Meet Ruth Iselema. She is the founder of Bitmama, a cryptocurrency trading platform with a presence in three African markets: Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya.
Iselema was inspired to start Bitmama after she got scammed for $1200 (in 2016) trying to sell bitcoin despite doing due diligence. At the time, there was no crypto-trading firm in Africa except those that operated on WhatsApp and Telegram communities.
“I started learning about blockchain and cryptocurrencies earlier in 2015, through a friend and a couple of Telegram and WhatsApp groups I joined. Just as it is now, I turned out to be only one out of maybe two women in the space,” she told techpoint Africa.
“Because most of the conversations happened online and nobody saw each other’s faces, people assumed I was an elderly woman. So they started calling me ‘Bitmama’ — a combination of bitcoin and mama — and the name stuck.”
Her first attempt to build a crypto exchange platform did not work out as she envisaged due to different views on how things should work by the team she assembled.
She decided to go solo and to do so, she left her comfort zone and migrated to Lagos to pursue her dreams. Migrating to Lagos was also influenced by the fact that most of the blockchain technologies she was interacting with were based there.
While in Lagos, she met Damilola Thompson, then of EchoVC, who introduced her to Tech in Heels, a women-focused pitch competition in which she participated but did not win.
Iselema persevered and applied to be among the inaugural cohort of Greenhouse Labs, a 3-month accelerator focused on early-stage female-led startups. She was subsequently accepted into Greenhouse Lab which solidified her decision to relocate to Lagos to focus solely on Bitmama.
Being among a handful of women to operate a blockchain in Africa has not been easy, Iselema said.
“Sometimes, people see a success story and assume everything happened overnight. There were times that I would cry, and there were times I would have sleepless nights. On some days, I would wake up staring at the ceiling, wondering how I was supposed to pay salaries that week,” she noted.
Iselema may be famed for her journey into the crypto world but she is also a trained pharmacist. She said that entrepreneurship has always been her first love.
“I remember I used to tell my dad how I saw myself sitting at the head of a company board and he would always respond, ‘yes, you can do it.’ He even started calling me ‘Your Excellency’ because of this,” she recalled.