Tale Alimi: Building A Bridge To Financial Access With Owoafara
Written by Onyinye Okonkwo
Tale Alimi has always loved tech as she was been to tech early on with her father being military personnel and the head of communications meant that a lot of new gadgets were available to her.
With the encouragement of her father, her love for tech grew which prompted her to pick up tech skills like word processing, then on to design and later programming languages like Java and the rest.
For women in tech this week, Tale Alimi, founder, and CEO of Owoafara talks about her early interest and love for tech and how she has come full circle to be a founder, proffering solutions in the Nigerian Fintech Space.
Tale’s love for tech didn’t get in the way of her education as she tells me she is not only well-versed in tech and its attendant skills but also has other non-tech qualifications.
Tale tells me that “ I have my first degree at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, a BSc in accounting and before that, I already had some certifications like an Oracle certification and also a certified Fullstack developer.
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“After my BSc, I ended up working early on in Airtiel in a department Called financial systems which I found interesting but after some time working at the backend, I got bored, I wanted to be part of the front end talking to humans beings so I went to get an MBA because I thought an MBA would give me practical knowledge about running a business beyond just being at the backend either coding or working with databases.”
During the MBA program at the Lagos Business School, Tale found a special interest in the case studies that involved women entrepreneurs. After her MBA program, while she worked in consulting at the time, she also got her first experience of solving a problem through tech “ I started an e-commerce fashion brand which was my introduction to using technology to solve a problem.
“I was selling fashion products to people using technology to get them delivered to people and that was where I saw how technology can work.
“All that journey is what has led me to this spot because when I worked in consulting, one of the assignments we did was to go into the market and try to introduce our technology products to people since it was a technology consulting company.”
It was in the process of going on these marketing field trips that Tale tells me, she realized how underserved a lot of these people in the markets are, realizing there are other ways they could serve them by providing financial services leveraging technology. This is how the idea for Owoafara came to be.
However, before Owoafara, Tale already had a first foray into using tech to solve problems which also came with an introduction To the shark-infested waters of business.
This unsavoury experience will form the basis of Tale’s stint as a business coach, also making her more experienced in running a tech solution business in Nigeria.
The Birth Of Owoafara
The tale has been an entrepreneur all her life as she reveals “My mum is Igbo she had the Igbo entrepreneurial spirit and she was not always selling something but also use to force us to also sell which is where I believe I got my affinity for entrepreneurship from.
“Since I was young I have always been an entrepreneur from selling sweets to my classmates to selling makeup in the university, I was always selling something and honestly didn’t know another way as that is what I grew up around.” Tale reveals.
After her experience in the business world which led to losing her first business due to what she would describe as her “ naivety in the realities of business” Tale went back to paid employment working for Concept Group as head of sales and strategy after which she decided to delve into business coaching using her experiences to teach business owners especially women how to run their businesses better.
She says that” After concept group, I just thought that I could help other people with a lot of the things I had learnt from losing my business, working with other people, I felt a passion to help other small businesses especially women not to make the same mistake I made out of naivety so I became a business coach.
“Mainly relying on my experience of building this million Dollar company and losing it and just educating people about things like how you fund your company, how you build structures, how two ensure you are lawyered up to protect yourself and your businesses and just basically sharing whatever knowledge I had.”
It was in the process of doing this which meant working closely with small businesses she realized once again that there are other ways she could serve them better with her other skillset and experience as a lot of the small businesses kept mentioning financial access as one of the major challenges they faced in running their business.
She tells me this how she got motivated to start Owoafara “ All of the business owners I used to coach kept mentioning financial access as a challenge so I thought that would be a great way to serve considering I already had experience working in financial services and tech that was how I started Owoafara which is a Yoruba word but translated means “Money Bridge”.
This is another way to create financial access using all my previously garnered knowledge and experience.
So Owoafara is a combination of all the things I’ve been through personally and all the challenges I have seen other entrepreneurs struggle with.
This is my way of addressing these issues and trying to solve these pre-existing problems using my background in technology and my experience in finance to create a solution” she says.
Owoafara officially launched in 2020 even though she started working on the idea in 2019.
For Tale, this solution is personal as she knows first-hand the struggles of running a small business and not getting access to finance, the struggles of raising money and losing your business, this motivates and forms part of the mission of Owoafara.
Tale’s Mission & Growth
Speaking on what they do and hope to achieve with Owoafara, Tale shares that “ my mission has always been how can I provide financial access to 1 million underserved people?
I want to create financial access, yes there is financial access all over the place but for the people who are underserved and underbanked, especially in the informal sector, is there a way we can use technology to reach these people?
To bring financial services to them, make them more financially included? And also find a way to bring final education to them.
This is because beyond access education is required. A lot of people do not have money not because there is no money but because they do not know how to access the money or know how to get themselves prepared to get the money.
That’s the conversation and that’s our mission, our goal at Owoafara and that is why it is the money bridge, we are bridging the access gap to financial services using technology.
