Speaking with Simeon Ononobi, techpreneur and founder of SimplePay and My Ads Global, opens the door to newfound understanding of the continuously booming world of technological entrepreneurship with all its gains and losses.
My Ads Global and SimplePay both take a unique approach. SimplePay is an innovative payment platform that allows users to seamlessly send and receive payments online across national borders. My Ads Global provides affordable modes of advertising to young and small companies, a solution to the often expensive and highly competitive world of advertising and marketing sales. Reports show that companies are increasingly reserving more of their advertising budget for the digital sphere and so in finding affordable ways to advertise his first app, SimplePay, he developed a solution to satisfy the growing demand for affordable mobile advertising. My Ads Global is as a new way to advertise directly to people’s mobile phones that way people can buy products directly form ads at no extra cost to the user and offer diverse budgets for all sized companies.
Both apps have kicked off to a great start so we reached out to Ononobi to hear his advice for other techpreneurs, tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs as well as hear valuable insights from inside the industry. In a society that increasingly relies on the real and pragmatic, Ononobi says he owes his success to God. He also attributes his success to two other things: being in the right place at the right time and doing the right things at the right time. His remarkable positivity and love for his job keep him going even when things get hard. He says that one of the most important things is to love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, there is no need to continue. “You would be sane to walk away but insane to continue,” he insists.
Simeon shares so many important points it’s hard to pin point what’s most valuable. Personally, the key learning point from our interview is that to become an entrepreneur, it is not necessary to hold on to too much. He explains that people want to own what they have, but advises that being a founder does not necessarily mean you need to run the entire company forever, giving away some important tasks to experts may strengthen your company. Most importantly love and enjoy what you do and that will be the only thing that really keeps you going.
When did you launch your company?
Simple pay actually started about 3-4 years ago, but I recently launched a new company called My Ads, which is into mobile advertising and instant deals and we are doing good.
What motivated you to start your company?
Basically, My Ads was a solution to a problem I had with Simple Pay. I had issues advertising. How do I get this small company to reach people that we really wanted to sell our service to? It was a bit difficult because I didn’t have the money that the big companies like Coca-Cola had to advertise, so I had to find a unique way to do so. So I thought about it, everybody carries a mobile phone so why not advertise directly to mobile phones .
How did you come up with the name?
It was a juggle, and I liked the Ad part because it was an advert. And based on the fact that we wanted you to own the Ad, so it was your Ad. It was you deciding what you would see and how you would see it and interact with it. So together, my co-founders and I came up with the name My Ads.
What is your company’s purpose?
So for my Ads, the idea is to change the way people see things and do things. It is basically to innovate advertising and also to be able to deliver commerce directly to people’s phones. So for instance, you see an ad on your phone when you receive a call, the idea is to also push commerce, so you can actually buy a product directly after you have finished your call.
What have been some of the greatest challenges you have faced so far?
A lot of challenges actually, the frustration would be finding the best talent to work with, that has been a big issue. Finding the people with the same mindset, the people who understand where you want to go in life with the company. It has been a big issue but we have been trying to recruit interns right from school and train them the way we want them to grow or just for people doing similar stuff and with similar experience with what we are doing and try to get them. It is still a bit difficult because I have a mindset that people shouldn’t. You should work for being able to be part owners of a company. For instance, own this and be part owner of a company you are working for. But many people feel let me just work 9-5 and take my salary and go. So it’s not really about the push, I have a motto ”if you want to work with me and you don’t think about the company before 9am or after 5pm, you can’t work with me”. You need to be part and parcel of the company. So it’s been the biggest challenge for me so far.
Your advice to other entrepreneurs?
Don’t hold too much. A lot of issues I have noticed with people I have mentored is the fact that they want to completely control all aspects of the company. If I am a tech developer, I am a tech developer not the CEO. If I am not a marketing person, I am not a marketing person, I can’t be the marketing head. Don’t hold too much, try and give away some to other people that are experts in what they do because there wouldn’t be a Google if Larry and Sergey did not relinquish some power. So the fact is, even if you are a founder does not mean you must run a company entirely, you can get very good hands to also help you run it. It’s going to be difficult but love what you do, enjoy what you do and that is the only thing that would keep you going.
What do you do to de-stress?
I do a lot. I ride my hover board around the office, I play football all the time, I still run and jog a lot. I go out a lot with family, I spend weekends away from home sometimes. Because I take my family out, we stay at different hotels and we have different types of cuisine.
