INTERVIEW: We've given out over 1.7 Billion in credit to finance contracts worth more than 5.4 Billion - George Bakka, CEO Patasente

Patasenet is solving one of the many challenges businesses in Uganda face at different stages. For those starting out, their main challenge is capital to get started. Yet, even those that get the capital later get chocked by lack of capital to grow or finance contracts.

In the previous edition of “Tell it All”, Anthony Natif faced a challenge of growth. Though he was able to secure private equity.

Yet, there are some businesses that might not be attractive to PE or VC funds. Plus, they may not be looking to deal with investors or even giving away a stake in their business.

That’s exactly where George William Bakka’s Patasente comes in. In this edition of "Tell it All", George walks us through his journey. From Angels Initiative up-to when he and the team founded Patasente. A fintech startup that’s given out over 1.7 Billion shillings in credit, to finance contracts worth more than 5.4 Billion shillings.

Malinz: Tell me about Angels Initiatives.

George: So, we began a company called Angels Initiatives in 2010 with a group of three friends. Joachim Ewechu, Ivan Mandela and Gilbert Mutungi.

The entire concept was to co-create ideas into high impact companies. That meant we not only had to find good ideas we could build into big companies, but also the risk capital to grow them.

Our model then became that we would need to partner with other organizations. We looked at foundations and larger companies. They would provide the risk capital to allow us to launch companies.

Between us, we have set up 8 companies, sold 2, collapsed 3 and currently operating 3 active companies.

For example, very early on in 2011, we did Mara Launchpad. That was in partnership with Mara Foundation. Mara Launchpad was a shared office facility.

Malinz: Which year did you do Mara launchpad?

George: We did Mara Launchpad in January 2012 and sold it in December 2012 - after a year.

Malinz: Whom did you sell it to and why sell it too soon?

George: We sold it to our partner - Mara Foundation. Our model is to start a business, grow it up to a stage where someone can buy us out.

Malinz: Which year did the four of you come together and decide to launch Angels Initiative?

George: We were actually in school. That was 2010. We all went to St. Mary's College Kisubi - SMACK. So, as soon as we left high school, we dived into this right away even before we went to campus [University].

Malinz: What did you follow-up with after the sale of Mara Launchpad?

George: So we did Mara launchpad in 2012. When we exited that, we did Unreasonable East Africa. An accelerator that provides mentorship and access to capital.

Then, in 2014, we did Angels Hub. Another professional affordable work-space business located in Ham Towers. That was also later sold to Ham Enterprises [owned by Hamis Kiggundu].

Malinz: Does Angels Initiative own a stake in Unreasonable East Africa?

George: It is an NGO. So we can't own stake in it. My colleagues, Ivan and Joachim run it.

Malinz: So, after selling off Angels Hub, what did you now embark on?

George: By 2016, we had started 3 successful enterprise development companies. But noticed most of the start-up clients in the workspace registered static growth.

A company would take up space making say UGX 5m per month at the start of the year. Yet end the year with more or about the same [amount]. While a few went on to become bigger businesses. Like Media 256, Siraco Irrigation, Ego SMS etc, a couple of others either stagnated or fizzled out.

So, we began thinking that the issue was not a work-space alone. Plus getting them mentors and stuff as it was. But, also looking at the critical aspects of what drives their business.

That's when we started to experiment with finance. Because it emerged as the biggest impediment to their growth. Someone starts and attracts clients. But then gets this breakthrough deal or contract and they can't execute it. Because you have no money.

Malinz: Talking about finances, I am going to take you a little bit back. You said that you were out of school but able to set up Mara Launchpad. How were you able to do that?

George: The model is that we look for a venture partner in the domains we seek to launch into.

Malinz: I understand. But, in this process of looking for a venture partner, you must pay transport to go to meetings. Where were you able to get money for that?

George: You mobilize. If you're four people, even if each of your parents gave you a small allowance of UGx. 100,000 a week, that's a good UGx. 400,000 a week as a group. So, you'd push around.

For us, the entire point was that we had a scale of ambitions that didn’t match the breadth of our resources. The least we could do is get an obsessive focus on what we wanted to do. And somehow, it worked out.

