The tide of hard work and creating your own luck and future.
Rift Pay Founder and CEO Adoba Yua discusses his understanding of hard work and what it means to create your own luck and future. I talk about founding Rift Pay and my experience of moving to the U.S at 15, being a first-generation immigrant in the U.S. and the journey of building a fully funded pre-seed startup.
My name is Adoba Yua, I Co-founded Rift Pay, and I serve as the CEO of the company. It has been one of the greatest and toughest experiences of my life serving to found the company. More than anything else, the hard work and the intensity of serving Rift Pay has been a blessing for me.
My favorite quote is from a founder I admire greatly. Patrick Collison, who founded Stripe said “creating Stripe required obsessive intensity. Maybe better founders could have worked “smarter,” but I do know that long hours were needed for *us* to build something great.”
I have a fascinating story, like most startup founders in the U.S., I am a first-generation immigrant. I wasn’t born in the U.S.; I moved to the U.S. a few weeks after the sophomore year of high school in the U.S. had started, I was born in Nigeria and spent the first 15 years of my life there. Moving to the U.S. was one of the toughest things I have ever done; I was denied a visa on my first try to had to reapply to get approved. I still remember the day I left Nigeria. I had just $40 in my pocket and the world right in front of me. It was the first time I was leaving Nigeria, and little did I know, I wouldn’t be back over the next decade, I would see my mother just once over the next ten years, and my grandparents not for a very long time.
I moved to Dallas, Texas, with my brother to live with my aunt. I attended Bishop Dunne High School, a catholic school south of Dallas. I lived in North Dallas my whole stay, which was about a 40-minute distance away from the school I attended, so I had to take the school bus every day for my entire high school stay. Going to Catholic school, was one of the most significant changes in my life; it shaped my thought process and introduced me to a different way of thinking coming from Nigeria.
I always had dreams of starting a startup, and I did start my first one in Nigeria when I was about 12 years old. I started a social networking site called Flamingo, I don’t remember much of it, but I believe I built it on WordPress and got as many people as I could to sign up. I don’t want to talk about much of the ventures that I embarked on back then, but it was my sophomore year in College. I believe I actually went fully into one that was serious. I wanted to start a peer to peer payment network, which was similar to Venmo, I believe Venmo had just rose to prominence then, and I thought I had something different. I pitched it to a friend who pitched it to his dad, but that was quickly scrapped after they had different plans in mind. It was then that I fully dived into the startup world.
I had the opportunity to work with Wahlburgers, which is owned by Mark Wahlberg and his brothers; my first venture was highly ambitious and not very successful. We wanted to create a fully autonomous robot that would be able to deliver food to hotels and nearby stations without any human control. It was a very ambitious task, but I thought I could do it. I moved to Houston that summer to work on the project, spent lots of hours on it, but it was unsuccessful, and this was my first introduction to the essence of hard work.
That same summer, I decided to start a company called Seeruvia. Serruvia was going to be a blockchain company that would allow companies to have instant and verified data based on nodes that worked on the blockchain network, a similar concept to Bitcoin with a decentralized data verification system. I pitched it to IKEA in Sweeden and Apple’s VP Eddy Cue, if I thought building an autonomous robot was ambitious Seeruvia was the ice on the cake. I sent a cold email to Apple’s VP Eddy Cue about Seeruvia, he listened and referred me to Apple’s head of innovation and product director Farman Sayed. I couldn’t believe it, the second in command of the world’s biggest company was interested in the project that I had built from my bedroom. He asked me for a snippet of the code, and Apple would be interested in using the product. I was a sophomore in college, and I had the attention of Apple. I was woefully underprepared for the project.
I alone was building an entire system that could be potentially used by billions of users around the globe, it never worked out but 2 years later Apple released a similar project and rather than being upset about it, it made me understand that I could do anything and change the world how I wanted, and this led me on my journey to create my next venture.
