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Babatunde Akin-Moses: building a peer-to-peer lending platform to empower African SMEs & Consumers

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

"We are particularly interested in advancing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) one, eight and ten (no poverty, decent work & economic growth and reduced inequalities respectively), which is why over 50% of our customers are small and medium sized businesses. "

Q1:Tell us about your yourself:

My name is Babatunde Akin-Moses and I am the CEO and co-founder of Sycamore, a peer-to -peer lending platform that connects lenders to borrowers using technology. Prior to Sycamore, my experience has been in consulting (for 2 of the Big 4 accounting firms) where I specialised in consulting, accounting, tax and finance for various industries.

My bachelor's degree is in economics. I am also a chartered accountant and an MBA holder from Lagos Business School, with a brief stay at IESE Business School for an exchange program (both fantastic institutions by the way). I love to write about business, economy, policy, startups, inspiration and entertainment. I am also deeply passionate about making Nigeria and Africa as a whole, a much better place to thrive and prosper for all.

Q2:What does your company do?:

Sycamore is an online peer-to-peer lending platform, which connects lenders to borrowers, with the aim of empowering individuals and small businesses financially.

We are particularly interested in advancing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) one, eight and ten (no poverty, decent work & economic growth and reduced inequalities respectively), which is why over 50% of our customers are small and medium sized businesses.

I am working with an exceptional team, where we are exploring the use of unconventional data to make credit scoring and lending decisions, to allow the financing of untapped niches in the market.

Q3: What inspired you to start your business?:

I and my Co-Founders; Onyinye Okonji (CMO) and Mayowa Adeosun (CFO), have all had prior experience in the financial and lending sphere, and so are no strangers to the lending space and the bottlenecks small and medium enterprises face when trying to access loans. Therefore, we saw the need for a more simplified and easily accessible financing source for SMEs and individuals.

Q4: How do you define your business model; what differentiates your products or Services from others?:

Sycamore is a Peer-to-Peer lending platform; this essentially means that we connect lenders' resources to properly vetted borrowers. To allow these borrowers to achieve their dreams or meet financial obligations easily.

We also have a product called "Loan Friends" which allows family and friends to lend and borrow money from each other on our platform. Loan Friends makes it easier for people to track and collect loans given to friends and family.

Q5: Starting a business is not easy. What struggles did you experience in the infant years of your company and how did you overcome it?:

A major challenge we faced at the beginning was funding, which is necessary to empower businesses financially. Fortunately, we stumbled on a creative alternative, and decided to make it a Peer-to-Peer lending platform, to allow vetted lenders invest in small businesses, while we would just provide the platform required to facilitate the relationship. We also had the issue of being able to afford experienced talent in the early days.

Q6: What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?:

Not to dwell on mistakes or things that are not working unnecessarily

Q7: What are your 3 priorities right now:

Our biggest priorities right now include:

  1. Getting & retaining great talent (by creating an awesome culture)

  2. Seeking out frontier markets for pan-African expansion

  3. Ensuring compliance with all regulatory requirements

Q8: What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?:

We plan to be an African and subsequently global leading name in the lending sphere, providing solutions to millions of people across the globe who face difficulties and need financial empowerment one way or the other

Q9: Advice to other entrepreneurs or to your younger self?:

Everything good will come if you work hard, and take things one day at a time.

Here's what history has taught us, to date: Africans are industrious and have no problem starting businesses, none whatsoever. At any given time today, we have over 85 million businesses across Africa, at varying stages of operations, that's an enterprising continent, by any measure. However, looking ahead into the future, there are things that must definitely changes, in terms of our approach to business as Africans. For one: we cannot glorify the hustle, more than real wins. What that means is: we must stop celebrating minuscule businesses. Yes: all things begin small, but twenty years later, a hand to mouth business, must have evolved into a large enterprise or at least a sustainable enterprise, with resilience.

The writing is on the wall, at a macro scale: for our African economies to grow, sustainably and eradicate poverty, then we can no longer afford to be host to majority hand-to-mouth businesses that remain small. Businesses must grow. It was a mentor of mine who told me this, when setting the ground rules, for our mentorship journey "son...things that are healthy, will always grow...nature follows that same principle, always".

Our Small and Medium business (SMEs) as a continent, must grow and bolster a never seen before resilience. Beyond founders gaining further business acumen, the Financing of SMEs is mission critical, if we are to come to the rescue of these SMEs, to liberate them and set them on their growth paths. On the continent today: financing for SMEs especially, must take priority, if we are to liberate our economies from aid dependancy.

