Building Resilience and Scaling a Tech Startup

Building resilience in an emerging economy is very crucial in scaling a Tech startup in Africa.  In an interview with the Blueloop Team, founders of flux, a platform that helps users make or receive payments with or without the internet. It’s interesting to know that the entire team admires Elon Musk and has him as their role model. Nonyelim Okolie, COO at Leadspace, Passion Incubator who is focused on supporting Tech startups with the infrastructure and support needed to scale their enterprise had a conversation with Ben Eluan, CEO/Co-founder Blueloop who were selected into YC batch 20  and recently featured on Tech crunch and Tech point

This article is a three multi-part series.

My name is Ben Eluan, Co-Founder and CEO at Blueloop.

What are you passionate about and how has it led you to purpose?

I think I’m passionate about technology and using technology to solve problems. This has led me to build what we are currently working on, which is flux. Flux is a mobile app that we built to allow cross-border payment into Africa.

What skills enabled you to attain this height?

First, Teamwork has been very integral in our growth. Also, knowing how to organize people to work together with very little resources and building it ground up into something eventually big, is a very vital skill I do not take for granted.  

Secondly, being able to learn really fast because I remember a time when we wanted to build flux, we basically did not know how to build mobile apps. We could only build web apps at that time.  There was nobody that was skilled in mobile application development, we needed to understand blockchain, so we had to learn, research on how these things work, study similar platforms, have countless sessions, team sessions to breakdown how things would work or how we think things can work, basically it was this fast learning curve. That was the second most important thing that we needed to get here. 

Then the third most important thing that helped us to get here was our ability to network and secure useful partnerships to enable us to build what we are building. For instance, we had to partner with a couple of people to make this possible, write to a couple of existing companies to provide us with their infrastructure that we can easily access versus building it ground up. Then I think the fourth but not the least most important thing was our ability to fundraise. Fundraising is very essential because if we did not fundraise at the time that we got our initial first funding from Hustle fund, we would have died right without even starting, so I think that the ability to convince somebody to give you money for what you are building with very little validation was also very important. These are four of the most important things for us that led us to where we are today.

What motivates you to work hard?

First is the love for technology, then the love for wanting to build something useful. There are a couple of people I look up to personally and when I study their process on how they started and how they got to where they are, I noticed it took a lot of hard work, so these inspiring stories set the cadence to enable me to work hard to achieve my goals and our vision for flux. There’s a lot of work to be done and for you to be able to survive in this market, you need to like to work really hard. 

How can startups secure funding in Nigeria?

I think that the best and the easiest way for any startup to receive funding is for them to build a product and get their first customers first, it’s relatively more difficult for people here in Africa to raise funds except you know somebody that knows somebody, but if you are coming from the ground up like somewhere we came from, where we had no connection no background in anything and all, I think what makes people want to listen to you and give you their money is to build a product and not just build a product but to have your first customers process your first transactions, get your first dollar from customer payments and all so that’s what validates that you are building something useful.

How were you able to identify the right team members and what do you do in managing the team?

That’s a really interesting question, so I think that there is, I would say in all honesty and in reality, no one way to assemble a team but there are some certain things you can consider when bringing in teammates. For instance, I can categorically say that I met my co-founder(s) when we were in 100 level at the university and we had this similar interest of wanting to do something great. We were always together, programming all night in classrooms, those were the kind of things we were doing in our 100 level and when we started initially in the team, we were about 20 on the team, but when it became time for us to start putting in our money, putting in our time or hard work that’s when the team started reducing.

So I think the best way to pick teammates is to first know the people that you are bringing in as teammates and to know if they carry the vision of whatever you want to work on. There are some people that when you share audacious ideas, they will doubt the potency of the idea and want to limit your imaginations, so avoid such people at all costs.  However, vision, relationship, attitude to work, and high-risk appetite are very vital in putting a team together. Because people that want to build great stuff usually have a very high-risk appetite and I think most times in the early stage of your company, you have to give your money. For instance, we had to use our pocket money, the money we earned from side projects to put into the development of our product. So the people you are bringing in also must have the right attitude to giving money for the product. Having a shared vision, the right attitude, the ability to invest time and money, and is committed to learning and building the product are very important attributes to consider when putting together a team to run a startup..  

What gap have you identified and what opportunities do you see in Nigeria, Africa, and the world generally?

The major reason we decided to build flux is that we actually identified and experienced a gap in the remittance space in Nigeria at some point in our lives. In 2019, we wanted to receive money from the United Kingdom and it was in pounds and we struggled to receive the money. When we eventually received it, the exchange rate was not favorable, it took us 7 days to get the money. So, I was just telling my teammates then like how, I mean this is 2019 and we still don’t have platforms where PayPal is supported in Nigeria right, PayPal would have been the easiest way but it’s not supported so that was like the gap we saw, we saw this huge gap in cross border payment. Though there are a lot of platforms that do cross border payment, I personally think that there is still a lot to be done and a lot that can be done so that’s what I saw as the gap in Nigeria and Africa, as per the gap in the world, I think that since PayPal, there has been no real innovation around the payment. We’ve seen innovation around ed-tech, search, video streaming, social media, and all those stuff but I mean we have cash app and all but the cash app is also relatively not as old as PayPal, they are not everywhere right we don’t have a cash app here in Nigeria, so I think that we still need to build new innovations around the payment. Transactions can be faster, safer, more seamless, and more secure. So in my opinion, these are the opportunities I see. 

Asides from Fintech, what other sectors do you find very interesting?