Do you / did you have a mentor?
When I started, it was impossible to get a mentor because nobody was doing what I was doing. So it was difficult to get someone in that space. So everybody was about working for one big bank or one oil company. So nobody understood what it meant to start something from scratch. So it was difficult to get a mentor. But of late, I have found Nigerians that are now into investing in young minds and trying to help them pave through the muddy waters and all that. So today I have a mentor and I have always looked up to foreign mentors, people that I write to and they reply me. Today I have a local mentor who helps me out and also who actually has invested in my company. He is Mr Rasheed Olaoluwa.
Where do you see yourself and your company in five years time?
I believe that in five years we should have conquered Africa and we should have taken it to the world. So our five year goal is that we would be operating in 23 countries.
What would you say is the most important trend in your industry this year?
The most important trend in the payment and advertising industry, because I belong to both now. So for payment, everybody wants to be part of the payment industry without understanding the nitty-gritty of the platform. For advertising, a trend is the fact that a lot of people are going away from traditional advertising and wanting to get more targeted and focus advertising. And I believe that is a good plus for us because that is what we are doing and we believe that is the way to go. And we believe that the trend will just flow with us.
How are you leveraging the digital to forward your business?
Basically, everything we do is digital. You will not see us go pick up something. Everybody we communicate with, even meetings we have now, we have over Skype. So yes, we are doing a lot of things and it has become cheaper for us. Yes, we have a physical office, sometime back we did not have a physical office, it was just work from wherever and just collaborate on different tools. That is how we are leveraging on our digital. We have a digital marketing team, we have a digital platform. Everything we do is just purely digital. So yes, we are leveraging heavily on it.
What do you love most about your job?
The fact that it is my job (giggles). I mean, I can’t stop doing what I do, it is impossible. I love what I do, it is a no brainer. If I did not do what I am doing right now, probably, I would be a professional footballer I think, or I will be somewhere teaching. Trying to train people to understand what I know or how I know it. I love teaching, I love sharing ideas with people on what I have just found.
Back when you were in school, you taught your fellow students. How has the reception from them been for your apps?
It has been wonderful. To me, that was a starting point and it was a learning curve for me because it opened my eyes to a lot of things that people didn’t know. Globalisation was not so global then, we didn’t have the digital world that perfect then. But it made me go from one level to the next level. And from school, I decided to do this and that. And I did a lot of other things. I did a bank app for GTBank Nigeria. I have done stuff for the Federal Government. I have done a lot of things and it’s because of the learning curve I had in school that taught me what marketing was and how you address your market, how you provide a product to the market that fits.
You have received quite a number of achievements and awards. To what do you attribute Your success?
God. Because sometimes I look back and say, wait a minute, why would people just celebrate me this much because I don’t think it is worth the whole hullabaloo, you know. What I have done and how I have received it, I just believe that I was in the right place at the right time, doing the right things and God just rewarded me for it. I always believe in God and I will always do everything that I do believing that someone is out there looking at me and hoping that whatever I gain I can give it to the next person and teach the next generation. I think it is just being about God. There is nothing special about me, I don’t think there is any wonderful stuff that no other human being else can have. It is just that I have taken my chances, I have gone from one work opportunity to the next that I have had and I have not looked back. And I hope that every other person would do the same and when you get an opportunity just hit it running. I posted something the other day, telling people , if you don’t love what you are doing, there is no need to go ahead. You would be sane to work away but insane to continue. Because it is really very hard building something from scratch. So if you really want to continue pushing hard, make sure you love what you do and be sane sometimes.
I just want to let people know that it is not perfect, Nigeria is not perfect, Africa is not perfect, even the world is not perfect, but you can make it your own perfect. How you think about problems and how you try and look for solutions to solve those problems, that is what makes you different and unique. Everybody can do payment and advertising, the fact is how you do it, how you go to market with it, how you push, how you press, how you solve problems, that is what makes you different and unique. You have a magazine today, tomorrow it can be a TV station, a news network or whatever, but it is you continually moving forward that would determine what makes you get to that level. I would advise that, don’t just keep your dreams and hope that something would happen. You have a dream, it’s like an athlete that wants to go to the Olympics. If you have a dream of going to the Olympics in four years, you will start running and hitting the gym, you will start doing things for yourself. So you have to actually move forward. Don’t just sit down and say Nigeria is the worse. Forget the problems, just search forward and keep doing what you enjoy doing.