HOW PHILIP NYAMWAYA FOUNDED A THRIVING ONLINE PAYMENTS FIRM

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Philip Nyamwaya, CEO, iPAY

Philip Nyamwaya talks about founding iPay, succeeding as an entrepreneur and the importance of online payments in a digitally transforming world

Philip Nyamwaya, the founder and CEO of iPay Limited, never thought he could be an entrepreneur. Like most other university students, his dream was to work hard in school, get good grades, and get a well-paying job.  As a third year university student, he got a chance to work on a software project, an experience that would later set him up for entrepreneurship.

Philip worked extra ordinarily hard to deliver a quality project. The client was impressed with his work and offered him a job shortly thereafter.  He could juggle between studying and working, as the job gave him an opportunity to earn a salary, while still in university.

“When I went to the university, I had the mindset of most every other student. Get a job, maybe as a management trainee, and rise through the ranks. But after I got that employment opportunity, I figured out that I can actually survive as an entrepreneur,” says Philip.

In 2004, he graduated with a degree in computer science from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

“I graduated at about the same time president Kibaki was sworn in for his first term. The air of optimism in the country was palpable.”

After graduation, Philip teamed up with a friend, Steve Ogola, to start Intrepid Data Systems- a systems integration firm. Four years later, M-Pesa was launched by Safaricom.

“I figured that we could actually create a community of e-commerce clients around this platform,” he says.

“Back then, we were thinking about M-Pesa 2.0. We pondered on developing a solution that would enable people to make payments for goods and services using mobile money at the point-of-sale as well as on the internet.”

Grabbing the opportunity head on, he spearheaded the development of a system that would allow one to use mobile money to make digital payments.

Coincidentally, this happened at a time when he was doing his Masters thesis on mobile commerce development in a third world context.  “It was exciting because I was studying what I was doing practically with our system development,” says Philip, who holds a Masters Degree in Software Engineering from the University of Liverpool.

Developing such a system was not easy, he says. Despite this, they still managed to have a good test run with clients. Afterwards, the board of directors decided to separate the software development and payments solution entities and create iPay as an independent company.”

Eventually, iPay was incorporated in 2010 and the product went live.

iPay is an innovative payments processing solution and payment gateway built for Africa.

The firm packages popular bank debit and credit cards and money transfer systems into an online/point of sale transaction processing gateway that allows one to receive payments off a website.

These modes of payment integration include M-Pesa, Airtel Money, e-Lipa, VISA, Mastercard, Kenswitch, Pesalink and EazzyPay.

“We have made it easier for clients to make secure payments for products and services both online and at the point of sale using mobile money, mobile-banking and credit cards. Payment notification is instantly done to both the merchant and to the customer, “adds the executive.

The technology also allows businesses to make payments to their suppliers or to their members of staff.  Under this, business owners can pay out funds to suppliers. They can also pay staff salaries directly to their bank accounts or mobile wallet.

He further explains that they refined the technology to enable businesses to pay other businesses through the platform. “It is fast, seamless and attracts no extra costs.”

Noting that a modern customer is highly fluid, seeks special treatment and is always shopping for creative services that define how they transact their business on-the-go using mobile gadgets, the firm introduced a billing solution.

Their billing solution enables users to buy airtime, pay for bills and services like TV and internet subscriptions, water and electricity bills using paybill number 510800.

“We also offer event owners ticketing solutions under Tickets4U, which allows businesses to run events and vend tickets digitally.”

Contrary to popular belief about cyber fraud, online bill payments are safe, when you choose the right bill payment service, he says.

Typically, an online bill pay service that is backed by a bank or a company that provides online banking services will be safe and reliable. This is because online bill pay services encrypt your data to keep it secure and use multi-step identity verification processes and password protection.

How does iPay ensures integrity on its platform?

“We have invested a lot of resources in the past decade to build a robust platform. The confidence entrusted on us by some of the largest online retailers and corporations in Africa speaks for itself,” explains the CEO.

“Besides, we have a trustee who oversees merchant funds. We value the security of information and data within our systems, as well as people who access the system, whether internally or externally.”

Client confidence

iPay serves more than 3500 clients in private, public and non-profit sectors. These include leading brands like Jumia, National and County Governments, National Museums of Kenya, Ramtons Electronics, My Dawa, Urban Coffee, Banks, Churches, the Africa Legal Network among others.

Besides just targeting big players, the firm also tailor makes its solutions to address the needs of small businesses.

“Our product is secure, easy to understand and easy to use. We make it easier for firms to focus on their core business by handling their payment challenges effortlessly for them,” he explains adding that, “firms can also make use of the data generated from using our platforms to make important business decisions.”

“An audit trail is generated for every query executed. Such data can be fed into an accounting system for further analytics,” says Philip. For instance, the data can give insights on which channels are mainly used by clients or which products are moving faster.

“We are also taking away the inherent risks that come with handling cash. If a customer is not happy with your products or services you can refund money directly via our system.”

Recently, iPay partnered with King Kaka Foundation under the Bank on Me initiative. The firm offered the foundation a payment platform. The initiative aims to keep 100,000 girls in school and focus on their education through sanitary towel donations.

Future

“We are keen on working with county governments to meet their revenue collection goals. We are also interested in meaningful partnerships in micro lending to allow our merchants access working capital which they may not be able to access due to financial constraints.”

The firm is also launching e-Lipa, an app that allows customers to pay for utilities online.

Besides Kenya, iPay also operates in Uganda and Tanzania.

Using its success in the region as a reference point, the firm is pondering entry into Togo and the rest of Africa.

“We have the ambition of increasing our footprint in Africa and East Africa was the entry point,” says Philip.

Business lessons

Philip says he has learned important lessons that are key to entrepreneurial success.

  • Integrity, honesty, diligence and discipline are important principles in life and in business.
  • Don’t ever make promises that you can’t deliver.
  • If you are not able to do something now, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to do it in future.
  • An entrepreneur has moral accountability to his employees, clients, the government and the public.
  • Don’t take shortcuts. Work ethically. Start small but dream big.
  • Build solutions that solve real world problems, such will stand the test of time.
  • Create value in life. Good value attracts capital.
  • My faith in God informs my value system.

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