What most people do is "ok, this is what I have. Let me plan around this". We've been different from that. We dream then try to see how do we fall there. So, we have an obsessive drive of where we want to go. Its based on catalytic progressive action and less reaction.

Malinz: How did you convince Mara Foundation to partner with you?

George: You start from the point of "this is what I want to do. Where do I find the capital?" You also ask yourself "who's out there that can finance us".

So, it is not a flip of the other one. In most cases, we start(ed) with what we want to do and who out there would be willing to finance us.

[After identifying them] we would go and talk to them. So, that's how we convinced Mara Foundation to say, "Let me invest $30,000".

That's it. But like I said, we talked to a lot of folks. A few foundations. Some said, "Do these young boys have the capacity to execute it?" But some trusted us.

Malinz: Now, you were talking about ventures that had a finance problem. What exactly was the problem?

George: They were not exactly making that leap of growth, right. So, you have hustled and set up a company but now you want to move from 5 million to 10, to 20 and so on. Of course, you need[ed] some kind of [external] money.

Many banks are not willing to lend them for a couple of reasons. From high costs of complex due diligence to loan monitoring. Coupled with the fact these business lack collateral security. They also have no significant credit history. They consider them risky.

The alternatives thus are money lenders. Who lend at very high rates and commensurate to the security provided. But, money lenders also sometimes want security. So for the value of a television set, you get UGX 800,000 from a money lender, can you execute a UGX. 10 Million order?

So, even if you said that let me take my vehicle, still if you fix that asset, what will you fix for the next contract? To us, it was a bit of cyclical. Instead, we asked ourselves "why not think of something else around it?"

We began thinking that "if these entrepreneurs have worked their a**ses off and found contracts to execute, can we base on that first?" Because [getting the contract shows] there's already a certain level of commitment from this young entrepreneur towards his or her business.

But also, how do we convince ourselves that this person will actually payback? So the question was whether we can base the decision to lend or not on the capacity of that [one] who gives them the contract to pay? In other words the creditworthiness of their final client?

If Julius [a friend] gets a contract to supply electronics to Inyamat [a restaurant we were in]. And he needs UGx. 10,000,000, then we have to analyze whether Inyamat has the capacity to pay. Then we make a decision of whether we extend credit to Julius or not.

In not lending Julius, we also save him the burden of doing business for a client who would end up not paying him.

Malinz: So, where did this lead you?

George: That was the entire concept that laid the foundation for a new initiative. Patasente. We began thinking about this in 2015. Only thinking about it.

Malinz: By we, do you mean all the four people you started with Angels Initiative?

George: Yes. What we do is that we are four partners but each of us has certain orientations. So, the idea is to set up a company under Angels Initiatives and one of us runs it. Sometimes, it's either a group or an individual saying that "ok, I am thinking about this. Can you guys look at what resources we have?" So yeah, I would say a group initiative throughout.

Malinz: Now, beyond thinking about the concept, when did you decide to breathe life into it?

George: It came to life in 2016. It took on the name Patasente. Pata is a Swahili word and sente is Luganda. Pata means to get and sente means money. The name is Get Money.

Malinz: What would you say Patasente is?

George: It is a supply chain financing platform. We enable businesses do electronic procurement, settle payments and receive working capital loans against orders and invoices.

The system also analyses users’ transaction data and provides credit scores used as a basis for lending. So Kojja Foods can receive an e-order and send an e-invoice to Inyamat Restaurant which gets paid via the system t either mobile money or bank.

That transaction record bolsters the Patasente Credit Score attached to every user on the system. It also determines how much credit they can access anytime from Patasente.

Malinz: You talked about procurement, payment and access to credit. Does the last one have a condition that a business must have been using Patasente for the first two?

George: Absolutely. Because, like I mentioned, how do we assess that Inyamat is a good client? It is very hard for us to ask them for their bank statement. So, we need[ed] a way to assess that the company can actually and will pay. We look at [only] the transactions within the [Patasente] platform.

If Inyamat continues buying Matooke and receiving cash from X, Y and Z [through Patasente], it allows us to have an idea. That allows us to make a credit decision.

But, in circumstances where may be, we cannot analyze your buyer as good, then at least we will be able to analyze you and say okay "basing on such and such transactions, the business can absorb our 50 million shillings". But, at least one of you has to be on our platform. And, has to have been transacting on it. Its pretty much on the start, but is picking up as many more businesses sign up to the platform.

