Driving Momentum: Sahir Berry, Founder Of Nigeria-Based Fintech Solution NowNow
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"I always ensure I have a written agenda for everything I plan to accomplish on a daily basis, because accountability to one’s self is paramount. While in my earlier years, organization was an issue, it became some- thing I focused on, addressed it, and I’d like to think that today it has become my core strength. My passion to achieve constant organizational growth from that period and build up a success story drives me every day,” says Sahir Berry, and now, as we start listing the many of his entrepreneurial endeavors, these words will resonate even more.
While Berry credits his educational background (a bachelor’s degree in international business from Suffolk University – Sawyer Business School, and a master’s degree in hospitality management from Les Roches International School of Hotel Management) for “the valuable lessons in foreseeing client and customer demands and finding, importing, or pertinently developing locally the market tools to meet them,” he highlights the experiential knowledge he has gained from taking part in his family enterprise, the UK-based security technology company Contec Global Group, establishing its presence across Asia, Europe, and Africa. Namely, alongside his father and brother, Dr. Benoy Berry and Roheen Berry respectively, Sahir Berry has been instrumental in growing Contec Global Group by bolstering government e-identity projects, such as e-visa, e-passport, and driving licenses across Africa, the UAE, the US, and India.
Many companies with a global presence shy away from the often too challenging African market, however, Berry sees nothing but opportunities there, and particularly in Nigeria, the world’s 23rd largest economy, the nation with the biggest population (200 million), and the biggest economy in Africa. “We’re talking obviously about a continent with its own unique challenges, particularly in starting up or running a business,” Berry says. “These range from poor supportive infrastructure in certain regions, a high cost of business financing, lingering bureaucratic challenges including shifting government policies, lack of market information and data- all impediments that make customer education on new products, such as ours, and walking them through the process seamlessly, especially pertaining to payment related products, somewhat tedious at times.”
In this way, Berry is opening up the conversation about his other two businesses, both subsidiaries within the Contec Global Group, which he launched to seize opportunities arising from the fact that Nigeria’s financial sector is ripe for disruption. Namely, Berry is also the founder of AfriOne, Nigeria’s first smart devices manufacturing company, and of NowNow, a mobile wallet changing the way people on the African continent relate to financial services. “While I admit there are no magic answers to overcoming these challenges, with a good understanding of the African business environment acquired over decades of experience, and the right relationships on hand, which have enabled our out of the box strategies and timely interventions to drive growth, NowNow has overcome past impediments and we are proudly driving brand momentum in saturation,” Berry explains. Here is some insight into why Berry believes that Nigeria would benefit from NowNow’s solutions – first of all, 42% of the Nigerian adult population is financially excluded, while the remaining part is serviced by only 22 banks. “Nigeria hosts undeniably the largest population in Africa with a rapidly growing economy, both formalized and as yet unknown,” he explains. “There remains a large segment of the population still ‘cash driven,’ both ruralized and urbanized communities, and excluded from financial market inclusion. While there are challenges, the opportunities for fintech platforms to effectively integrate and thrive in these regions is undeniable, and I contend that we are in pole position in that process.”
Sahir Berry, founder and CEO, NowNow
Secondly, Nigeria’s internet subscription currently stands at about 91.9 million, and mobile subscription at 155 million, Berry states, and to put that into perspective, he explains that, in 2018, only 9.07 million unique subscribers (out of a population of 200 million and 70 million adult population) performed online payment transfers. Berry thus sees a large untapped market for NowNow, adding that his vision for the company is “to own every financial transaction in Nigeria, from recharges, bill payments, money transfers, P2P transactions, micro lending, parking payments, tolls, fuel payment, cross border transactions and much more.” Berry says, “NowNow is Nigeria’s fastest growing fintech platform, and currently the third largest in terms of money transfers. Our vision is to become the largest transaction-focused enterprise across Africa, the top performing company in the fintech space on the continent. So far, money transfer and cash withdrawals have been the biggest growth stories for us, and over the last three quarters, our growth rates have been 70% month on month. We are in the process of showcasing 360-degree use cases in Nigeria, while exploring expanding our reach to various sectors, including transportation, government, gaming, entertainment, shopping, online transactions, and so on. It’s an exciting time to work at NowNow, and to be a NowNow customer. The ecosystem you enter today will grow around you tomorrow, and we are privileged to play our role in emerging market ‘ease of doing business’ in the process.”
