The Zoona Story

There have been many ups and downs in our journey to building Zoona into what it is today. When people ask about some of our challenges, we usually laugh and reply; “there have been no failures, only huge learnings.”

Our journey begun in 2007. We started with nothing: No money, no people, no customers and no business plan – just the Magrath boys ready to take on the world.

Within 6 months of starting we had business operations in Mauritius, Malawi, Zambia, and Bangladesh. We were generating more than $5 million worth of transactions every month over our core transactions platform, which was only recently put out to pasture.

Two years down the line we were close to burn out, and back at the start line: broke and nearly broken. It had been the toughest two years – hard work, slog, and huge sacrifice.

When we were feeling sorry for ourselves we could blame broken commitments, friends & partners who let us down, but the reality is we were green and made mistakes. We love the saying: How do you make good decisions? … experience, how do you get experience? Easy, by making bad decisions.

Our first three years forged us  – they instilled in us a toughness and resilience that can only be born of epitomizing the concept of “bootstrapping”. These were times when we weren’t sure where the money to pay the few people crazy enough to jump on this journey with us would come from.

In April 2008 we had a family holiday. It was a make or break time as we both had wives and kid(s) and our commitments to the business were creating stress points that were just not fair or sustainable to them or our responsibility as husbands and dads – We had both forgotten what wages at month end even looked like, or what a non-work-stress weekend even felt like. One night when everyone went to bed, we had a heart-to-heart and we even flirted with bailing on our dreams, but when push came to shove, we just do not have quitting in our DNA.

However, we knew things would have to change if we were to win – we would need to totally re-think what we did and why we did it, and mostly we’d need to learn from our mistakes and get smarter. That night we re-committed to what we had to do as entrepreneurs but also as family dudes trying to do the right thing by those closest to us.

We believed that in order for investors to want to empower us to fundamentally change lives, we had to have something worth investing into first. We got to work on building something worthwhile out of back rooms, garages and coffee shops until we were finally able to afford office space and come up for air and time with our families.

We committed to achieving three “must-wins” that we had to do within a year to stay in business and chase our dreams:

• Raise capital through selling some equity.
• Sell our Malawi business.
• Transform our transaction system into a payments system.

Within 3 months of going “all-in”, we had raised sufficient equity and within 6 months we sold our business in Malawi. These funds carried us when we were building and setting up a Mobile Payments Business in Zambia – not the easiest story to sell. We were not just starting a business, but creating an industry.

We went all-in and re-connected to our business principles. These are the foundations on which Zoona was built and are how we measure and drive ourselves and our teams.

Inspired by our experience, we committed to:

• Completely dedicate and focus on Zoona.
To this day we have no other business interests or companies.

• Treat our equity as gold.

• Seek out the very best partners and investors in the world,
which we are confident we’ve achieved.

• Control our own destiny and drive our vision.
We know it probably gave Adrian a few grey hairs but to this day we, with Mike and Keith have a block voting right of 51% in Zoona and strong Board representation…through all the tough negotiations there was always a method to our madness.

• Never have paper tiger partners.
Anyone we partnered with would get in the trenches and sweat and bleed with us. We are pretty sure both Mike and Keith would validate and could show the scars of how seriously we take this.

• Gees.
Doing the right things for the right reasons matter.

• Win.
To quote Yoda from Star Wars: Do or do not. There is no try. We are driven by action and achievement.

• Cogs.
Attracting and retaining the very best people. We knew scale would only be achieved by surrounding ourselves with remarkable people. Our proudest reflection on Zoona is the unbelievable people who have joined us and continue to join us on this journey – what inspires us here today is not the office (that is brick and mortar), it is us all standing here and what we will achieve going forward.

• Go big or go home.
Jokes aside, the core and cultural implications of making this a commitment was massive and always meant we were subscribing to something that would one day out grow and out pace us – we built the foundations from day one around scale and attracting investment.

• Encourage diversity.
Our fear was if everyone was thinking the same thing, then no one was thinking.

• Have balance.
We had had years of sacrifice and it sucked. Things other than work matter. A kids first ballerina thing or a U10 rugga game, as a parent you can miss some work and catch up but missing those things do not come back, equally it might be catching a sunset or an early morning surf – whatever gives you mojo.

• Be ourselves.
Stay humble and grounded, but also never change – you can take us or leave us but you will struggle to ignore us.

• Have fun.
Work is where we all spend a whack of time so you might as well do something you love and enjoy.

Interested in Working With Us?

We’re always looking for talented A-players to join our team and help change the world. We’re scaling up and this is your chance to join Africa’s fintech success story and make a difference.
Follow the link below to learn more about joining our team.