Tale says they at Owoafara call themselves a digital bank because they offer digital financial services where in 5 mins their customers can get a distal account through which they can save, get access to loans and other services which they can carry out either through other field officers or agents their partners in providing banking simplified to their customers.
The start which is two years Since its official launch in May 2020, kicked off lending transactions in June 2020 and so far has served over 10000 people recording over a million dollars in transactions.
Running a startup is not without its unique challenges and Tale should know as this isn’t her first rodeo in the start scene.
While there are lots of challenges in running a start-up, top of the list for her is often finding the right people, she believes that “ finding the right people or the right team can be a bit challenging.
I have had that as a challenge, going through processes of numerous interview just to find one right person but when you find them it makes the work easier.” She says.
Another challenge she faces like most startup founders is the challenge of funding, it is no secret that only about 2% of funds from vis go to female-led startups and it’s way less for African women.
Risk management Tale says is also a challenge get as being in financial services means having to constantly be on your toes to ensure you have the right processes and systems to curb risks to help ensure that there are no defaults.
Another challenge she has encountered is balancing team members’ expectations with the company objectives, especially as a leader.
This can be a challenge as some team members want to make more money she says a leader, whilst you should empathize with them, you also must ensure that the company remain stable, sustainable and in existence which means you can’t meet everyone’s expectations all the time, so Creating this balance she reveals has been a challenge for her at different times.
Even though these challenges can be daunting, Tale isn’t fazed by them, she brushes them off as part of what comes with the territory in business an approach which she has developed over time after being in business all her life “ I Just embrace the challenges because it’s part of the business terrain, I guess because I have done several.
Businesses, it doesn’t scare me as much as they used to. If you do not embrace challenges you won’t grow so I just embrace them and keep growing”.
One memorable moment that will remain indelible in Tale’s mind is something the success of one of their products at Owoafara which is the women trader program she tells how seeing that have a real impact on real people has been one of her most memorable moments so far as a woman in tech
“As a woman in tech, I understand how most women are hesitant to ask for the necessary financial help for their business so I ensured my team built an algorithm that created points to favour women so that they can get access to finances for their business.
“One of the ways we did this was to launch a program called the women trader program where we encourage access to financial services for women. We did an analysis of this program last year and the testimonial of the women was so exciting and it warmed my heart.
“I had the sense of we are doing something and making a difference for women in our society, that was a high point for me.” She shares.
Tale’s passion for building systems that ensures women are financially included is not hard to spot as she tells me that for one of the products recently launched called Fara, 70% of the users of this product are women compared to the 30% of female participation that most companies record.
These kinds of things she tells me are her high points as it tells her she is doing real-world things and not just occupying space in the ecosystem.
She also mentions going through the African tech vision mentorship program as a memorable moment making mention of the topic of ‘how not to kill your startup” and the conversation on mental health as some of the memorable topics from the program.
Advice for women in tech
Tale had this advice to give to those looking to come into the tech space, she had this to say “Tech is like any other business out there, so like it would be if you are starting a business.
“Go for something you have a passion for and an interest in, a place where you know you can provide a solution.
“Forget about all the news of money being raised, b beyond that surface there is real work to be done. If you believe that there is a solution you can provide, then go for it. If as a young woman, you are thinking should I go into tech? Please do!
“We need more women in technology because we can only influence the way the product is designed, the way it is developed, and decisions like the kind of algorithm that is built, like I did with Fara, you can decide where the money goes, who gets the funding and decision like that, so we need more women in the space.
She goes further to advise more women to learn how to code and also learn how to run a business as any tech startup or solution is still a business at the end of the day.
“I have also observed that most women shy away from coding because it is very hard, especially backend. But if women can become pilots and go to space then we can learn how to code.
Also, pay attention to the business side of things, a tech company is still a business and you will need finance, Human Resources, operations and everything a business requires to run well.
So ensure you also get business training and practical knowledge of running a business.”
Finally, be resilient she advises, resilience is necessary as there would be tough times and running a start as with anything we do in life is a marathon, not a sprint.
People celebrate the highlights but the truth is a lot goes on behind the scenes so just mentally, and emotionally prepare, have an open, learning mind, embrace the challenges and grow from them, Tale advises.
Owoafara they have some big plans for the future, some of which Tale shares with me; “We are going to be a fully digital bank by next year in 2 years we hope to have a million customers, and if we have 10 million by 5 years that will be super amazing.
“For the past two years, we have been taking our time to build and ensure we have a solution that people want, making mistakes, correcting, pivoting and all that.
“Now it’s time to scale, we are ready to go big. We also have plans to expand to other parts of the country, first covering the southwest and expanding to another state in the country and making sure our solution gets to as many people as we can reach in the country.
“We would also like to list on the stock exchange and take the company public, this is one of the visions I have and I feel we should be able to do it in five years.”
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