BY Walter Hayward 3 MINUTE READ

As a self-described “dreamer, hustler and leader”, Dare Okoudjou heads up MFS Africa, one of the continent’s largest mobile payment platforms. Currently, it’s seen as the best gateway to send money to mobile wallets in Africa. The company covers 180 million mobile money recipients across all major networks. Their mission? To develop and distribute tailored yet scalable mobile financial solutions to underserved markets across Africa. MFS Africa is unique in that it connects mobile money systems to each other and to money transfer organisations, banks and other financial institutions, enabling money remittances to and from mobile money accounts.

Tell us more about your growth journey with MFS Africa.

I would characterise my growth journey – and that of the company itself – in three stages: Dreamer, hustler and leader. As a small team of dreamers, all we really had were a vision and belief that the average African consumer needed a full suite of payment and banking solutions accessible from their mobile wallet, whatever the network, whatever the country. But how do you make that universal solution work for such a fragmented market? We assembled the right core team of dreamers to bring the vision to reality.

Before we knew it, we were hustlers — armed with a product and passion, we started chasing opportunities in every direction. We introduced cutting-edge, first-in-class mobile financial services across Africa, and sealed deals with the continent’s largest names in mobile telecoms and financial services. With a lot of blood, sweat, tears – and especially creativity – we built Africa’s largest digital payments platform. Today, I’m proud to say that we’re leaders. Our growth has been dizzying, both in terms of key metrics – such as partners connected and transaction value processed – but also in terms of headcount and budget. Now we face challenges that are beyond the scope of the dreamer and ill-suited to the hustler mindset.

Do you think creativity and business go hand in hand?

I can’t think of a single business today that doesn’t rely on creativity, whether in the design of the product or service itself, the systems and technology that support that product or service, or in the delivery and marketing to the end consumer. Especially in the African context, where we can’t take for granted the homogeneity of customer needs and smooth infrastructure that is often assumed elsewhere. Our diversity of client profiles, infrastructure challenges and multilingual environments mean that creativity is critical for any business to succeed at scale.

How does technology affect your creative processes?

Our business is at the cutting edge of mobile payments technology and we’ve seen a number of transformations in the last five to 10 years. In the early years (we got started in 2010), our main creative problem-solving challenges were around some of the clunkier elements of telecoms infrastructure — for instance, designing a service that could withstand latency on multiple different client platforms, while delivering a unified user experience — all on a USSD menu and without timing out. These days, the core functionalities of mobile money are becoming more and more harmonised so some of these fundamental challenges have fallen away. This has allowed us to focus our creativity on solving more complex problems and more sophisticated products.

Telecommunications technology has also changed customer expectations. National borders are no longer relevant limitations on communication, entertainment, and media, and we may even struggle to remember that they used to be. We’re striving to bring that same seamlessness to payments and financial services — to truly make borders immaterial. This requires constant re-evaluating of assumed constraints and re-imagining of solutions.

How does creativity add to a company’s authenticity?

We value creativity in problem solving when it is anchored in empathy — empathy for our end user. We are tackling a complex and important challenge — how do we bring the global digital economy to the most financially and technologically marginalised users? As someone who has lived all sides of the remittances experience personally, the problems we are tackling are not abstract to me. This means that I find it easy to empathise with the end user and eventually see creative solutions that others less close to these experiences may miss.

One of our strengths and sources of authenticity and creativity at MFS Africa is the diversity of our staff. We are a truly pan-African company with 22 nationalities represented on the team and well over 25 languages spoken. Almost everyone has experienced remittances firsthand, as well as the experience of being a foreigner somewhere. The humility of struggling to express yourself and grit that comes with having to figure things out in a new environment — these are critical elements to our creative and authentic perspective as a company.


Read more in the June/July issue of Fast Company SA.