In September 2018, 29-year old college drop out and serial entrepreneur Brandon Timinsky was invited to come visit Pakistan by an old college buddy. At the time, Timinsky was looking for an Asian market to plant himself and his latest idea in. Today, the born and raised Florida man is still in Pakistan, hoping his Fintech project ‘SadaPay’ will change the way banking and money work in Pakistan.
It is a strange thing to think about, an American entrepreneur trying to find a way into Pakistani banking. But Timinsky’s story has been one filled with random moves, lots of failure, and lots of lessons to go with them. It is a fascinating story since it is not just about success, but about reinventing yourself and staying in the race.
It all started for Timinsky with basic programming that he taught himself at the young age of 14 while he was a freshman in high-school, and started freelancing as a web developer for local businesses in the US. By 15, Brandon went on to start his first real business and hired some freelancers to help with the workload.
Since then, he has started more businesses than he can count. While a few did well, most were failures by his own candid admission, but all failures with a meaningful impact that made him a successful entrepreneur afterwards.
“I have ventured across a number of industries such as men’s skincare, automotive parts, wearable technology, and real estate technology, to name a few. This diversity in experience allows me to think laterally from lessons learned across a variety of disciplines.”
“As Twitter was getting popular in 2007, I started a website that sold “followers.” The proposition went viral and generated significant revenues for almost a year, but I had failed to stay ahead of my competition. This first failure taught me a number of important lessons in business at an early age,” he says.
Today, Timinsky has had a successful career as an entrepreneur during which he has built seven figure revenue generating e-commerce operations from scratch. His most recent business was in fuel logistics, which was acquired by a Silicon Valley-based company in a lucrative deal. And now, Brandon eyes to disrupt traditional banking in Pakistan through his company SadaPay.
All sunshine makes a desert
As Timinsky speaks about optimism and success, he stresses on the importance of failures to build successful businesses. This has been a long held and long discussed idea over at Profit, and why stories of failure are important too. As cliche as it sounds, there are lessons to be learnt from failure.
“In my life, each failure was a blessing in disguise. Sometimes a business is destined for failure and it’s better to find out sooner rather than later” he advises us.
“Accept failure. Entrepreneurs start businesses based on a number of assumptions, and most of those assumptions will usually be wrong. In business, I’ve learned the importance of validating assumptions as early as possible so as to discover the true direction we should be going in,” he says. “And when an incorrect early assumption is discovered, it is always wise to change course, preferably before the company runs out of money,” he adds.
“In my last business, GasNinjas, we pivoted maybe 6 times before finding the model that led to our acquisition.”
“I’ve dealt with rotten co-founders, litigation, regulatory roadblocks, difficult customers, but the most common challenge was finding out that customers don’t care enough for the solution being offered. For a business to be viable, it needs to solve a pain point. If the pain point you’re trying to solve doesn’t “hurt enough,” your business might fail to gain traction.”
From GasNinjas to SadaPay
We were naturally curious about what GasNinjas was, and how exactly Brandon Timinsky has found himself transitioning from a business of that name to trying to shake up banking in Pakistan. In September 2015, Timinsky along with his co-founder, came up with the idea for ‘GasNinjas’ – Timinsky’s claim to fame and his most successful business.
It was built on the novel idea of delivering gas to customers on-demand. It all revolved around saving customers time that they uselessly spent at fuel stations getting their vehicles fueled for everyday runs. For businesses that operated large fleets of vehicles, the idea was a hit. Timinsky built the product and GasNinjas began serving their first customer just 3 months later.
While GasNinjas initially started on a business-to-consumer model to fuel customer’s cars at their homes, daytime traffic proved to be a logistical nightmare, prompting Timinsky and co. to pivot to exclusively fueling vehicles overnight while their customers were sleeping.
“In our second year, we discovered that large corporations with distributed fleets had a more valuable pain point to solve. Thus, we pivoted again to a fleet fueling model that would integrate into Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems of large companies. We signed multiple Fortune 500 customers before eventually being acquired by Exajoule – a Silicon Valley-based on-demand fuel delivery company and the largest competitor of GasNinjas. They took what we built and turned it into a franchisable model that could be scaled across the country and around the world,” adds Timinsky.
The value proposition of GasNinjas was especially attractive because their fuel price was cheaper than at the gas station and the delivery was free because the company bought gas from wholesalers and removed the need for the physical infrastructure of a gas station. This reduced costs enough for the company to provide free delivery – while still being profitable.
“SadaPay follows a similar model; by removing the physical infrastructure of banks, we can reduce costs enough to deliver free financial services – while still being profitable,” says Timinsky.
After almost two years into operations, GasNinjas was acquired by Exajoule. Though the amount remains undisclosed, it was a multi-million dollar exit for GasNinjas.