I started Rift Pay with the simple concept of splitting payments, it was a side project that I had thought about just like many others I had thought about, but this one was different. I created the first prototype for it in about three weeks, and I started showing it around. The reaction that I got from it from friends was unlike anything that I had ever experienced, I pitched it to one of the smartest people I knew who went on to be one of my co-founders, and he was very excited about it and wanted to code and build it with me.
I believe I began working on the project around December of 2018, but it wasn’t until I introduced the project to my co-founders did I take it a little bit more seriously. For me, there are two parts about working hard, the good and the bad, and I believe early on, I fell in the latter. At the start of the project, I would spend ungodly hours in the computer science keck lab building an app with no purpose, I had no idea where I was going with what I was building, but I kept on building and building all for nothing. It was wasteful, I thought I could build a prototype to pitch to investors, but no one was interested in what I was building, investors didn’t pay any attention, and my co-founders thought the idea needed to marinate as well.
The summer of 2019 changed my life forever, I love to think and think a lot, it was the thought that led me to formulate the concept of the shared payment system, I remember trying to patent the idea thinking I could sell it to a payment network to use, I realized that POS’s and online processors for some reason would not allow multiple people to pay for items on checkout, If I was buying a T.V. with a friend, why couldn’t I make the payment with a friend? If I was ordering an Uber with friends, why did their checkout only allow one person to make the payment? And why was Venmo pushing their split feature as game-changing when the split ability came after someone had made a payment? I remember calling my co-founder Bryce and telling him “Hey this current idea that we have isn’t going to work, we need to build something better” I initially had a tough time convincing my co-founders to pivot to a different idea. Still, I think when Venmo introduced their “Split” function, it was almost a necessity, and I convinced them about it.
Here’s what happened during that summer, I pitched the idea to 750+ V.C.’s, 300+ Angel investors and applied to countless accelerators, it was the toughest summer of my life, I left my house maybe 10 times during that summer and spent 16 hours a day pre-making the project. It was so crazy that I had one of our current angel investors who I had never met earlier ask me if I ever went to sleep because of the hours that I would email him. People may have a disdain for this type of work ethic, but I loved it. I loved being up at 3 am to take a call from Bali from a woman I had never met, I loved typing up emails at 5 am just so investors would wake up to see an email from me. But I loved this; I loved working hard because it drew us to our goal every single second. Working hard isn’t everything, luck and timing also plays a huge role in how successful you can be, I remember wondering if we were ever going to get funded, so many V.C.’s and Angles would tell me they didn’t think the idea was different from what was already on the market, “How are you different from Venmo” “That already exists,” and sometimes I remember asking myself the same question, but I was obsessed with what we were building, I believed in Rift Pay and even though most investors didn’t agree I believed we were building something very disruptive.
I think it was around 3:30 am on Monday the element of luck, and hard work came through, I was scrounging Twitter for angel’s and V.C.’s when I came across a tweet from Sar Haribhatki, he asked if there where any small funds interested in Fintech investments and the Tweet went viral (In nerd Fintech world) I contacted just about everyone who replied to that tweet, but just here the element of luck showed up. A guy named Wim replied saying they were interested, little did I know this was going to change everything forever.
I got in contact immediately and pitched the idea to he and his co-founder. It was an incredible meeting, they asked the tough questions, and it was a wonderful process, and we got in. Over the next few months we raised $150,000 for our pre-seed round, and it was the greatest experience of my life, raising money from European investors, including some of the smartest people in my life I have ever met, it wasn’t always smooth sailing, and to an extent I didn’t always include my co-founders in the process because it was something I wanted to do for them, but I learned a lot from this process, I worked the hardest I ever had in my life, and it did prove to me that hard works does pay off, but you do have to sprinkle a little bit of luck and timing in there which is what happened to us.
I am a huge believer in hard work, I believe the most successful people to walk across the earth worked hard, had timing and got lucky, but you have to create your own luck, I was up at 3am that morning looking for potential investors, and I lucked into finding Wim that morning, if I wasn’t working hard enough perhaps the opportunity wouldn’t have popped up. Read a lot, work hard a lot, create your own luck, create your own opportunity because no one else will do that for you, like Sean Diddy Combs said: “No one cares, work harder.”