Joining Paystack and doubling down on African eCommerce.

Joel Bronkowski
4 min readSep 27, 2019

Earlier today I had the chance to speak at WordCamp Cape Town, sharing insights into the growing world of eCommerce in Africa. It’s an exciting space. In part because it’s growing like crazy. But even more so it’s changing the world of commerce. A world of opportunity for huge developer communities and a world where people’s livelihoods are being impacted beyond convenience.

And perhaps what’s even more exciting is how it’s being grown. African commerce and fintech is being led by home grown solutions and in the eCommerce space. It’s being led by open source developers. Africa and its burgeoning population is on the brink of entering a new era. What that looks like I don’t think anyone knows but for me there is no place more interesting or where work feels as impactful.

The Search For Greater Impact

I’ve been craving a lot of this impact while my wife and I lived in Europe and I had a chance to be a part of WooCommerce, Automattic and Shopify. At WooCommerce and Shopify I made moves that impacted commerce in Africa – many of which were highlights of my career. Back in 2013 my first ever strategic partnership was making WooCommerce more affordable in South Africa, and the results were astounding.

Two months into my role at Shopify and I was digging into data on our agency partners in Africa. I wondered if adding agency partners in collaboration with first in market payment providers could spark some market traction. Enter Shola Akinlade from Paystack fresh off a funding round and Y Combinator. His energy, vision and excitement about Africa and the strategic launch was refreshing.

The results weren’t amazing for a myriad of reasons but the excitement about the Nigerian startup working with Shopify and making Shopify Nigeria ready spoke volumes to me. Shola and I kept in touch periodically and regularly talked through ideas for impacting Africa.


Flash forward to this year. Off the back of leaving Shopify and a self imposed sabbatical I was dead set on consulting and starting my own startup focused on eCommerce research and education in Africa. And consulting I did. It went pretty great. There were days and weeks where I made more money (for that time period) than I ever had.

I threw myself into some consulting networks that led me to be on all kinds of calls with investment companies, big consultancy firms and some of the largest players in tech. It was a great feeling to make money for myself, but it wasn’t steady.

Storelab / ShopStack / ShopLab

On the side I began building Storelab/ShopStack/ShopLab (I bought a lot of domain names). I began tinkering away at a bunch of different tools to help people figure out what platform and tools they should use to launch their stores. I became fascinated with data using my old friend to scrape data.

The deeper I got into building my startup the more I became aware of the need for someone more technical. Aside from the research I was doing all of my consulting was focused on projects outside of Africa. My lowest moment came when on top of feeling disconnected from my former colleagues from Woo, who were gathering at CMS Africa, my former colleagues from Shopify were also gathering in Tokyo.

It was a weird feeling realizing the emptiness that comes with achieving some of what you thought you wanted but which was devoid of something you undervalued. That ‘something’ is people - I missed working with people and I missed achieving things in collaboration with people.

My Next

As of today I’m joining Paystack to help them grow partnerships and tackle their market expansion into South Africa. Joining this wild company of 80+ in Lagos (for my first month) is still hard to get my head around but I am so incredibly thrilled. I’ve faced no greater mission or challenge in a role. That scares me, but in the best possible way.

I’m excited by a product that aims to simplify payments for Africa. And I’m excited equally by the role they’ve played in helping developers and businesses figure out how to operate online. Looking around in South Africa and Africa there is such a need for leading companies and voices to help businesses figure out the future.

When I look at Paystack and interact with the team, I believe ‘we’ are going to do incredible things together. I guess what I’m saying is that I believe in them as much as what they currently offer.

I had the chance to spend 3 days in Lagos with the team this past June at their offsite. Landing in Lagos reminded me of when I first landed in South Africa back in 2007. I sort of knew as I landed that I was on the edge of a massive adventure and learning experience. I knew I’d experience things I could never convey.

Africa is a massive continent with a incomprehensible amount of challenges to work on. I am so excited to focus this time in my life and efforts on this continent with a company led by Africans for Africans – aiming to create a better Africa.

The Paystack crew kicking off Q3.