Victor Alade’s startup, Raenest, was one of the 25 African startups selected for the 2023 cohort of Google for Startups’ Black Founders Fund. He spoke to PiggyVest about a wondrous trajectory that has taken him from a curious kid in Ejigbo to the founder of a Google-backed fintech offering global financial services to startups in Africa.
Could you talk a little bit about your childhood?
I was raised by civil servants in Osun state. Both of my parents are teachers and I’m the last of three kids. I attended primary and secondary school in Ejigbo/Oshogbo in Osun state.
You studied engineering. Was it your choice or something your folks wanted?
It was my choice. My parents guided me, sure, but they didn’t choose for me. I always wanted to be an engineer. I think my passion for it probably started when I was in primary 5.
In our community, a road construction project was taking place, and I was drawn to the person spearheading the effort. The way he spoke and dressed had a profound impact on me. It ignited a desire within me, and I found myself saying, “When I grow up, I want to become an engineer so that I can actively contribute to the construction industry.”
I didn’t really know which kind of engineer I wanted to be specifically, but one thing that was constant was my passion for anything electrical. I can’t remember how many gadgets I dismantled while growing up.
Did the dream remain even in secondary school?
Yes. But I later discovered that engineering has different paths. I chose computer engineering because I was exposed to computers at an early age.
The internet was just becoming popular at the time. So my friends and I used to go to the cybercafe to check Facebook and other things.
I was curious about how websites were created. I wanted to build one, and I learned that it would require HTML. So I started taking online classes. This was in 2008; I was in SS2.
You were learning with your phone?
Yes, with my mobile phone. I think it was a Nokia 2330c. There were no real smartphones at the time, so I’d find a way to browse for free and learn HTML.
After my Junior WAEC, we had a really long holiday, so my parents took me to a computer school. They wanted me to learn the basics like Microsoft Word and Coreldraw. That experience launched me further into that space.
When you were building websites, were you charging anything?
No. It’s not like I was doing it for anyone; I was just practising what I was learning. I was mostly making blogs and giving out free browsing tips, which was the common thing then.
When JAMB came along, what did you choose?
I was trying to mix computer engineering with electrical engineering. But very few schools were offering both combined. I chose Federal University of Technology in Minna because they were offering the combination.
Unfortunately, they decided to split them as I entered. That was how I missed out on the computer engineering side because it was yet to be accredited. But I maintained a high GPA because I wanted a first class. My first year was about 4.26. It went up, but I later realised that I wouldn’t get the first class.
I went for my IT towards the end of my time in school and my passion for website design/development was rekindled.
How long was your IT?
It was supposed to be six months, but it was extended because there was a strike; it ended up lasting for almost a year.
Was that the first time you earned money?
No. I had worked as a cybercafe attendant before and earned ₦3,500. There wasn’t any official payment during my IT.
But since I knew how to use Windows 8, I started teaching people how to use it and became popular where I worked. Sometimes, the people I taught things would give me anything between ₦1,000 and ₦3,000.
Also I was using WordPress to build websites and plugins. It required HTML, CSS and some PHP. That brought in some money.
When you returned to school…
That was mostly all about my project. Also I focused on building my skills. Blogging was trending then so I built my first blog and launched it. I was earning $80 to $100 per month. That was how I made my first dollar.
I decided to go deeper into PHP. But it was during NYSC that things started to really happen.
Where did you serve?
I wanted to serve in Lagos but was posted to Ebonyi state. It was unfortunate for me because I lost my mum around that time.
Sorry about that.
Thanks. So, I went to Ebonyi, and while I was in camp there was this skill acquisition program that was to help you not rely on the government for a job after NYSC. I joined the ICT department and showed the guy that I had some ideas in this field.
He liked my work and decided to work with me. I started training other corp members. Because of this, I was posted to the city and landed my first job. I was earning ₦12,000 in addition to the NYSC’s ₦19,800.
How long were you there?
I worked there for two months, then I got a job with a startup. They were looking for people to hire, but at that time they were using C# not PHP. Thankfully, they looked beyond the language and saw the passion. They saw that if I could learn all these skills on my own, I could fit in.