The peer-to-peer lending innovation that Babatunde and the Sycamore team have created is aptly timed. The Africa we want is here. Wishing them success and more wins ahead.

One of the reasons why foreign tech firms fail when importing their solutions, which worked well elsewhere, into Africa, is this: their tendency to want to dictate how Africans must adopt their technologies, in a similar way other nations did. For a healthy adoption: tech companies from within Africa and from elsewhere, must observe existing customs, and culture.

From age old eras gone by, it is evident that: Africa has always had financial systems, that powered trade and made sustained social relations possible. From archaic systems like bartering, where members of the community enjoyed a basic peer-to-peer ecosystem, exchanging value without a need of an outside organisation, to more evolved trade forms, Africans always found a way to trade.

In the attempt to better things, trade alternatives that followed the bartering days, which did need improvement, tend to centralise power and drive value and control away from the people. What Africa needs, is the rethink of financial services, in a manner that embraces community values, enables inclusion whilst retaining value and power amongst the people.

Early attempts at such solutions have been entering the financial services landscape, where a gap continued to exist however, is the availability and adoption of such solution at scale. At the heart of what Babatunde and Sycamore team are doing, is the attainment of these community centric values, through their pee-to-peer framework.

Lending a hand to individuals and small businesses, towards attainment of financial inclusion. I wish them success as they grow their human capital, enlarging their domain across the Africa region and ticking all the compliance boxes into each terrain.

Phumza Dyani: Chief Marketing Officer - Pan African Network for Investment and Dev

Firstly, I want to commend the Sycamore team on the incredible work done to solve a practical challenge with a practical solution. Africa has a great opportunity for lending solutions that are relevant for the local challenges. According to the World bank Research, about 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa's population is unbanked. This speaks to the enormity of this opportunity. I have seen a number of the Blockchain solutions that are coming from different continents to address this market and I am proud to see one that is African.

Secondly, I am incredibly impressed by the specificity of the problem that is being solved. The traditional credit vetting approaches miss the opportunity of some lucrative segments of the market and tend to view this as very high risk. This leaves this market untapped or exploited by exorbitant lending schemes. It takes out of the box thinking and understanding of the market to realise the opportunity. Solving this problem is also a great catalyst to many other factors:

  1. Africa is solving its own problems through using the power of community;

  2. Enabling the greatest engine for Africa’s growth, the SMME, for stimulating growth and expansion.

I am impressed by the tenacity of the founders in finding alternatives when stuck and not dwelling on the challenges only. It is also great to see the long-term vision, which indicates the intention of the Founders to grow a sustainable business. I would definitely invest in this because it ticks many of my boxes. Firstly, the commercial opportunity and the addressing of the Sustainable Development Goals.

David Akinwale: Leadership Coach, HR Professional - Alpha Global Leadership Academy

One of the issues individuals and SMEs face is access to finance and that can affect the growth and development. What Babatunde is doing is commendable and it's a bold step to open more doors because we have a lot of SMEs in Nigeria and Africa.

At least 90% of businesses fall within Small & Medium enterprises. This proves that Africans are very entrepreneurial and we have no challenge starting businesses. Sycamore is already providing solutions to this challenge and they are on the rise to give freedom for new SMEs.

I am fascinated by Sycamore Team leader passion, experience, and being able to innovate ideas to develop their products or services.

What Babatunde and the entire Sycamore team are building is for Africans and Africans. They understand what we need in Africa for SMEs to grow and thrive. Indeed, access to funding plays a huge role, therefore access to this platform is to create an enabling environment and for more SMEs to grow and develop.

We look forward to more of their success, the impact and influence they are creating for SMEs to thrive more in Nigeria and Africa.

Olatunji B. Alonge Speaker l Podcaster & Founder - Growth Hive Consulting

Throughout the 18th century, barter trade was trendy. Goods for goods, services for services without money in the picture but the world can’t continue like this for another century. Amongst all of the challenges of trade by barter, the fiercest was, “double coincidence of wants,” and this did not go away even with the invention of money. Babatunde and his Sycamore team saw the new variant of this challenge in the 21st century and they are attending to it beautifully.

Some people (lenders) have the money and they don’t need it, maybe at the moment, while some people (borrowers) need not as much as that to pay for the cost of running one of the businesses that will take Africa to the next stage, but how will these people meet and do exchange without trust issues? That’s what Sycamore is answering with every fibre of their business model. The Sycamore team should plant more trees across Africa, because a lot of little ones want to be seen and do more for Africa.

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