To date, NowNow has built a 4,000-strong agent network all across Nigeria as well as partnerships with all major banks and other financial stakeholders. “I foresee a continuance and steady growth in accessing what remains largely an untapped economic market, and putting Fourth Industrial Revolution-inspired technological innovation forward in allowing for ‘mobile money’, e-loans and the business of electronic payments in West Africa to thrive,” Berry says. “The vision is to develop a cashless economy cross-sector, honing-in on the disruptive power of technology while captaining financial inclusion wherein the biggest hindrance to autonomous growth has been access to capital.” In further support of this process of increasing financial inclusion in the country, in 2017 in Lagos, the Berry family set up a hardware arm of the Contec Global Group, AfriOne, to manufacture affordable smartphones. Since then, AfriOne, dubbed Nigeria’s first local mobile phone brand, has announced two smartphones, the Gravity Z2 & Champion Pro, and two feature phones, Naija 1 & Punch, and more recently, a new range of music devices and accessories. “We are in the process of setting up smart phone device production across Africa, a replicable model which began in Lagos but has now started to expand and evolve in line with our long term vision to improve high-skills development, transfer and youth employment and empowerment on the continent, increasing the national GDP in the process.”
For Berry, ensuring that his ventures reach their targets requires building a strong and reliable team, and being open to learning from mistakes, individually and collectively. “As a leader, one has to learn from the past and past mistakes. Mistakes will happen, but it’s important for a CEO to grow from them and to know how to prevent them from happening again. Also, I have always believed that a great organization comes from a great team, and finding team members who display integrity, character, and insight. The tenets you yourself strive to adhere to, is important, but finding talent and empowering them to put their skills to work on a shared vision, ensuring that they stay when the time comes to make difficult decisions, these are the trials and tribulations inherent in any management position.”
One of Berry’s approaches to this is in encouraging references from existing team members and searching on popular professional forums, he explains, adding that “grassroots methodologies have always played a part of my strategy to find the right resources.” Berry says, “I’m privileged to have around me loyal teammates who share my drive for achievement and NowNow’s success. The longer he or she has stayed, I find that the more loyal he or she is towards daily responsibilities, the easier our constant communication becomes; and, with career development assured at that stage, we can present to new employees that we foster a climate of greater team retention.” Regardless of so many successful projects under his belt, Berry considers humility to be the most important trait he should keep going forward. “I don’t always stick to one single plan unabashedly; I believe in adjusting, confronting and conquering as required because bespoke challenges require bespoke solutions,” he says. “Furthermore, despite our successes, it’s important to keep one’s ego in check. I listen to crucial advisors around me on a regular basis for their critical input and feedback, knowing that they are as much a part of NowNow as I am. This has helped my organization to accomplish great things. This also means as required, effective delegation and when doing so, avoiding micromanagement, as tempting sometimes as it may be to intervene. At the end of the day, I’ve learnt not to be afraid of reinvention. I keep thinking about how an existing idea can be changed or how technological innovation can take what was ‘next-generation’ at the time to a higher level, maintaining competitive advantage for NowNow.”
While the fintech sector has been thriving across the world, Berry is proud that NowNow is also present in the Middle East. “While the Middle East is perhaps a more mature market, we are seeing today a global conduciveness for fostering a climate of innovation, region on region, that allows for established brands, such as NowNow, to pioneer new technologies and to integrate new additions to the financial system,” he concludes. “We offer with rapidity and prowess that would otherwise have taken years to be received and deployed. In short, I believe that now is a very good time to start a business in the MENA region, and we are delighted to have a business established and primed for wholesale integration- a proven model replicable the world over.”
‘TREP TALK NowNow founder Sahir Berry’s tips for entrepreneurs
1. Keep an open mind
“Think big, think fast, think clearly, and think about the bigger picture.”
2. Teach yourself to be innovative
“Sometimes out of the box solutions are required to solve a problem; don’t be afraid to search for them.”
3. Test and test again
“Keep innovating, and don’t shy away from rebuilding your product to achieve, and maintain a competitive advantage.”
4. Always look to grow
“Keep looking for multiple revenue streams to stay in the game, so don’t be afraid to diversify.”
5. Errors are to be expected
“Of course, acknowledge and learn from your mistakes.”