Hubtel @ 18: Achieving Success on the Wheels of Failure
Hubtel, Ghana’s first full-feature quick commerce platform, is celebrating its 18th anniversary as a trailblazing, wholly-managed Ghanaian tech company.
From its inception in 2005 as SMSGH, the company has undergone a remarkable transformation, evolving from being the primary SMS solution-based messaging business to a fully licensed payment and digital transformation services provider. Upon reflection, a lot has been achieved over the past 18 years, however, it is the company’s ability to embrace and overcome failure that has been crucial to its growth and success.
The Hubtel Story
In 2005, two bright and ambitious undergraduates from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Alex Bram and Ernest Apenteng, set out to revolutionize how businesses connect with their customers through SMS messaging. Thus, SMSGH was born. Armed with an entrepreneurial inquisitiveness that was strange for Chemistry and Biological Sciences majors at the time, Bram and Apenteng faced challenge after challenge along the way to achieving success. As secondary school students, the duo ventured into various business endeavours such as magazine production, facility management, and event management. While some of these initiatives saw a modest level of success, most were unable to withstand the test of time. Nevertheless, these experiences served as a wellspring of knowledge for the young entrepreneurs.
Driven by their vision to establish a successful company, that not only provides employment opportunities but also delivers innovation, value, and impact to society, Bram and Apenteng poured their hearts into SMSGH. Five months after launching, the company recorded its first sale, and within three months, it had secured contracts with leading firms in Ghana worth approximately USD 6,000.
By 2007, SMSGH had already launched one of Africa’s first online SMS messaging portals and transactional alert systems for banks in Ghana. The company’s revenue grew to an impressive USD 1 million by the end of the 2007 financial year. In 2011, SMSGH solidified its position as Ghana’s largest messaging services provider after introducing a micro-billing platform that processed payments via subscriber airtime balances. In recognition of their ground-breaking achievements, Forbes Africa Magazine named SMSGH one of the Top 20 Technology Start-Ups in 2012.
SMSGH to Hubtel
By 2013, SMSGH had already established itself as a thriving company. The following year, investor interest in the business soared, resulting in numerous offers of investment. However, the team made a bold decision to turn down these offers, committed to maintaining the company’s Ghanaian roots.
SMSGH’s first financial year, 2007, was a remarkable success, all things considered. Good times continued to roll and between 2010 and 2011, the company saw a staggering 230% increase in revenue, with annual growth rates of over 100%. However, in 2013 and 2014, the growth rate slowed to about 30%, and by 2014-2015, it had further declined to 20%. This served as a signal that it was time to pivot the company in a new direction.
In search of the new direction, the visionary leaders joined The Stanford Seed Business Transformation program in 2016. The program’s goal was to transition the company from a primarily ‘messaging-focused’ business to one that prioritized payment and customer services. The result was the launch of the Hubtel brand and its flagship product, the Hubtel mobile application on May 12, 2017. On the back of the launch of the Hubtel app, what would become Ghana’s first super-app, the company began operations as a Payment Services Provider (Enhanced) following the receipt of approval from the Bank of Ghana in 2019.
The willingness to change and adapt, resulting in the transformation of Hubtel from a messaging-focused business to a digital transformation services provider is a testament to the company’s unwavering commitment to growth, innovation, and excellence.
The Hubtel App
In the fast-paced world of technology, success is often accompanied or preceded by failure. This was certainly the case for Bram, Apenteng and Hubtel. Before the launch of the Hubtel app, in 2012, the company launched MPower Payments, a complete end-to-end online and mobile payment transactions solution that will enable consumers and merchants send, spend, and receive payments. MPower introduced the MPower Mobile Point of Sale application which allowed businesses to accept various forms of cashless payments. However, it did not achieve the desired level of success.
Hubtel faced similar challenges when it first launched the Hubtel app in 2017. The goal was to connect customers and businesses through the app and enhance and make the commercial experience more convenient and simpler. This goal was not achieved during its initial launch. Post launch, the Hubtel app faced numerous hiccups, system failures, and product defects. These issues ultimately led to a less than lukewarm response from the general public. Convinced they were on the cusp of something special, the Hubtel team persevered and launched a new drive to rebuild the Hubtel app and its accompanying platform. Within five months, the company relaunched a fully functional and refreshed product.
Backed by innovatively discerning leaders, a focused management team and a young and tireless workforce, things began, once again, to look up for Hubtel and in 2019, Hubtel received approval from the Bank of Ghana to operate as a Payment Services Provider (Enhanced). By 2021, Hubtel was processing nearly 8.3% of all successful mobile money payments in Ghana, according to data from the Bank of Ghana and the Ghana Interbank Payment & Settlement Systems.
At the beginning of 2023, the company celebrated a significant milestone of over 500,000 app downloads on the Google Playstore alone.
Growth and Achievement
Hubtel has achieved remarkable success since its rebranding in 2017. The company received a full license to operate as an Enhanced Payment Services Provider in 2022, and by the end of that year, it had become Ghana’s largest fintech company in terms of transaction turnover and revenue.
Hubtel has, like its reputation, experienced a significant increase in staff numbers, growing from 60+ employees at the time of the rebrand in 2017 to a robust team of over 270 employees across eight cities in Ghana. Every department has grown by more than 100% in the past six years.
This extraordinary growth is a testament to the dedication and hard work of the team at Hubtel. They have been the backbone of the company, driving its success and ensuring that goals and objectives are met. The company values and recognizes each employee’s unique contributions to its collective effort. As the company continues to blaze new trails in the technology and financial industries, it remains a shining example of what can be achieved through hard work, dedication, and a willingness to pivot in the face of changing market dynamics. The creation, and wide use of the innovative Hubtel ‘super-app’ and platform that connects users to everyday services and local retailers is a manifestation of this.
The Next 18
Hubtel’s 18th anniversary is not just a milestone for the company but also a testament to the power of embracing failure.
“As a company, we have always maintained a startup mentality, constantly learning, trying new things, and embracing failure as a means of driving innovation. We are dedicated to leading the way in Africa’s digital future, with a clear vision to become the most useful company on the continent by providing a platform that enables easy access and participation in the digital economy for everyone”, Alex Bram said.
“Never be afraid to jump at the sun, you will never reach it, but your feet will leave the ground”, this African Proverb was quoted by Alex Bram in his speech during the launch of Hubtel in 2017. Hubtel’s journey, or jump if you will, is a story of passion, resilience, adaptability, and a willingness to learn from setbacks. As Hubtel continues to expand and innovate, it remains committed to its mission of driving Africa forward by enabling everyone to find and pay for everyday essentials and keeping its feet firmly off the ground.
Congratulations to Hubtel, the staff and management and its founders, Alex Bram and Ernest Apenteng, on this remarkable milestone. Here’s to another 18 years of embracing failure and utilizing lessons learnt to spur on innovation and growth.