11 High-Profile African Startup Exits Of The Last Decade – Plus Those That Weren’t Happy Endings

By  |  June 18, 2019

There’s been a lot of buzz around African startup funding over the last few years, and rightfully so. But even as the African startup ecosystem is still emerging, it surprisingly shows great potential for quick exits. Here are some examples.

The tech startup ecosystem in Africa may still be playing catch up with the likes of the folks in the west when it comes to robustness and pocket depth, but there’s no doubt about the amount of progress that has been made over the years.

For the better part of the last two decades, the African startup ecosystem has come alive with net investment amounts eclipsing figures from the previous year with each new year. While ticket sizes and funding rounds may still be dwarfed by the picture from the west, it is undeniable that there is some sort of feel-good factor around tech startups in Africa at the moment.

Hardly a day goes by without news of an African startup roping in funds from some investor halfway around the world — it speaks of increased investor confidence in the ecosystem. With big rounds like the USD 100 Mn pumped into Andela early this year still fresh in memory, the continent’s startup funding figures are, once again, on course to rip the record books from 2018 where venture capital investments in Africa reached a record USD 725.6 Mn.

Interestingly, for a startup ecosystem that is still nascent at best, one thing that seems to have taken everyone by surprise is the fact that, beyond the funding frenzy, investor exits are happening at quite some pace.

Actually, on the surface, it does look like exits are still relatively rare in Africa, but doing some digging does indicate that there are many more African startup exits than is often thought. In fact, these days, it’s kind of a trend.

Acquisitions seem to be the most common route for investor exits and just yesterday we were, yet again, treated to the story of another African startup investor exiting via this route with the news of Naspers-backed OLX Kenya getting acquired by Nigeria’s Jiji, implying a possible exit for the SA-based investors.

And then, there’s been some secondary exits in the form of founders bowing out of the companies they nurtured having been bought out as in the case of the much-publicized exit of a popular Nigerian tech entrepreneur, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, from fintech startup, Flutterwave, in the wake of USD 20 Mn funding round.

IPO exits appear to be rare and this may have something to do with the relatively illiquid nature of stock exchanges across the continent. But even at that, Jumia’s IPO listing on the New York Stock Exchange in April this year, which could spell possible exits for its parent company, Rocket Internet, and a host of other investors, does come in handy as a decent lone example.

Well, here’s what we do know — investor exits aren’t as rare we think in the African startup ecosystem. If anything, they are actually more common than would be expected for an ecosystem that is pretty much still in infancy. And there’s been a number of major exits no one saw coming too. Now, let’s look at some of the most high-profile exits of the last decade.

TopCheck (Nigeria, 2017)

By the time one of South Africa’s leading internet ventures, Silvertree Internet Holdings, had parted with an undisclosed amount for Nigerian financial services comparison platform, TopCheck, the Nigerian startup had closed two funding rounds from a host of investors.

TopCheck was launched in December 2014 and within the first three months of operation, it “raised funds totaling a six-digit Euro figure” from German investment group Tech’n’Trade, and an anonymous angel investor.

A few months later, it followed that up with a USD 1.15 Mn investment from a number of European investors including Mountain Partners and business angel; Dr. Cornelius Boersch, amongst many others.

All that was before Silvertree swooped in for the Nigerian company (actually a previous competitor) and added it to its subsidiary, Compare Africa Group (CAG) which offers a selection of online price comparison services across markets including South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria. The 2017 acquisition marked successful exits for the startup’s investors.

Gyft (South Africa, 2014)

In 2014, South Africa’s virtual gift card provider, Gyft, which was co-founded by Vinny Lingham, C.J. MacDonald and Mark Levitt in 2012, was acquired by US payments giant, First Data. The value of the deal was not disclosed, but it is believed to have been between USD 35 Mn and USD 70 Mn.

Before the acquisition, Gyft had raised up to USD 6.3 Mn in two funding rounds sponsored by the likes of Karlin Ventures, 500 Startups, Haas Portman, Social Capital, Canyon Creek Capital, and a number of others – all of whom enjoyed successful exits.

Fundamo (South Africa, 2011)

It was the year 2011 when global payments giant, Visa, paid USD 110 Mn for South Africa’s mobile financial services company, Fundamo.

Fundamo had built quite a reputation as a platform enabling the delivery of mobile financial services to unbanked and under-banked consumers around the world, and Visa was seeking additional functionality for its mobile services clients.

At the time, Fundamo was present in over 40 countries, including 27 countries in Africa and the Middle East, having raised a total of USD 5.1 Mn in funding from SA-based VC firm, Knife Capital — marking one of many successful exits for the South African VC.

Kngine (Egypt, 2018)

In March last year, South Korean technology giant, Samsung, parted with an undisclosed amount for Egyptian artificial intelligence startup, Kngine, to improve its virtual assistant, Bixby.

The startup, which was founded by a brother duo,  Haytham and Ashraf ElFadeel, had raised its first investment from Cairo-based Sawari Ventures. The total disclosed investment raised by the startup before the acquisition stood at USD 775 K.

