Linda Shomo is the founder and CEO of EasyPay, an inclusive e-payment platform in Albania. Linda has a proven executive track record and over 23 years of experience in IT, 17 of which in the financial sector. Before EasyPay, Linda held IT management roles in various global financial institutions such as the American Bank of Albania, Western Union, First Data International, etc.
This year has been a year of success for EasyPay. You recently have been praised by Albanian Excellence as a success story for 2017, can you tell us more? What do these awards mean to you?
It is true, Albanian Excellence praised us for 2017, it was a beautiful initiative that valued 50 Albanian individuals who have given a contribution in various fields and one of them was a more special award in terms of leadership, that in this case was given to me. Although it was individual, I asked for the price to be called EasyPay. I am known as Linda of EasyPay and I feel more represented in this form, so they agreed that the rating bears the name EasyPay.
One of the successes we enjoyed immensely this year was the European Fintech Awards that was organized in September, we were the only Albanian company participating. The event had an evaluation formula similar to that of Eurovision, so companies from foreign countries voted for the finalists, and then the jury had the biggest part of the evaluation. We were one of the three winners in Financial Inclusion because there are several categories in the financial sector called FinTech, which have brought innovations and solutions for the financial sector and are of the most diverse such as loans, payments, etc.
For me, this experience was a new adventure. It was the first time I entered the European Parliament. I have participated in many juries but this experience was really exciting for me. Especially the fact that I only had five minutes to talk about five years of work.
Even though you are already known as Linda of EasyPay, many people may ask who Linda was before EasyPay?
I am a female in the IT community, I studied computer science at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, then did an MBA at New York University. I worked for years in the financial sector, at the Bank of America which today is named Intesa San Paolo, then moved to Western Union where I always headed the IT departments. I also worked for a company First Data International, a processor that controlled several banks in Albania. It was thought that they would open their offices here and I would become a Country Manager, but seeing the small market of our country they chose Croatia, which is very developed in this regard.
This was my moment of reflection: What should I do now? Once Moblie Payments had spread, we did not have much knowledge about this development, but thanks to my experience regarding the financial sector, payments, etc., I dared and decided to enter this path alone. I did various IT projects and in 2007 we started with the name ISCS (the first name of EasyPay) while in September 2010 we came out as the first online payment application.
Today EasyPay has 30 employees.
How confident were you that this thing would work in its infancy?
I did not have 100% confidence that it would go as well as it is going today because we were missing many elements. The only thing that kept me going despite the difficulties was the fact that it was working successfully all over the world so it had to work here as well. There were not many facts to keep me optimistic. We were the first online merchant and I say this with pride.
Our first client was Digitalb, where we became distributors of Digitalbit and Plus, while working with scratch cards we brought the innovation of e-voucher, through mobile, we could sell vouchers. We encountered a lot of objections, but I insisted on trying it.
It was a big fight, but we started selling Digitalb online to immigrants because up to that point the purchase was physical through different persons. Of course, it was difficult because even today PayPal does not work with banks, but credit cards are used. Anyway, we brought innovation and for that, we are very proud.
The staff is the one who bears the main weight of a company's work. You currently have 30 employees, are they all qualified?
This is a challenge in itself, finding employees capable of doing the job, with passion, dedication. Since we are a business that has technology within our staff it is new and I like that. It has its pros and cons, but I call myself lucky because the ones I found are very good. Of course, they need training, the new generation coming out of school is not ready to do the job properly.
What about the financial framework, at what stage is EasyPay?
From the beginning, I was clear about where I was headed. The payments sector is a sector with a very small margin, so it is played with very small percentages. But the moment you catch the Mass market, you start to grow. Our focus has been the utilities because from them you can penetrate the entire Albanian market with a service that is used by everyone. It is a difficult sector and requires a lot of investment. Anyway, we are in a stable situation and we have been growing every year by 40%.
Does EasyPay need investment at this stage?
Of course, investments would push us forward. We are at a stage where we are looking for investments and this is one of the reasons for participating in these competitions and attracting foreign investments. The more you have the better because the more you invest.
Today the market is developing, there is more e-commerce. You call yourself PayPal, does EasyPay work like PayPal in Albania?
This is exactly our vision. We tend to be the giants of this industry for the Albanian market.
If we compare Albania with the rest of the world today, there is certainly a lot of difference. But if you compare Albania today with three years ago, the difference is huge and positive. The most important thing is that the mentality is changing, and faith is the key.
The novelty we have brought is Real-Time Payments, when you went to the bank to make the payment it was once a payment that required time and confirmation. We are now talking about integrated systems and any payment made by EasyPay is online and in real-time.
What about the competition, how much did you feel its presence? And is it positive or problematic to say?
If you do not have competition you need to start worrying. So either you are doing something that is not worth it, or you have become a monopoly and they will come attacking immediately. There are generally pretty strong companies in the market and you are very small in front of them, but the fact that you have become part of their competition makes you feel good and you just have to face it.
I see it in a positive sense because we are where we are. The case of the departure of m-pesa, which was to say our competitor, helped us the most and especially in educating the market about the work we do today. So sometimes negative things are the ones that help the most.
Linda is active in the community. You never say no to invitations to various activities, despite other commitments. Is there anything that inspires you to do this?
I have the impression it is the real passion I have for this industry. There is something that connects me to this community. If I did not like it I certainly would not go, but I also like to be part of competitions where you see the new generation trying to become part of the world of startups.
How much do you value these events, do they affect the spirit and organization of young people? And what can they do to get their hands on the brakes to get out of the cafes?
Depends on what model they will see. My staff is young and work from morning to night. The fact that we as entrepreneurs become part of these activities is good because we serve them as a model. Even if we only spend five minutes with them, it creates a pattern in their minds. What is missing in schools we try to offer through internships or motivation because most of the time they just want to leave Albania, especially IT-related employees. If 3 of these 30 startups succeed, our mission is accomplished.
If any of the new startups asked for a single piece of advice, let’s say they have an idea but no money, what advice would you give them?
Determination, determination! The idea alone is not enough, because no matter how beautiful it may be, it should be studied whether it works for the Albanian market.
Therefore, mentors are also important. The more you grow the more you need people who know more than you. The mentor is the one who somehow opens your eyes. But a lot of determination is also needed.