Michael Ajayi discusses growing up in Lagos, racism in tech, and solving African problems

Godfrey Elimian
We discussed his personal and social life, balancing tech and family, being a spiritual head, and the journey so far as a founder
Founders' Spotlight: Michael Ajayi, Founder 4TraderX
Founders’ Spotlight: Michael Ajayi, Founder 4TraderX

Michael Ajayi‘s foray into the tech world resulted from his connection to his inner self and the desire to make an impact in people’s lives and help society in overcoming its flaws.

The Lagos-born, US-based founder of Colevate and 4TraderX holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Management from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in the United States.

Colevate is a social crowdfunding platform where people can contribute to the development of Africa by supporting social causes like higher education. The startup has facilitated the tuition of several African students, particularly in Nigeria. On the other hand, 4Traderx is a P2P fintech startup that streamlines payments to Africa and facilitates currency conversion.

Micheal Ajayi disclosed the inspiration for Colevate during his chat with Technext. A close friend realized that the funds he had sent home to help a family member had been mismanaged for years. The recipient had used the money intended for tuition to cover other unrelated expenses.

Michael Ajayi
Michael Ajayi

The friend was clearly disappointed and Micheal sought out to find tech solutions to this sort of societal issue.

A devout Christian

Micheal Ajayi is a Christian who is very active in the church. He is so active that some of his peers have dubbed him “a pastor”. He admits that combining his responsibilities as the President of the church’s youth arm with work is taxing.

“I don’t think I have a social life. I would like to say I’m a very shy person although a lot of people disagree on that, but I only open up to those who are really close to me, and sometimes I do things I have to do, not because I want to be in the public but because I have to do it.”

Michael Ajayi

In this episode of Founders’ Spotlight, he discusses his personal and social life, balancing tech and family, being a leader, and his journey as a founder solving African problems while living abroad.

Let’s get to it...

Read also: From roommates to co-founders; the 20-year friendship providing accommodation through tech

Are you a Pastor considering your leadership role in the church?

Michael Ajayi is not new to combining work with church responsibilities. However, he explains that working with a pastor to establish a ministry and being the President of a church’s Youth Fellowship does not qualify anyone as a pastor. He finds the role spiritually demanding and prefers to work behind the scenes.

“People say that a lot, but I usually tell them I’m not although I don’t mind supporting the pastor from behind the scenes. I obsessed over things a lot and when I don’t get them I am not satisfied, but with the spiritual side, you are not totally in control”

Michael

Why tech?

Michael Ajayi says he has always known he would do his own thing, even when he fell in love with hackathons. He has always been interested in the product side and worked briefly as a Product Specialist with Toshiba Global Solutions.

He envisaged bringing African food to the U.S and reselling it. So he digested information on food blogs and put in the research to bring this dream to fruition.

Michael Ajayi with Nigerian Footballer, John Obi Mikel
Michael Ajayi with Nigerian Footballer, John Obi Mikel

But then, with a lot of research, he realized that the food business was a tightly regulated sector in the U.S and took a lot to do.

“Tech was not even part of the plan, it wasn’t what I was thinking about. I stumbled upon it and felt blown away by my findings on a research on how to use tech to solve a million problems. Alas, I got obsessed with it and started looking for what to do with it,” Micheal Ajayi explained.

But it all started with Colevate, and the experience of a friend, as mentioned earlier.

“This got me thinking of a way to help pay fees for for students without giving the students the money, and it drove me to do a research on that.”

Michael Ajayi

“I saw some crowdfunded platforms, but they gave the money to the students. I knew that wouldn’t solve the problem.

“After the research, we started with few schools like UNICAL, UNILAG. That’s how we started, students make their campaigns, and we reached out to the community in the U.S who could help. With this we were able to support 50 students within 3 months. That was when I was wowed by what tech could do.”

Michael Ajayi’s life outside work

Micheal Ajayi describes himself as someone who naturally wouldn’t want to be in the public eye, barring his commitment to the church.