Malinz: What if am here as Inyamat and have never used your platform. But then there's a client, let's say USAID. Both of us have never used your platform and i need to service this contract. Can't you base on the reputation of the client?

George: In certian specific circumstances, we might consider it. Especially where we are able to sign a tripartite agreement between us, the buyer and borrower (our client). Save that, we will not. Especially because we've tried it.

It's two years now and there have been scenarios where you think that's true. Yet, it's not. Because of the different payment dynamics involved in different business relationships.

Malinz: Has it happened before?

George: Yes. It has happened before.

Malinz: Which client was that?

George: It would be dangerous to put these clients out there to the public at this moment. The reputation damage might affect their businesses. But we are having internal conversations on whether to publish such things or not in the future.

Because it'll also assist us to tell some businesses that "don't do business with this particular client." That they don't have the capacity to pay you. Especially if you're a young business and all you have is 30, 40 or 50 million shillings. Then do work for a certain client and they don't pay you, you're buried.

So, we are still having the conversations. It might happen. But for now, we are not at liberty to mention.

Malinz: They invited you for the AB Imbev Global Entrepreneurship Week at Nile Breweries last year (they invited me too). And, Nile Breweries works with farmers - especially barley. I would like to know, are you extending your services to these people?

George: We are getting big into the Agriculture industry. Especially where there's a lot of suppliers that need advance payments on the orders they receive before they execute.

We have started in the milk industry. That's farmers who are supplying milk to processing companies. That was as far as last year. But this year we might look into the sugar industry, the barley industry and stuff like that. By which Nile Breweries would become a partner.

Malinz: When you talk about sugar, are you looking at Out-growers?

George: Yeah. Out-growers mostly.

Malinz: That's too much emphasis on Agriculture. Why the move?

George: We are in an Agricultural country. So, most likely the majority of the businesses within Uganda are going to be [around] Agriculture. But also, because we are still a factor economy. More than 40% of your earnings - either of a person or household - will most likely go to food in some way.

So there's already a lot of cash going around in Agriculture. Which is of course very attractive to the Patasente business. Because for us to be able to lend, we need buyers and suppliers. Buyers who are liquid and suppliers who can supply. You have to look at the larger scale - where are people spending their money.

Malinz: Talking about industries, which other industries are you looking at?

George: We are into construction, though not so big there. Currently, it is agriculture and construction.

Malinz: What are your metrics for determining the ideal client for Patasente?

George: Of course, we categorize all our clients from micro-suppliers to small-scale suppliers. But, a micro supplier that qualifies to get financing from us should be earning $3,000 to $30,000 per year. Small businesses must be around $, 30,000 to 300,000 per year and medium businesses between $ 300,000 to 3,000,000 per year. Our lending structure takes into consideration your annual revenue structure.

Malinz: What are your numbers for the two years that you have run operations?

George: So far, we have done about 1.7 Billion Shillings in credit. And we have funded contracts worth about 5.4 Billion shillings. We have more than 500 active users on our platform.

Malinz: Could you break down credit and contract value more? Plus, how do you make money in the process.

George: If say, Kojja Foods get a UGX 50m contract to supply maize flour to St Marys College Kisubi. But needs UGX 43m to execute it. There is profit margin difference of UGX 7m. Depending on the inherent risk score within a given contract, we take a % of the profit margin. As the return on our capital.

Malinz: But, how do you determine what you take? Is it a standardized percentage or a dynamic arrangement for each client?

George: It is dynamic. We assess basing on the level of risk. Like I mentioned, we are doing a Patasente score of all clients. Depending on how much you're scoring, we base on that to determine how risky you're. The higher the risk, the higher the percentage we take.

Malinz: Do you have a percentage range you play within?

George: Yes, we do. It ranges between 5-15% in net interest return on lent funds.

Malinz: You talked about some businesses not honoring their invoices. Apart from that, what other challenges are you facing?

George: Let me first explain a little bit about where the Patasente money comes from. Once we approve a contract we are going to finance, we sell promissory notes to lenders.

It could be that you have 10 million shillings stashed somewhere. And, there's Julius who is supplying to Inyamat. So, we will come to you and tell you that he's supplying Inyamat. If he can pay you 1 Million on top of your 10 Million shillings, you give it us. We then pass it to him, he executes, he pays us and then we pay you.