Asides from fintech I think, if I’m probably done with flux in the next ten to twenty years, I think that transportation is an interesting sector, and when I say transportation I mean building more innovations around transportation. ie Tesla has been building new electric cars, we have hyperloop,  we also have starship and  I think starships are designed to allow you to move anywhere in the world in about an hour. so I think that’s a very lucrative aspect to go into but of course it requires a lot of funds, a lot of networks, etc. So personally if I am going to go into another sector asides from fintech, I think I will go into hardware tech and that would be developing maybe flying cars just to ease transportation, reduce road traffic, and all that. So I think that’s like a very lucrative sector that I would like to go into sometime in the future.

So what advice do you have for young people and entrepreneurs?

Dating back to when we were initially struggling, because there was a phase when we were actually struggling. We started building in 2017 and we made a breakthrough in 2020. While at the university, when we started building and it took us about 3 years to be able to get into what we were doing, so I think that the biggest advice that I would have, if I were to maybe have the opportunity to go back to the past, to maybe talk to myself or leave a note to myself, I can tell myself what to do that will bring us faster to this place that we are in, but I wouldn’t do that, I think that what I would rather do is to encourage myself to just be really focused and continue working hard. So one thing with me and my team is that we have this high level of focus and hard work, we work really really hard, we don’t compromise on work, I will just advice every young person out there to never give up. Success comes when you don’t give up and when you fail, you just have to keep pushing, be focused on what you are doing, just continue working hard and when you get to that right point, things will like become really good. I think that’s like the biggest advice I have for young people that are trying to build something significant. 

What successes have you been able to achieve with flux and then it’s parent company Blueloop?

With flux, I think that our biggest success with flux is getting people to use our application without us doing really any work as per in terms of marketing and all that stuff, we talk to users a lot, but what was amazing to us was constantly hitting our goals. We launched flux in September and we said to ourselves if we process hundred thousand dollars in payment it would be awesome, three weeks later we processed hundred thousand dollars in payments, we also said if we hit 250k it would be awesome, three weeks later we hit 250k, we were like if we can hit 500k, it would be great, three weeks later we hit 500k, and we were like wow what about one million dollars, three weeks later we hit one million dollars, you know so in the space of 4 months, we went from struggling with pushing 20k dollars to process over a million dollars in payments and all that growth was organic. We just kept iterating on our product, kept talking to customers, improving, releasing new features and people started adopting the platform, we started having 50 – 100 downloads daily, people processing tens of thousands of dollars in transactions in payment daily so that’s like the biggest and the most amazing thing that we have achieved with flux and for Blueloop. I think that being able to raise funds, I can’t deny the fact that being able to raise funds played a very major role in our company’s life cycle. I mean we have secured our first 25,000 USD cheque, we were being really careful so that we don’t burn out of cash and become broke again you know trying to push the start-up because startups need funds to work, so we’re very careful so we don’t run broke cos we did not know when next was going to be able to raise funds, but amazingly like less than a month later we got another 25,000 USD, and another 25,000 USD, you know in total within our first 3 months we got significant funding from foreign investors to start our venture. So I think that’s like something that’s commendable because we are just like a 3 months old startup that was built by a couple of guys without initial domain knowledge or background and connection, so I think that’s what’s amazing. 

How did you come across HubOne (by FCMB) and how has HubOne (by FCMB) contributed to your organization?

When we wanted to establish our company space, we wanted to be in Lagos, and precisely for the first few months of our company life cycle we wanted to be in Yaba for some reasons, so we needed somewhere good, conducive, and startup-friendly space to work and we searched a couple of Hubs in Yaba. There are a lot of them here and I think that Hub One provided one of the most outstanding spaces that we saw, we loved the space, I mean when we first saw the space, it was amazing we loved the reception and by the time we got into the hub, the community was amazing and there were other amazing startups there. We love working there, it felt homely. I mean having where to go to work and being able to work well was really important for us in those early stages and HubOne gave us all that. 

Final thoughts?

What society believes in this part of the world is that, you need to have attained some certain heights or gone through some certain processes before you are able to achieve some kind of things, so I may be wrong but I think that for this our space that we are playing in Nigeria and Africa, our team is most likely the youngest team, to build these and get to this scale, the reason why I said this, is because we have 19 year old’s in our team, 20, 21, 22,  we are not old right, very young team you know and if you look at what has being going on in the space you will see people that are either in their late 20s, 30s, 40s doing what we are doing and most of these people they’ve worked in very big institution, some of them have worked for PayPal, some have worked for banks, you know some of them have worked for google, building what we are building in this African tech space right, but I think it’s going to be like the first time that a set of young boys have been trying to build since but I think that will be the first very young team to actually build and get to where we are in terms of progress and also in terms of funding right, so my advice is that personally I don’t believe in processes as per when I say I don’t believe in processes, I don’t believe in stereotyped way of doing things. I believe in exploration, I believe that anything can be done and I think that is a good sign for us here in Africa that even young people, if you go to the American tech space you will see younger people doing stuff, 15 year old’s, 16, 17 doing stuff at a very big scale right so I think that this is sort of like a very good sign so out teams we have broken like a couple of really great records in Africa right of which very soon we are going to be relating out publicly so I just advice young people to just remain focused and believe in themselves believe in what their building just continue pushing don’t let anyone discourage you, don’t let what you are seeing to also discourage you, for instance I saw some sort of patterns when we started and those patterns could have been discouraging as per how things were been done currently  in the Nigerian tech space but I just looked aside and continued building. I believed that one day it would work so that’s what I advice young people I believe, I look forward to more young people doing more awesome stuff in Nigeria and in Africa and globally too.

This interview was brought to you by the Leadspace Team. HubOne(by FCMB) is home to tech entrepreneurs. We provide a conducive workspace and virtual offices for businesses as well as business support services. Chat here to learn more. 

Photoshoot courtesy of Nathyjegs.

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