But apart from all these, Michael plays football for fun, which stems from the fact that he played football in college. He is also a spiritual person, and he enjoys playing FIFA and some family time playing football with his two awesome kids.

“I’m a very spiritual person, but I also play soccer for fun, which stems from playing soccer in college. I run around with my kids sometimes and play soccer with them also. Recently, I started learning skydiving also.”

Michael Ajayi

Major motivation

For Michael Ajayi, family represents his major source of inspiration. Growing up in Lagos, where opportunities were limited for him and his siblings, spurred him to want to provide for his kids.

“For me, God comes first, and then family, 4TraderX even though that has been taking a lot of my time lately, and then every other thing.”

Michael

Another source of great motivation for him is the company’s clients. It is the many individuals that depend on his platform and business to help them with their difficulties. He is inspired to do more by these people. He even asserts that many of his platform’s users are also investors in the company. He says:

“All of our investors are our users. The four persons that have given us money are people that use our platform. This because they see the uniqueness of what we do and appreciate it. These things really motivate me.”

Another is the desire to know more about the fintech space. “It’s like the spiritual realm’ where the more you know God, the more you want to go in Him. Everyday I study to know more.”

How do you create a balance in all that you do?

Family is everything, I’m sure, even for the successful individuals on the planet, and it may be quite challenging to strike the perfect balance between job, profession, and making time for loved ones. The situation with Michael Ajayi is the same.

Michael Ajayi

He claims that finding the right structure and balance for everything that matters to him has been challenging, and he is still trying to get it right.

“I’m still trying to put the right structure in place for that. It’s even more challenging because 90% of our customers in the U.S have my personal contact and like to reach out to me directly. But I try to shut-off once its 10pm.”

Michael Ajayi

‘I pick my kids up from school at 5 pm, they go to sleep by 9 pm, and then I go back to my computer to finish work and round up by 10 pm. Most of my meets in the church take place on Tuesday”, he added.

Although the structure has not always worked perfectly from him breaking his set rules sometimes because of work, the structure has helped him work towards something and is getting better daily.

Working on something new?

Michael Ajayi disclosed to us that everything he is working on is on 4TraderX, as everything else is on hold, including Colegate.

“All I’m working on right now is to put out the new feature on 4TraderX. Although some students have reached out to me for support and I have helped personally, I have decided to put the Colegate on hold for now too.”

Michael Ajayi

What he thinks about the fintech space in Nigeria

Nigeria has experienced substantial growth and evolution in the FinTech sector. The industry is progressively becoming recognized as a significant market for invention and clever solutions to people’s basic financial problems.

Michael Ajayi feels the Nigerian FinTech space still faces many restrictions in Africa compared to its counterparts in the rest of the world. He also feels race is a major factor in funding, raising finance, and maintaining staff.

“There is still a lot of restrictions, no access to some of the payment reels in America. Also funding, as long as you are a person of colour and you are raising with a Caucasian, even with a more brilliant idea and product, the possibility of him raising before you is 70%, the possibility of him raising more than you is 80%.”

Michael Ajayi

Another problem can be getting and retaining staff. Micheal Ajayi’s firm has been lucky retaining staff, “but it’s a challenge getting staffs especially when looking with persons with certain criteria out of Africa.”

Advice to founders alike

In a seemingly competitive space with several innovations and ideas channelled towards solving the same problem, distinction and originality might become a problem.

But Michael Ajayi advises founders to be driven by the solutions they provide during tough times. He said;

“Founders need to have the mindset that it is going to be difficult and challenging getting funding, even users believing in the product, but the product should propel the founders. Also, a mentor can be useful and helpful in tough times.”

Michael

Understanding a product from the customer’s side is another thing that could help the founders rather than competing with founders with similar products but a larger raise. They will crumble you”, he added.

Read also: Meet Chisom Nwokwu, the 22-year-old mentor helping others secure tech jobs


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