In his Startup Scene’s debut, PayMob’s founder Alain El Hajj reveals the tricks and tactics his team had to come up with when pitching a Fintech startup - with an Afro and a pony tail.
“The kids from PayMob.” This is how we were literally referred to amongst everyone we worked with. When you deal with big elephants like financial institutions and telecoms, it doesn’t really speak for quality being young, ambitious, and full of dreams. The question we would always ask ourselves was: will they trust us with transactions and people’s money?
Considering the financial sector is one of the most conservative industries there is, they were definitely in favour of grey hair. That is who they wanted to be doing business with, not three 21-year-old kids, two of whom were sporting an afro and a pony tail. We still get asked questions like “how big is our office” – as in, literally how many meters square. I don’t know what kind of question that is. We've also received numerous requests from people wanting to meet our boss.
To get in the game, we had to secure this deal with a bank. It was our only ticket in, there was no other way around it. It was all or nothing. My brain kept looping and looping around the same question: shall we move forward or go home? We were lucky enough to be backed by supportive families that didn’t mind our decision when two of the three co-founders had to drop out of college. What could we lose? A few months of our lives? It was worth the challenge; the thrill and the team spirit was high enough to stay in the game. And it got funny along the way.
Great investors mostly look for people, then they look at the idea.
To secure the deal that we needed, we wanted to schedule a meeting with one of the senior managers of one of the country’s leading institutions, and all we had at the time was his office phone number. Funnily enough, to get this meeting one of us actually had to pretend to be our CEO’s personal assistant - we even gave him a made up name, Omar Samir - and invent that he had been wanting to schedule a meeting between them. It actually worked, but don’t ask what the hell we were thinking.
If there is something we learned from our mentors is that “success is the journey, not the destination.” It’s the story that sells. Great investors mostly look for people, then they look at the idea. Ideas can be great, but they are everywhere. What really matters the most is the execution and the team working on it. Investors love the stories entrepreneurs face daily, and I am sure everyone out there has their own story to tell. Ours just happened to be a funny one doing some crazy things.
Our Startup PayMob now processes millions of transactions and hundreds of millions of dollars yearly, but back during the hustling days, we strongly believed we had an amazing proposition and an offering no one would find anywhere else. Everything was in place, but the only thing that standing in our way was being young and having no previous success record. Passion does the trick, though. Passion drives innovation; passion keeps you moving when you hit stone walls, which you will – it’s no secret…
Photo by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.