What really happened at Cars45?

EXCLUSIVE: Cars45 Founder/ex-CEO Opens Up On Exit Drama For The First Time

By  |  September 14, 2020

Much has been made of the circumstances surrounding the resignation of the co-founder and long-standing CEO of Cars45, Etop Ikpe, as well as the curiously-timed exit of 11 former company executives who got some kind of “road rage” from Cars45 after quitting the startup.

Ikpe had been CEO at Cars45 since the company launched in 2016, building the startup into one of the most well-known online marketplaces for swapping, selling, and buying used cars in Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya.

Together with co-founders Mohammed Iyamu, Peter Lindholm, and Sujay Tyle (who, until stepping down recently, was also the co-founder/CEO of Germany-based Frontier Car Group (FCG); Cars45’s parent company), Ikpe built a trusted brand that closed a USD 5 Mn Series A round led by FCG in 2017.

Cars45’s parent, FCG had raised USD 89 Mn from OLX Group’s venture arm in May 2018 and 18 months later, OLX Group forked out USD 400 Mn into the same FCG to strengthen its grip on the company’s ownership.

This huge investment was reported to be in exchange for new shares and a tender offer to buy out existing shareholders in FCG (and by extension, the companies in FCG’s portfolio, such as Cars45, BeliMobilGue, and others).

It was rumoured that the exit of Cars45’s co-founders and top executives had something to do with the disputes that came up in the buyout process, there was talk of a fallout over equity arrangements.

When Ikpe revealed that he had resigned from his position and was in the process of launching another tech startup in the auto marketplace space (now revealed to be Autochek), it fuelled speculation that he had exited Cars45 in acrimonious circumstances and was staging the “I’m-coming-for-you” comeback.

When 11 Cars45 executives abruptly resigned and Cars45 opted to distance itself from them in a mugshot-style disclaimer, it was rumoured to be in retaliation to poaching from the new venture being pushed by the former Cars45 CEO.

But for the first time, Ikpe, now CEO of Autochek, has gone on the record to dispel some of those rumours. As he told us at WT, there was no bad blood or dispute. He claims he left on good terms and he denied any talk of a disagreement over equity.

“They [the rumours] are absolutely untrue, I have a very good relationship with the team at FCG/OLX. OLX is a very successful and experienced organization with incredibly sound leadership, culture and vision, and our relationship has transcended business. I will always be grateful for all the support I received, and I left Cars45 on good terms. I am confident that we will have many more years of doing business together in the future,” he said.

He further stated that he left Cars45 because of his dream to develop Autochek. As he put it, “Life is about journeys and as one journey has ended, I have begun another journey which I am very passionate about.”

He added, “The automotive industry holds a lot of value and I have dedicated myself to solving the problems within the industry. My passion for the industry transcends brands and I am focused on using the opportunities I have to create employment opportunities and wealth for participants in the automotive industry.”

However, Ikpe remains tight-lipped on the issue of poaching Cars45 employees, saying “I cannot speak on the career choices of individuals,” even as a number of former executives who resigned from Cars45 in August are believed to now be associated with Ikpe’s newly-founded startup, Autochek.

Autochek has just announced the acquisition of online car marketplaces, Cheki Nigeria and Cheki Ghana, from ROAM Africa. The newly-launched startup is being sold as a company that is “using technology to transform the automotive buying and selling experience for African consumers.”

Since Cars45 operates in the same space, it rattles the prospect of Autochek going head-to-head with Cars45. But Ikpe is of the view that Autochek is not a competitor and Cars45 would actually be a great client.

“We are focused on technology solutions that will help dealerships service their consumers better, and we hope to do business with Cars45 in the nearest future,” he said.

According to Ikpe, Autochek’s acquisition of Cheki was fast-tracked by his relationship with ROAM Africa which can be traced back to his days at the now-defunct e-commerce startup, DealDey.

“We have kept in touch since. We share similar values on the future of the automotive industry in Africa and what is required to develop the sector, this made the process quite swift and seamless,” said Ikpe. 

For now, though, Autochek’s backers and senior executives are yet to be revealed, though the ex-CEO of Cars45 claims his new company has received a lot of support from various individuals and institutions, and the full structure will be communicated in due course.

Feature image courtesy Aïda Amer/Axios

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