At the beginning of September 2018, Paga - a payments company in Nigeria - announced that it had closed a $10 million Series B Extended. Not only did the news create excitement in Paga, but also amongst a few individuals from the Ethiopian tech ecosystem. This is because Apposit, an IT firm started by Adam Abate, Eric Chijioke and Simon Solomon in 2007, is behind Paga’s technology.
I got to know about Apposit from an African Tech Roundup episode that featured Amadou Daffe [SoundCloud link]. Daffe pointed out that the little-known tech firm was responsible for both the development and maintenance of Paga’s tech.
In a Zoom call with Adam, who currently serves as Apposit’s CEO, he walked me through their journey.
In 2003, Adam, Eric, and Simon worked on a project for the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance. They built from scratch what was to become the public financial management systems of the country.
According to Adam, this experience opened their eyes to the need in the market for high-quality engineering talent. Especially one with the ability to build systems appropriate to the African context.
Over 5 years later, the three - Adam, Eric, and Simon - decided to come together once again. In 2008, they formed Apposit. Their end goal was a company that can not only solve the problems in Ethiopia but also on a large scale across the continent.
Combined, Apposit founders have extensive experience and knowledge in the IT field.
Adam Abate himself states on his LinkedIn that he is an “IT professional with over 20 years of experience in developing, implementing and managing large scale information system projects”. He started his career at Accenture (previously Andersen Consulting) and has worked for Fortune 100 clients including DuPont, Siebel Systems, and Ocean Spray Cranberries.
Prior to founding Apposit, Adam also served as Director of Information Technology for the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, where he managed the development and implementation of a nationwide integrated financial management system for public finance in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development in Ethiopia.
Eric too has over 20 years of experience in product development and software product management. Eric has designed and managed the implementation of mid to large-scale risk management software systems for clients in the private financial and energy sectors, as well as several similar system development projects for agencies of the World Bank.
He also served as the Lead Systems Architect developing a nationwide, integrated financial management system (IFMIS) for public finance in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development in Ethiopia. Currently, Eric also serves as the CTO for Paga beyond being the director at Apposit. When asked if this doesn’t cause any conflict of interest between the two, Adam says no.
While Simon has over 22 years of experience in the IT field with a specialization in complex middleware applications development. He has worked for Nortel Networks and Federated Systems Group in the US as a leading member of their architecture group and as the Lead Software Developer for Harvard University building an integrated financial management system for the Ministry of Finance in Ethiopia.
The relationship with Paga
Both Apposit and Paga connected in their early stages in 2009. The relationship started off with Apposit in an advisory role. They helped Paga in the selection and specification of a system from potential vendors.
But, Tayo Oviosu and Eric Chijioke soon found out, that to do what they wanted to do would need so much customization of an existing product. They thus they decided that it would be better for Paga to build their platform themselves.
“That has always been one of the best decisions made,” says Adam. "because it has allowed Paga to innovate, be nimble and remain in complete control,” he added.
This prompted the Paga team to look inwards. One of the options they had on the table was Apposit, whom they already had a working relationship with. So they decided to give them a shot.
Apposit was thus tasked with designing, building and maintaining what was to become Paga’s payments platform. Since then, the relationship between the two hasn’t turned back.
In fact, as pointed out above, Eric Chijioke has, on top of being a co-founder at Apposit, also served as the CTO at Paga since 2011. Additionally, Apposit is also an investor in Paga. Something Adam thinks has resulted in a "strong alignment of purpose and vision."
When Paga raised funding, Tayo pointed out that they were looking at expanding to other countries, Ethiopia included. This definitely calls for stepping up their technological infrastructure and manpower.
Currently, according to Adam, Apposit has around 30 developers dedicated to serving Paga. Though this is likely to change as Paga’s needs change. Paga is looking at developing more distributed teams across the continent as well as other parts of the world where they are looking to operate.
Although Apposit is now getting known for a client whose relationship is about to clock a decade, in that time they have serviced a wide array of clients.
Some of these include Technoserve. On their website, the firm says that they have worked with them on a Coffee Initiative financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”
They have also worked with BGI, a “leading brewery in Ethiopia with thousands of sales outlets all over the country”. Others include Marie Stopes, the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, Tearfund, Zemen Bank, Johns Hopkins University, and more.
Today, Apposit’s work, aside from what they do with Paga, is focused on two main areas - agriculture and FMCG retail and distribution. In both these areas, they apply technology to improve operations, efficiencies and data management.
When asked if they will be looking to scale across the continent anytime soon, Adam says that a pan African vision was always their intention. But, Ethiopia itself still offers many untapped opportunities. Though they are doing their work with the continent at the back of their mind.
“A pan-African vision is a key criterion for any product we design today and going forward,” Adam said.
Contribution to the ecosystem
The Ethiopian startup ecosystem is having exciting activities happening. A few weeks ago, the Ministry of Health announced an initiative to deliver health products using drones.
While iCog Labs was part of the team that developed Sophia, the now famous humanoid robot. Last year, on her tour, she visited the horn of Africa country. While Gebeya is also establishing itself as a marketplace for software talent.
Yet, like any emerging ecosystem, a lot still needs to be done. Normally, startups or individuals that have achieved a significant level of success give back to the same ecosystem. When asked if they have been able to do that, Adam admitted that they would like to do more.