The details of the acquisition were not disclosed but according to publicly available data, Samsung through its VC arm, SamsungNEXT Ventures. had previously co-invested in Kngine with Vodafone Ventures Egypt in 2014. But it bought the startup outright in 2018, giving its previous investors an exit from the company.

Konga (Nigeria, 2018)

Founded in 2012 by Nigerian entrepreneur and Harvard MBA, Sim Shagaya, Konga amassed USD 108 Mn in known funding rounds from Naspers and Kinnevik, before seemingly falling to the perils of doing the business of retail e-commerce in a tough market like Nigeria.

Poor returns in spite significant of significant investments led to a series of lay-offs and cutbacks before the company was acquired, presumably at a cut-price, by Zinox Technologies, a computer hardware company little-known outside Nigeria.

The acquisition gave exits to both Naspers and Kinnevik, even though it was probably not the kind of exit they would have hoped for. Well, not all exits are happy endings it would seem.

Actually, this exit was kept under the radar given that it was a kind of a fail but it does come across as a “high-profile exit” — albeit on a far less glorious note — because it has all the makings of a major gaffe that was swept under the carpet.

Nimbula (South Africa, 2013)

American multinational computer technology corporation, Oracle, announced the acquisition of Nimbula; a South African provider of private cloud infrastructure management software, back in 2013, for around USD 110 Mn.

The company, which was founded in late 2008 by Chris Pinkham and Willem Van Biljon — both of whom developed the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) — had raised a total of USD 20.8 Mn in two funding rounds that had on board the likes of Accel, Sequoia Capital, and VMware.

The acquisition saw the initial investors fork in a significant return on their investment and this remains one of the happier exits of the last decade.

Dealdey (Nigeria, 2016)

Dealdey launched operations in Nigeria in 2015 and under the stewardship of the previously mentioned Sim Shagaya, it rose to become a notable online discount shopping platform in Nigeria.

With backing from Rocket Internet and Kinnevik, it had raised USD 5 Mn in a Series-B funding round before a joint venture called Ringier Africa Deals Group, set up by Switzerland-based Ringier Africa and South Africa’s Silvertree Internet Holdings, led to the exit of its original investors and the startup’s founder in 2016.

In the end, exiting the company when they did appears to have been a good call for both Rocket Internet and Kinnevik, as the e-commerce platform was forced to shut down operations early this year in the wake of poor returns.

orderTalk (South Africa, 2018)

In what was another successful exit for Cape Town and London-based VC firm, Knife Capital, orderTalk; a company that develops online ordering software and solutions for the restaurant, takeout, and hospitality industry, was acquired by food delivery giant, Uber Eats, for an undisclosed amount.

The startup opened shop in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2005, having been founded by Hilton Keats in 1998 on the back of an online ordering software development partnership with a U.S. restaurant chain. Knife Capital had invested ZAR 9 Mn (USD 700 K) in the South African-grown company whose core business is now in Dallas, Texas.

After initial angel investor backing, HBD Venture Capital (owned by internet billionaire Mark Shuttleworth and subsequently managed by Knife Capital) invested funds in the company in 2008 to scale the business internationally.

orderTalk was the final investee company to exit from the  ZAR 150 Mn-HBD Venture Capital Fund that Knife Capital managed. Knife Capital has also achieved exits to General Electric and Visa from the same HBD Fund.

Weza Tele (Kenya, 2015)

In 2015, Kenyan fintech company Weza Tele, co-founded by Hilda Moraa, Newton Kitonga, and Sam Kitonyi, was acquired by Ghana-based financial services company, AFB, for USD 1.7 Mn.

At the time, it was the largest acquisition of a Kenyan tech startup ever recorded. While some acquisitions see the company that is being acquired absorbed into the bigger firm, AFB left Weza Tele to operate as a standalone company in this case.

It was symbolic in that it was the most money paid for a Kenyan startup at the time. The company’s co-founders were handed exits from the company and have since moved on to other ventures.

Saya Mobile (Ghana, 2015)

In 2014, Ghana’s mobile chat app company, Saya Mobile, founded by Robert Lamptey and Badu Boahen – and also incubated at Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) – was acquired by U.S.-based multinational mobile social media company, Kirusa. The financial terms of the acquisition were not made public.

Saya’s investors include the Meltwater Foundation, Forward Partners and Progress Through Business. While the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, Kirusa bought out the startup’s investors, bringing about successful exits. It also acquired the technology, intellectual property, and workforce of Saya, who will be tasked with working on Kirusa’s mobile applications.

GetSmarter (South Africa, 2017)

Perhaps the most high-profile exit of the last ten years which no one saw coming was that recorded by Digital Growth Africa Middle East (DiGAME) — a subsidiary of Zouk Capital — when GetSmarter; a South African edtech startup they invested USD 5 Mn in only a year prior, was acquired by edtech giant, 2U, in 2017.

According to Forbes, the deal was valued at USD 103 Mn in cash plus an earn-out provision of as much as USD 20 Mn in cash.

Since 2008, GetSmarter has been in the business delivering short-term online certification courses to distance-learning students in partnership with many of the world’s top-tier universities. Pursuant to the acquisition, the startup’s co-founders, Sam and Rob Paddock, who had bootstrapped the company up until securing funding in 2016, exited the company, as did its investors.

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