So, there's that element of getting external folks with cash who can invest in these contracts. But, one of the huge challenges we have had on that end is that most lenders in Uganda are the very short term. They want their money to go and come back within 30 to 90 days. Most likely after 30 days.

Now, that's not how the economy works. Some folks take between 90 to 180 days [to pay back]. Which is 3 to 6 months waiting on the payments from a specific supplier or buyer. That's one of the challenges that we have. There are folks willing to lend but want the money back as fast as possible.

[Another challenge is that] they not only want their money to come back early, they also want very high rates. Some say, "okay, I am going to invest 10 million in Julius' contract but I want it to return 2 million shilling in 30 days". That's 20% rate.

But, what is Julius making off that contract? He's not even making 2 million shillings. He is making UGX 500,000. So, you end up with an issue of high rate capital that's short-term yet businesses are not making that much. But we are working around it.

Malinz: I have two questions to follow-up on that and we wind up. Talking about the lenders, are they institutions or individuals? Number two, you talked about the challenges, how are you looking at mitigating them?

George: We are getting money from both individuals and institutions. There're people organized either as individuals or investment clubs seeking to lend money.

How are we curbing it? Right now, we are engaging our lenders. Telling them that "hey, the best-case scenario that money will return is 90 days. But, sometimes it might an extra 90 days as a delayed payment". So, we are looking for folks who are a little bit more long-term.

We are also encouraging them to diversify across a portfolio of loans. Such that one delayed payment does not frustrate their entire invested capital.

We are also looking out for longer-term investors as well as cheaper sources of capital. Which we will get.

Malinz: Any last words?

Much of our credit is getting to be reliant on performance on our platform. Yet the behavior of businesses in Uganda is that they'll do their things in person. Some people talk in person or order on phone. They still do verbal contracts.

So, you have to move behavior of businesses to thinking about normal procurement. Then move them to actually being electronic. So, of course, there's going to be a gap around how do we convince that business community. To adopt e-procurement and keep electronic data that you can actually analyze. Then, base on that to push out credit.

That's still a challenge but we will start with those who are willing to start. Because the more folks we have on the platform, the easier it is to attract capital from many sources. Even globally.

Malinz: I know I asked the last questions, but this is a conversation we can't finish in less than an hour. Because what you're doing is interesting. Especially that it involves collecting data and using that same data to make decisions. But, have you thought of getting an in-house fund from which you can be able to finance these contracts?

George: Yes. Patasente has an Internal Fund that funds 20%- 50% of all the loan requests that we approve. So, by the time we approve you and say that you qualify, we have already committed a % of that cash. We go out to lenders to only look for the other balance.

[Currently], there's an internal fund that we are building. If we get a few more folks joining our wagon, we will be able to increase how much we commit as Patasente. Because we want to move more credit. And, the benefit with supply chain finance is that it depends on the movement of goods. If people are moving goods faster, that means there's more trade and more production.

Malinz: How do you identify an ideal lender? Do you approach them, is it word of mouth or they approach you? And, do you have a cap?

George: Last year, we were testing out this. I have to say even us were not sure this was going to work anyway. But now we have some primary data. Two years ago, it was bewildering to tell anyone that actually, I can lend out 50 million shillings without security. But people are beginning to pick up.

We tell folks not to lend Patasente platform anything above 20% of their annual income. Because despite the fact that we do all the analysis, it is still unsecured credit. There's still a certain level of risk. If the contract is not paid, there's actually a potential loss. This is an actual investment where you can make and lose money.

But, even when you're to invest, don't invest in only one contract. Diversify. Because then you have 1/10 chances of losing money.

Malinz: For the last time, what are the institutions you're working with?

George: The institutions are coming in to assist us to be able to filter our internal fund. So, we have USADF, they are a big partner of ours as well as Citi Foundation. Citi Bank, its parent, is a globally recognized supply chain financing bank. This is an exciting experience on board for them.

Malinz: What are they bringing on board? Finance?

George: It is capital of course; but we are still on the lookout for more partners. We want to grow this internal fund to at least US $ 10. Then we can say, we are putting a dent in the enterprise sector in Uganda.

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