In this week’s Coffee With Y, we talk to Eng. Nasser Saleh, a mogul whose mastery of money management in the Middle East has made his company a force to be reckoned with.
Many of today’s celebrated businesspeople started as nobodies in their fields but their influence, for good or ill, cannot be denied.
Whether it’s Microsoft’s Bill Gates or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, their stories include a struggle before success.
And scripting his own story is Eng. Nasser Saleh, who says he started with a zero balance in his account before setting up what has since become a multi-million-dollar company with roots in the GCC region, including Oman – MadfooatCom.
Nasser’s concept of building a company with its base in his home country, Jordan, has been revolutionary in every way.
His idea to integrate technology with banking was unheard of in the region at that time (2008), and unlike several players in the sphere, he had no business training.
But despite that, he tells us in an interview – before his speech to the youth of Oman at the Startup Grind Muscat event – that, back then, his lack of funds was his only concern.
“Being a salaried employee meant having a stable income every month but it also meant having not much left by the end of it after bills and house matters,” he says, with a smile as his wife Noora looks on.
The electrical engineer’s days in the field of IT in his former companies AlRahji Bank (Saudi Arabia), Accenture, and even Microsoft (USA) didn’t leave him with much after his commitments.
“All I had was a wife who supported me, and an idea in my head that came through when I went to pay my electricity bill and couldn’t because they wouldn’t accept my credit card.”
The University of Jordan graduate didn’t hold back with his vision though, despite constant setbacks, to pushing his idea in 2011.
He says: “Being an employee all my life and not having the connections, the capital or even the knowledge to start a business made me feel that my idea wouldn’t click – so I just put it aside until 2010.”
But, it was during a startup incubator and accelerator in Jordan – Oasis 500 – that then set the idea in motion.
“They liked the idea of having an e-payment FinTech company – but they had only one demand: I must resign from my job.”
Eventually, Nasser was given US$15,000 (RO5,775) – and he then started the journey.
Advising the youth of today about selling your idea to the masses and not going on impulse, Nasser says: “At the start, you are an idea. You need to convince the investor that you’ll become something. That’s not an easy task.
“But if the investor believes in you, there’s a chance that the public will also believe in you.”
Nasser’s next challenge was to set up the framework, and gain the trust of the government.
“I started searching for solutions, talking to mentors, trying to talk to other entrepreneurs facing similar issues.
“It’s also a good idea to be in touch with others in your field. Discuss points and learn from them,” says the owner of the US$20m company.
To tackle his next challenge – the framework – he approached the government.
“We approached the Central Bank of Jordan directly for this – as is the norm for FinTech services.
“It was a long process that took two tenders that we had to win against bigger and established businesses (not FinTech companies), and only then could we begin functioning.”
His service ‘eFAWATEERcom’ is now linked to 95 per cent of all banks in Jordan, mobile wallets, post offices, payment service providers, and more than 150 billers with more than 350 services (government, utilities, telecoms and even universities).
The system has also processed more than US$13bn from 12 million paid bills – resulting in the company being selected in 2018 by Forbes Middle East as one of 12 of the most innovative companies in the region.
“The key to a successful business is confidence. You are the face of your company,” Nasser asserts, before adding: “If you believe in yourself and the company, the money will come at the end of the month but you need to keep pushing to make yours a successful project.”
But, with MadfooatCom pitted against the greatest player the world has ever seen – tangible money – the company maintains a positive outlook and sticks to its game plan.
Its strategy has been simple: co-existence.
“The key to our success was integrating physical currency with online transactions,” says the CEO. “The two need to co-exist. Automation doesn’t necessarily eliminate jobs.
“Our biggest competitor – believe it or not – was cash, and companies that collect money through physical branches.
“When you move transactions from tellers to online, cash collectors will face issues. Now, they utilise staff in different tasks. Also, we created several indirect jobs that we weren’t even aware of.”
Nasser is confident that Oman will become a major player in the FinTech industry and is setting up base here with some classified projects with local financial companies.
“Oman is going through a transitional phase now – and the Central Bank of Oman (CBO) is pushing for companies to take FinTech very seriously. It’s amazing; the support that they’re offering the startups here.”
Nasser, who was awarded the “Order of King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein for Excellence of the Third Class” in 2017, intends to help the young people of Oman come up with their own plans.
“The success of FinTech has always been cross-sharing of ideas and platforms so something that my company cannot do, the other competitor will offer to us,” he says.
“This gives more space for local companies to grow and will also create a healthy work environment where everyone operates in respect for each other.”