Tale Alimi has always loved tech as she was been to tech early on with her father being military personnel and the head of communications meant that a lot of new gadgets were available to her.
With the encouragement of her father, her love for tech grew which prompted her to pick up tech skills like word processing, then on to design and later programming languages like Java and the rest.
For women in tech this week, we interviewed Tale Alimi, Founder, and CEO of Owoafara and winner of the Fintech revelation W.I.A 2021 award about her early interest, love for tech and how she has come full circle to be a founder, proffering solutions in the Nigerian Fintech Space.
How it started
Tale’s love for tech didn’t get in the way of her education as she tells me she is not only well versed in tech but has other important academic qualifications:
“I have my first degree at Olabisi Onabanjo University, a BSc in accounting and before that, I already had some certifications like an Oracle certification and a certified Fullstack developer. I ended up working in Airtel in a department Called financial systems. But after some time, I got bored. So, I went to get an MBA because I thought an MBA would give me practical knowledge about running a business beyond coding or working with databases.”
During the MBA program at the Lagos Business School, Tale found a special interest in the case studies that involved women entrepreneurs. After her MBA program, while she worked in consulting at the time, she also got her first experience of solving a problem through tech.
“ I started an e-commerce fashion brand which was my introduction to using tech to solve a problem. I was selling fashion products online and that was where I saw how powerfully tech can work. All that journey is what has led me to this spot.”
It was in the process of going on these marketing field trips Tale tells me, she realized how underserved a lot of these people in the markets are, realizing there are other ways they could serve them by providing financial services leveraging technology.
This unsavoury experience will form the basis of Tale’s stint as a business coach.
The Birth Of Owoafara
Tale has been an entrepreneur all her life. As she reveals:
“My mum is Igbo and she had the Igbo entrepreneurial spirit and always sold something as well as forced us to also sell. I believe I got my affinity for entrepreneurship from her. Since I was young I have always been an entrepreneur from selling sweets to my classmates to selling makeup in the university, I was always selling something and honestly didn’t know another way”
After her experience in eCommerce, Tale went back to paid employment working for Concept group as the head of sales and strategy. After that, she decided to become a business coach using her experiences to teach business owners, especially women how to better run their businesses.
“After concept group, I just thought that I could help other people with a lot of the things I had learnt from losing my business, working with other people, I felt a passion to help other small businesses, especially women not to make the same mistake that I made out of naivety so I became a business coach. Mainly relying on my experience”, She says.
It was in the process of working closely with small businesses she realized, once again, that a majority of the small business owners listed financial access as one of the major challenges they face. She realised that there are other ways she could serve them better with her skill set and experience.
This was how she got the motivation to start Owoafara:
“I already had experience working in financial services and tech that was how I started Owoafara which is a Yoruba word but translated means ‘Money Bridge’. Owoafara is a combination of all the things I’ve been through personally and all the challenges I have seen other entrepreneurs struggle with. This is my own way of addressing these issues and trying to solve these pre-existing problems using my background in tech”, she says.
Owoafara officially launched in 2020- even though she had started working on the idea in 2019.
Tale’s Mission & growth
Speaking on what the team hopes to achieve with Owoafara, Tale told me that the “mission has always been to provide financial access to 1 million underserved people” using tech and education.
“A lot of people do not have money not because there is no money but because they do not know how to access the money or know how to get themselves prepared to get funding. That is the conversation and that is our mission. Our goal at Owoafara and that is why it is the money bridge. We are bridging the access gap to financial services using technology”
Tale says the team at Owoafara calls themselves a digital bank because they offer digital financial services where in 5 minutes their customers can get an account through which they can save, access loans and other services through other field officers or partner agents.
The startup was two years old in May. They kicked off lending in June 2020 and have so far served over 10,000 people with over a million dollars in transactions.
Running a startup is not without its unique challenges and Tale should know as this isn’t her first rodeo in the start scene.
At the top of the list for her is often finding the right people. She told me:
“Finding the right people or the right team can be a bit challenging. I have had to go through numerous interviews just to find one right person. When you find them, it makes the work easier”
Another challenge for Tale is the challenge of funding. This is familiar terrain for many female-led startups in Africa.
Generally, Tale says that being in financial services means having to constantly be on your toes to ensure you have the right processes and systems to curb risks as well as ensure that there are no defaults.
Another challenge, she shared is balancing the team’s expectations with the company objectives, especially as a leader. This can be a challenge as some team members want to make more money and she is focused on stability.
Even though these challenges are daunting, Tale isn’t fazed by them. She brushes them off as part of what comes with the territory:
“I Just embrace the challenges because it’s part of the business terrain. I guess because I have done several businesses, it doesn’t scare me as much as it used to. If you do not embrace challenges you won’t grow so I just embrace them and keep growing”.
One memorable moment for Tale is one of Owoafara women trader programmes that had a real impact on real people:
“I understand how most women are hesitant to ask for the necessary financial help for their business so I ensured my team built an algorithm that created points to favour women so that they can get access to finances. We launched a program called the women trader program where we encourage access to financial services for women. We did an analysis of this program last year and the testimonial the women shared was so heartwarming. I had the sense of we are actually doing something and making a difference for women in our society, that was really a high point for me”, she said.
Tale’s passion for building systems that ensure women are financially included is not hard to spot. She tells me that one of the recently launched called Fara has about 70% women users compared to the about 30% of female participation that most companies record.
She also mentions that going through the African tech vision mentorship program has been a memorable moment for her.
Advice for women in tech
Tale had this advice to give to those looking to come into the tech space:
“Tech is like any other business out there, so like it would be if you are starting a business, go for something you have a passion for and an interest in, a place where you know you can provide a solution. Forget about all the news of money being raised, b beyond that surface there is real work to be done. If you believe that there is a solution you can provide, then go for it. If as a young woman you are thinking should I go into tech? Please do!
We need more women in the tech because we can only influence the way the product is designed, the way it is developed, decisions like the kind of algorithm that is built, like I did with Fara, you can decide where the money goes”
She also advised more women to learn how to code and learn how to run businesses as any tech startup is still a business at the end of the day.
“I have also observed that most women shy away from coding because it is very hard, especially backend. But if women can become pilots and go to space then we can learn how to code.”
“Finally, be resilient”, she advises, “resilience is necessary as there would be tough times and running a startup as with anything we do in life is a marathon, not a sprint. People celebrate the highlights but the truth is a lot goes on behind the scene. So just prepare mentally, and emotionally, have an open, learning mind, embrace the challenges and grow from them”, She concluded.
For Owoafara, Tale tells me that they have some big plans for the future:
“We are going to be a fully digital bank by next year in 2 years we hope to have a million customers, and if we have 10 million by 5 years that will be super amazing.”
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