How much did they pay?
The salary was ₦15,000, but I wasn’t really concerned about the money. The two guys in charge had just finished from Covenant University. I wanted to learn from them; it was a perfect opportunity to learn and earn money.
Andela was still new then and their study guide was online. I downloaded it and started reading. Things were going well and my salary was increased to ₦20,000. While working with them, I decided to build something on my own from scratch.
I learned mobile development and built my first mobile app in 2016/17.
What happened next?
A year later, I travelled back to Oshogbo, where I met my friend who told me he was a software engineer, even though he had studied chemical engineering in school. He introduced me to his company and that led to a new job with an ₦80,000 salary.
Steady, steady income growth.
Yeah. Around that time, I met another software engineer. He showed me a job offer in Lagos. I came to Lagos for the interview and got the job. Pay was ₦150,000.
By now, I had abandoned the blog and decided to build something like an advertising platform for social media influencers. I built it for like a year but couldn’t bring it to the market. Later on, I got a job with Jumia. I think I was the only engineer in Nigeria then.
Had your salary increased?
It went to ₦275,000. But I left Jumia, earning ₦400,000. I was in Jumia for about two years. Andela later reached out, and I joined as a senior software engineer. My salary was between ₦700,000 to ₦800,000.
[Laughs] Thanks. It also came with a signup bonus of $2,500. I got my first car via the signup bonus.
[Laughs] At Andela I worked with an NGO called Acumen. They had their headquarters in New York and branches in San Francisco and other places. I joined them as an engineer because they wanted to build an academic platform.
They were using Salesforce, which I learned. Acumen also kind of helped me develop as a manager and a product person.
What did this mean for your income?
[Laughs] It meant dollars. I was with Acumen for 2 years and became an Engineering Manager. My salary moved from ₦800,000 to dollars.
Like how much?
Let’s say less than $10k, more than $6k and leave it there. [Laughs] But I still wanted to build something. I tried a few things but none really stuck.
But one finally did…
Yes. When I was in Acumen, I was managing different engineers in different countries. They’d all send their invoices to me, and I’d send them to the company for an international wire transfer. Something about these transfers gave me an idea.
In 2019, I travelled with some of my engineers to San Francisco for the annual retreat for all engineers. It was my first time in the US and I visited companies like Google. I was inspired and some of the engineers I met asked some questions that made me realise a few things.
I returned to Lagos and decided to work on my idea.
What was your first move?
I needed to find a cofounder. I went back to some of the people I had worked with and explained my ideas. We discussed and in 2021/22, we had aligned what the product would be.
By the end of 2022, we had decided to resign from our jobs to focus on Raenest. I had already moved to London in 2021 on a work visa. I later got a global tech visa. So after leaving my job at Acumen, I had the opportunity to remain in London.
My cofounders and I started Raenest with our savings and later raised a $700k pre-seed in early 2023. Later, we raised a $2.6 million seed. And now, as you know, we have received funds from Google.
Tell me about that. How did you get selected to get some money from Google Black Founders Fund?
We applied last year but didn’t get chosen. This year, we settled down and applied again. We had traction and we had raised some money. So there was growth between the applications. We were invited for an interview. Weeks later, we received notification of our acceptance.
Besides the money, did you guys have another reason for applying twice?
Yes. We weren’t just after the money actually. We were looking at the knowledge we could acquire, the mentors, the training and the access to Google platforms.
What’s next for Raenest and Victor?
Our startup is just a year old. We want to solve major problems. We started by focusing on solving payment issues for freelancers and remote workers; we then extended our services to startup businesses.
We want to alleviate the problems associated with payment services and opportunities for the people who need them. That includes content creators and bloggers.
You’re now based in the UK. Where are your co founders based?
Richard is in Lagos; Mustapha is in Canada.
Given your journey, what three things would you tell someone looking to succeed financially?
First, money should not be the main focus at the start. Acquire knowledge. Set your personal learning and career goals within a defined time frame.
Second, seek to work for companies that give you access to resources that will improve your development.
Lastly, never stop learning!