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Joshua Chibueze is the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Co-founder at Piggyvest, arguably the biggest digital savings and investment technology platform in Nigeria. They have over 3 million users. In this episode of Zero To Scale, Joshua talks about building Piggyvest from a tweet-inspired idea to one of Nigeria’s biggest technology companies, one customer at a time.
Everybody knows the story of how Piggyvest started, but can you share it with us again?
Of course. Piggyvest started as a result of a viral tweet we saw on the 31st of December, 2015. Someone had saved ₦1,000 every day that year in a kolo (Yoruba word meaning piggy bank). On the last day of the year, she broke the box and shared the picture on Twitter.
We saw the tweet and discussed it internally and decided to build something like it. It was a simple idea—a product that allows you automatically save daily, weekly or monthly and gives you back your money after 3 months with some interest.
Somto, who is CEO and co-founder, was the one who built the MVP. He did it in like 3 days, so by the 3rd of January, we had the first iteration of the product. The reason we were able to execute that fast was that we had been building a couple of startups prior to that.
Before then, we had a couple of other startups—some had failed and some were still running. We all went to the same school—Covenant university—and we had been building together since 2011. We built a social network that blew up in school but didn’t quite scale. We built applications and bank integrations for an oil company. We tried out hands on a few Uber-like models, we tried connecting people who wanted homemade meals from chefs. We tried to connect freelancers, cleaners, with people who needed their services. We tried a lot of things but only PushCV was actively making money at the time.
We honestly didn’t have big aspirations for Piggyvest (formerly Piggybank) at the time, we just wanted to create a product that was much better than kolo. We knew that people wanted to save—even when they had bank accounts—and we wanted to help them do it in a more sustainable way. I remember ending the first year (2016) with about 400 active users.
That’s pretty impressive for a first-year startup that you didn’t have big aspirations for. Were you already making revenue in that first year and what was the strategy?
No, we didn’t. We helped our users save ₦21 million in the first year, but we didn’t make any money. We were still trying to learn more about what we were building and for whom.
As a team, we knew that understanding the customer was key to creating a great product. Even in my role leading Marketing, my angle has always been to focus on customer success and the overall product experience. I didn’t completely outsource the customer service roles for a long time. Odunayo (Co-founder and COO) would handle social media at the time and I would be picking up calls and replying emails. All these helped us learn the unique behaviours of our customers and what they wanted.
By the end of the year, the fact that we were able to return all our users’ funds when they requested helped us build more trust with the market.
A lot of the growth at Piggyvest seems organic. Was there any watershed moment? One thing that really changed things?
I think that was in 2017 when we struck a partnership with a commercial bank. That partnership helped us scale our user numbers by a lot. There were people who didn’t use the system for a number of reasons, mainly because it was new and they didn’t trust it. That partnership helped us scale fast. At the end of that year (2017), we were able to help our users save about N700 million. At that point, things became clearer.
There are a couple of other things that we did in the early days that shaped our story, business, product and everything we do today. We joined a few accelerator programs in the early days. I always mention Village Capital—they helped us a lot and there was also Google Launchpad in 2018.
It was during the launchpad program that we raised our seed of $1.1 million although we were not actively looking to raise funding at the time. We had some buzz on social media and it happened that some of our current investors were following us. They reached out to us through Mr. Olumide Soyombo. We spoke and in about two weeks, we had closed and received funds with 90% of the funds raised from local investors.
We kept going, and by the next year (2018), we had helped people save ₦4.5 billion. In 2019, we hit ₦1 billion saved in January alone. Fast forward to 2020, a Covid year, we had paid back over ₦90 billion to our users with no one having any complaints about their money missing.
We were, and are still, very deliberate about ensuring that our customers get their money and also get it anytime they request it. One of the questions the average Nigerian will ask is “Did they pay you back your money”? That integrity was important for us to nurture.
Piggyvest has a reputation for being one of the best teams at execution? How do you constantly come up with product features that customers love?
Almost every feature you see on Piggyvest today has come from our listening to our customers. For instance, the Safelock feature—people wanted a feature that allowed them to save and they wouldn’t be able to touch the money for any reason.
Other features like Target savings happened because customers needed to be able to create multiple savings plans. I worked very closely with the customer success team and the engineering team, so the feedback loop was smooth.
Are there any unique strategies that helped you scale your product?
The uniqueness of the product and the way we went about the execution, especially our social media strategy. It was clear how different we were from a regular or digital bank.
Another thing we did was incentivise people to tell their friends about Piggyvest and then reward them in return. The average Piggyvest user became an ambassador. We also have our “Saver of the Month'' series where we highlight different customer segments and how they use Piggyvest to plan their finances.
We also have “Open House”. Think about it like a town hall, where we invite our customers to physically come to interact with us and learn more about how the product works.
The truth is, we didn’t have it all figured out from the beginning. We continued to learn and we are still learning. Time will tell if our approach works.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt from building Piggyvest?
So, you can have a brilliant idea but execution is all that matters. In this market, I think speed of execution matters. Then, there’s consistency - customers love the feeling of stability.