Tale Alimi is a business strategist and consultant. In the last 10 years, she has been involved in information and communication technology (ICT) entrepreneurship. Recently, she co-founded Rouzo, an online cooperative scheme that helps fund small businesses.
In this interview with Daily Sun, she outlined the dynamics of her new business creation and spoke on some important developments, including the growing importance of acquiring digital skills in today’s world and how students can gain a head start in the employment market even before completing their tertiary education.
As co-founder of Rouzo, what was the inspiration for the platform?
Rouzo was created because we noticed that, in developing economies, wealth creation is fuelled by productivity. The small business segment of the economy contributes significantly to this growth. However, they are usually underfunded. At the same time, working-class members of society are always looking for alternative ways to grow their income and build wealth, and this is not attainable through traditional financial institutions.
As a financial technology company, we initially created a credit-scoring algorithm to help financial institutions credit score small businesses so they could get access to credit from them. We can leverage our algorithm on Rouzo to support small businesses.
Where did the idea come from?
In the last decade, I have worked with micro and small businesses as a business coach and consultant. Because of my background in technology, I leveraged on technology to provide business support for these businesses. When I began to notice that a lot of these businesses were finding it challenging to get financing, I started looking for a way to use technology to bring access to finance closer to these businesses, which is what led to setting up a fintech company in the first place.
However, with changes in the economy, we began to also notice that traditional financial institutions were also not able to meet their financial needs adequately and at the same time people within our community were looking for alternative means of investing, so we decided to create a cooperative platform and bring the two parties together.
After the MMM experience, most Nigerians are scared of investing in online schemes; how is Rouzo different?
Rouzo is a peer-to-peer platform powered by Owoafara Fintech Services Limited. Peer-to-peer is an alternative way of investing or getting access to finance that allows individuals to pool their funds together for a common cause on a technology platform.
We created Rouzo as a form of online cooperative to help everyday people looking for alternative forms of investment pool their funds to support micro and small business. This way, they can make an impact on the economy and get healthy financial returns as they build wealth.
Rouzo is a for-profit, for-impact platform that has a sustainable business model because we are creating value and not collecting monies and operating a pyramid scheme. So far, membership has been driven by word of mouth as it is very trust-driven and we take care of our member’s funds with integrity and transparency.
How does your experience impact on this initiative?
There is no doubt that my 15 years of corporate experience working in management consulting, financial services and technology companies building products for SMEs will bring positive impact into what we are doing now. I have also previously founded two startups, one of which was acquired in the e-commerce space.
Having been involved in two startups, what lessons have you learnt about establishing a business and nurturing it to full bloom in Nigeria?
I have learnt that you must have a balance of the right idea, right execution, right funding and Gods favour to get it off the ground. You also need a lot of resilience and patience to nurture it. I say this because there is a lot of pressure on people to live a certain lifestyle when they are starting and growing their business. If you succumb to such pressures, you can jeopardize the potential of the company.
When you decide to embark on a new venture, it will take a lot of personal sacrifice from you. You have to be intentional about how you use your time, what you allow influence you, and you have to ensure you are not distracted by success or failure. I have learnt that remaining focused on the vision and mission is exceptionally important.
Looking back, what are some of the challenges that could have stopped you from coming this far and how did you surmount them?
I have surmounted a lot of obstacles and it is by the grace of God. Ten years ago, I became a single parent unexpectedly. The emotional and financial challenges almost took a toll on me, especially combining that with starting and running businesses.
My family, close circle of friends and my team supported me through various challenges I have had to overcome. It has taken a lot of prayers, continuous learning and focus to come this far.
What motivated you to become a full stack developer?
I had a background in technology as a database administrator early in my career, so, I have always been familiar with technology applications. However, when we wanted to build our first platform at Owoafara, I tried to get a technical co-founder who would build it, but I got disappointed by two people.
This was the motivation I needed to take on the challenge to learn how to build it myself.
It was quite an interesting challenge learning new programming languages, but I was able to do it in four months and we have come far since then.
To Nigerian youths grappling with unemployment, how do you think they can best find their feet, given the adverse economic situation now?
I think acquiring digital skills is the way to go. With the Internet and technology, you can work anywhere in the world now from the comfort of your home. COVID-19 has also further accelerated remote work. So, employment should not be restricted to a certain country. Once you have skills that are relevant in multiple countries, you can apply for a remote job and even work as a self-employed freelancer.
What are the preparations that Nigerian students need before graduation to make their quest for a job fruitful and easily transform them into entrepreneurs?
You need to have a skill that is valuable and applicable in the real world. A member of my current technology team is a university student and because of his programming skills, he is earning twice as much as some university graduates that don’t have real-world skills.
Do you have an anecdote of the most memorable moment in your working life?
A recent experience was the launch of Rouzo at the height of COVID-19. At that time, my co-founder and I were participating in an accelerator programme. We were told it would be difficult to pull it off because of the virus. I was almost depressed at the circumstances, but it took a lot of courage, spiritual and mental strength to do it and it has been a progressive journey so far.