A unicorn means something quite different in investor circles and the tech startup ecosystem. The term is used to describe companies that have been valued by investors at more than one billion dollars. They are regarded as rare and valuable, much like the mythical creature after which they are named.
Unicorns are valued based on investors’ and venture capitalists’ predictions of their potential growth and development in the future, rather than their current financial performance. This means that their worth is determined by long-term forecasting, regardless of whether they are generating revenue in the early stages of their business.
However, evaluating unicorns can present challenges for investors and venture capitalists. In cases where a startup is the first of its kind and there are no similar competitors in the industry, it can be difficult to determine its value as there is no model to compare it to, making the process of valuation more complex.
Unicorns in Africa
Unicorns are not a new phenomenon in Africa; More so fintech unicorns. Fintech has become a game-changer in the financial services industry. Advances in key technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and smartphones have led to explosive growth in fintech startups, producing a number of fintech unicorns. Startups such as Jumia, founded in 2012, are considered a unicorn in the region and became the first tech startup to be valued at $1 billion in 2016. The success of fintech unicorns has sent shockwaves throughout the financial sector. Jumia, being the first African fintech unicorn paved the way for other unicorns by understanding the African market and driving its brand towards satisfying its target market, (Africa) through leveraging technology and social media.
Juliet Anammah, the CEO of Jumia Nigeria said, “Jumia set out from the beginning to build the brand as an ecosystem that was exclusively customized for Africa”.
“By creating multiple services allows everyone to have some entry points onto Jumia. That’s the way we drive the business,” Anammah says.
“Jumia harnesses social media “influencers” to push products on Instagram and YouTube and the company has created JForce – a small army of self-employed individuals working for commission who assist customers in placing orders online. Some JForce workers provide their home addresses as mini-depots for customer collection”.
Despite a global pandemic, there are over 800 companies in the world that have achieved unicorn status. 397 African tech startups have raised a total of $701.5 million, according to the African Tech Startups Funding Report 2020.
Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa stand out as the top capital destinations, accounting for 89.2 percent of total funds invested on the continent.
Achieving a valuation of $1 billion is a challenging but desirable objective for numerous tech startups, especially those based in Africa. Access to capital and deeper innovation to delve into the continent’s diverse markets and unique positioning are seen as essential for accelerating valuation and scaling operations.
There is also the buzz surrounding the first three African startups to reach a valuation of $1 billion Jumia, Flutterwave, and Interswitch. Experts anticipate that the expanding fintech and eCommerce industry, along with a flourishing tech sector will lead to the emergence of more “unicorn” companies in Africa
Below are 7 Fintech Unicorns in Africa
Nigeria appears to have a higher number of startups compared to other countries in the continent, and there are many many unicorns in the nation.
Jumia, which was established in 2012, was the initial tech startup to attain a valuation of $1 billion in 2016. The rapid achievement of unicorn status was due to extensive support from both within and outside Africa. Jumia is now publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, along with notable companies like Goldman Sachs, MasterCard, and MTN Group.
Jumia’s current active customers increased 12 percent to 6.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2020, thanks to Africa’s thriving and increasingly digital payments industry.
The company processed 8.1 million orders during this period, but the number was lower than the previous year. This was due to the disruptions caused by Covid-19 restrictions in core markets such as Morocco and Kenya. The disruptions occurred particularly in the food delivery business where deliveries were obstructed by curfews.
Flutterwave, a Nigerian fintech company established in Lagos in 2016, has expanded with a second headquarters located in San Francisco. This reflects the company’s ability to secure funding from venture capitalists and support its growth through successful investment transactions. Clients have the option to choose from a variety of payment methods including Mobile Money wallets, MPESA card payments, and other methods. A wide range of currencies is supported with over 150 currencies available for users.
Flutterwave, which facilitates international payments for African and international companies such as Facebook and Uber, became a unicorn in March 2021 when its valuation surpassed $1 billion after raising $170 million in Series C funding. Salesforce Venture, Green Visor Capital, and Glynn Capital, and all existing investors also participated led by Tiger Global, and Avenir Growth Capital, both based in the United States.
Interswitch, an Africa-oriented technology-driven company focused on payments, was founded in 2002 by a Nigerian; the company reached unicorn status in 2019 when Visa purchased a 20% stake for $200 million. The company was established at a time when no one was looking at Africa, and despite setting the pace and dominating the African landscape in its early years, it received little or no outside funding.
The firm distributed 22 million debit and credit cards through its Verve service and enabled up to 190,000 businesses to handle transactions through its platform. Interswitch functions in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda with plans for growth as well as expansion into two more West African countries by the years 2021 and 2022.
Fawry, a non-Nigerian unicorn, was founded in 2008 as an Egyptian e-payments company that allows customers to settle bills online and digitally through automated teller machines, retail points of sale, and digital wallets. In 2019, it debuted on the Egyptian Stock Exchange and announced a year later that its valuation had reached $1 billion. Like many other Egyptian fintech and e-commerce companies, the company is taking advantage of various policy measures implemented by the Central Bank of Egypt which permits the operation of more platforms.
Fawry serves a customer base of close to 30 million, consisting of financial institutions, businesses, and investors. The company benefits from increased venture capital investment in Egyptian startups. Egyptian startups nearly exceeded the $190 million raised in 2020 in June alone.
Chipper Cash, an African cross-border fintech company, has received substantial venture funding, and its stock valuation is reported to have exceeded $1 billion. However, the company has not publicly disclosed or confirmed this information.
The company, which was founded in the United States in 2014 by Ugandan-born Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled, is now active in seven African countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa, and Kenya. This follows a $30 million round led eight months ago by a fund backed by Jeff Bezos and Ribbit Capital.
Chipper Cash’s zero-rated, person-to-person, cross-border, mobile money transfer service has 3 million users, 10,000 new users per day, and 80,000 exchanges per day. Aside from that, the business, which has branches in Nigeria and Ghana, now provides bill payment and internet shopping. The position of Chipper Cash in fintech and the amount of funding it has received highlights the dominance of fintech in the growth of African unicorns.
OPay entered the Nigerian market in 2018 and has made a name for itself with its transportation and logistics offerings. The company, which is owned by Chinese investors, has a one-stop-shop approach, offering a variety of services that range from cab and motorcycle rides to logistics, banking, e-commerce, and even food delivery. In 2020, the company received two rounds of funding from Chinese investors, including SoftBank, IDG Capital Chain, and SoftBank Venture Asia, after initially raising $50 million in June and $130 million in November.
The financing round enabled the company to further invest in its AI software expedites. And simplifying the hiring process by furnishing companies with vast amounts of data that indicate where prospective employees would exhibit the highest level of productivity.
Andela was established in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2014, with the aim of addressing Africa’s critical shortage of software developers and engineers. To achieve this, it adopted a strategy of selecting and training engineers through a six-month boot camp, after which they were placed in entry-level developer positions at international corporations.
Andela, a technology company that connects software developers from Africa and other emerging markets with global clients, achieved unicorn status after raising $200 million in a Series funding round led by Japan’s Softbank Group.
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