the billionaires of Africa. The world’s eyes are now focused on Africa.
Mark Zuckerberg has talked about Africa to support his vision to give 5 billion people internet access. Africa will play a key central role in this vision and I do not think it will be long before Africa falls into the growth strategy of every international business regardless of it being a tech business or a commodities business. This will certainly lend to the world investing in African growth and development and we will soon see the rise of the next generation billionaires……African billionaires.
14. What do you think about college education? Should kids go to college now or get into business if they feel it’s a better choice? Considering some of the worlds greatest never had college education, your thoughts?
You cannot run before you can walk! Education is a fundamental right and a basic building block for all children. I think all kids should go to college and get an education. It will help their generation to make better decisions, become smarter, and more efficient in the way they do business. We need a generation of doers but also a generation of thinkers who can come up with new innovative solutions that can help shape the way the world works. Education can plant the seed to grow our children’s thinking, so they can think ahead and out of the box and communicate with the rest of the world. That is why I think education is a fundamental for all.
15. Lastly, what is the one thing you’d like to be remembered for when the name Sirak Mussie is mentioned around the world in the near future?
My success can only be measured in terms of the companies I helped grow their business. I would like to be associated with breaking the barriers to trade in Africa and shedding a positive light on brand Africa.
If you missed the previous parts of the 15 Questions with the CEO series, please click here