“After exiting GasNinjas, I started looking beyond the US for opportunities where I could make a lasting impact. The first stop was just a few hours south in Mexico City, where I was exploring financial inclusion. Half the population was unbanked, but the stars didn’t align. I decided to look a little further and moved to Indonesia to better understand Asian markets,” he tells Profit.
While both Mexico and Indonesia could have been great avenues of investment, Timinsky was rather unimpressed. This is where the Pakistan part of the story began.
In September of 2018, Timinsky was invited to visit Pakistan by an old friend from the university. And like all other foreigners, Brandon also says that he had only been familiar with Pakistan from adverse media over the years, but his first trip actually left a remarkable impression.
“People were so kind, supportive, helpful, and generous. I found Pakistanis to be extremely proud of their country, and very grateful that I came to visit. I had never felt so welcomed in a foreign place,” he says.
It is a rather cliche story, the foreigner coming to Pakistan and being wowed by the hospitality, but there is also a lot of opportunity here as well. There is always an opportunity when you have a massive population in a country, a high percentage of people that are unbanked, a median age of 22.8 years, and a staggering number of smartphones that are growing each month – numbers that were enticing enough for Brandon to come in and invest in Pakistan.
“In Pakistan, traditional financial institutions are running on decades-old legacy systems and often offer terrible customer experience. So all the macroeconomic conditions in Pakistan are culminating into a financial services revolution. This is coupled with the State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) desire to promote innovation and release a progressive E-Money license makes this the perfect market for our product.”
“Thankfully, cash is disappearing [all around the world] and it is only a matter of time, here in Pakistan,” he says.
Brandon’s bet is on the financially excluded, unbanked population of Pakistan, and at the center of Brandon’s plan is SadaPay.
SadaPay is essentially a digital bank that will allow customers to open an app-based account from their phones and get a physical card to spend anywhere in the world. SadaPay cards will be acceptable in any market where Mastercard is accepted. Another hook SadaPay has is that it will allow freelancers to receive payments from international clients through digital invoices that can be paid using a credit card from anywhere in the world.
But why fintech? “I’ve always hated cash! I’m obsessed with efficiency, so I was frustrated from an early age by how slow transactions in cash were. Also, I had witnessed first-hand how financial services around the world were being revolutionised by tech companies,” explains Brandon.
“Banks were built for an era of paper money that had to be physically printed and distributed to exchange value across countries. Times have changed, and technological advances now allow people to transact electronically. Financial services no longer require these physical branches to be delivered now that smartphones are becoming ubiquitous,” he adds.
But the real answer is impact, explains Brandon, because fintech can be one of the best ways to effect massive, lasting impact on a large scale.
“What it boils down to is that there are two ways to improve someone’s financial position: a) you give them more money, or b) you help them better manage their finances. The former might work in the short term, but the latter can change lives for generations to come. This is my goal for SadaPay.”
But Brandon is a cautious entrepreneur. Without disclosing the amount that he is bringing as investment into Pakistan, he gives the rather diplomatic answer that it is not a dollar more than what would be enough to make SadaPay operations work. Building a financial institution from scratch isn’t cheap, but, he says, people get distracted by the large funding rounds some tech companies have been attracting.
“We’re grateful that SadaPay has gotten attention from top investors around the world, but having too much money can be dangerous. It usually leads to unsustainable business models that focus on short-term growth goals rather than long term viability,” he says. “Also, raising too much money leads to over dilution; this means less equity for current or future team members to stay motivated in even the most difficult of times.”
SadaPay has not officially launched yet and is waiting for its license from the SBP, which Brandon says is just around the corner. But SadaPay has been over one year in the making and took its time to assemble the right team to get the job done.
“We are joined by some wildly talented and experienced leaders. We have a phenomenal Chief Technology Officer (CTO) who served as CTO at a unicorn tech company in Asia. Also, our Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), and Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) served as senior leaders at some of the top performing financial institutions here in Pakistan.”
Pakistan is a surprisingly large market with countless challenges to go after, but SadaPay intends to be very focused on specific pain points.
“We feel there are a number of inefficiencies around receiving international transfers such as remittances, or payments to the IT outsourcing sector from overseas clients,” he tells us. “I strongly believe that the future of financial services will require specialization. Financial institutions usually try to offer something for everyone, but that usually results in shallow product coverage and diminishing loyalty.”
“The agricultural sector might prefer to work with a bank that offers great loans for farmers. SMEs might gravitate towards a provider that helps with inventory management, receivables and payroll. Gen Y & Z might identify more with a digital bank that has friendly branding and emojis.”
The concept is an interesting one, not very different to Sable which launched in America and was covered by Profit in a previous edition. In Pakistan, it will face hurdles, least of all a resistance to change. What does bode well for the project, however, is Brandon Timinsky’s history of making things work and his infectious enthusiasm and belief. Whether this will be another failure he learns from or not though, is a question only time can answer.