Series V

Hello from Series V

Whilst Nigeria is still agog with the outcome of the recent presidential elections; we are reminded of a few lines from the Roman poet Horace’s Odes — “Strain your wine and prove your wisdom; life is short; should hope be more? In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb’d away. Seize the present; trust tomorrow as little as you may.”

This year seems to have descended really fast like Zeus thunderbolt and it’s startling to imagine we are already approaching the last month of Q1. We apologize for delivering this edition later than usual. In 2019, we look forward to continuing sharing our thoughts, updates from our portfolio and general musings on what we consider important lessons. Going forward, we will be publishing Series V once a month, and hope you still find it super insightful.

Each new year at VP, we take stock of the past year; assessing things we are excited and grateful for and also highlighting a few things we could have done better and our top goals for the new year. One key question we ask ourselves at the beginning of the year is “How can/would technology impact key sectors across Africa at scale over the next 5 years”? We are definitely not an arbiter of the future and we realize the future can be quite surprising, however asking this question helps us envision a new Africa and helps shape our investment outlook as a firm.

2018 saw us making some interesting investments in companies like; ThankU cash, Piggybank and MDass — pushing the edge of what’s possible in Health care and financial services and we are committed to backing more founders solving critical problems on the African continent.

The year further reminded us that the market is the arbiter of truth for all startups. “When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins. When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins. When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.” — Andy Rachleff.

Drawing from this, the goal for every startup must be to address a big enough market that really wants your product. With this out of the way, even if you screw up a few things with execution, success is still possible. On the other hand, even if you are really great at executing, but the market isn’t — ready/willing/able — to buy what you are selling, you stand no chance at winning. So market comes first, second and maybe third.

Portfolio Chatter

We are super proud of some of the milestones our portfolio companies hit in 2018. To name a few;

  1. ThriveAgric crowdfunded north of 11,000 crop farmers and their poultry farmers reared over 1,000,000 birds.
  2. PiggyBank now PiggyVest users saved N4.5 Billion.
  3. Wesabi grew its revenue by 67%
  4. Printivo became cashflow positive.
  5. Kudi processed $153million across 4.3million transactions
  6. Paystack raised $8m from Stripe and Visa and helped over 30,000 businesses collect $40 monthly.

Inside VP

  • We remain keen to work with bold founders working hard at building the future of Africa. If you have built an MVP and have a clear path to revenue, we would love to speak with you. You can get in touch with us by clicking this link.
  • One of our partners is conducting a survey that would help them better serve entrepreneurs, please take out 1 minute to fill the survey here
  • Know how we can be better, do better? Please drop us a line at [email protected]



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Series V

The Matter of Exits

Today’s edition is a based on an edited reproduction of a tweet storm by Kola from a few weeks ago. We would love to know what you think?

— over to Kola


If today, you are active in the African startup ecosystem, then you need to give some thought to the matter of exits.

Recently I had a very interesting sit down with an aspiring micro fund manager to share from our experiences at Ventures Platform. This was the 3rd of that kind of meeting in less than a month. On this occasion like always, I wished him the best and offered our support.

Then it got me thinking.

As we continue to see an increasing number of micro funds, accelerators, syndicates and VC funds come on stream in this market, all looking for alpha — the thinking of all these brilliant people needs to start shifting to “exits.”

When you raise outside capital for a fund, long term performance (exits / liquidity) matters alot. In this market we aren’t or perhaps, “haven’t started” seeing much of this desired outcome and this should be a cause for concern or at the minimum, create some anticipation.

Fund managers and other actors must burden themselves with this puzzle.

How do we create liquidity and orchestrate the exits that are urgently required to ensure the air in this balloon we are inflating isn’t suddenly let out. How do we better build high growth companies that can produce the exits and liquidity that keep market momentum going like a rolling snowball.

We don’t have all the answers yet; but we suspect that a few things matter in this discussion;

  • What venture funding model is most optimal in Africa. What does the “Wakanda Venture Model” look like and how does it need to differ from the Silicon Valley model?
  • Should alternative forms of capital returns, like dividends or profit-sharing, be an option?
  • How do we get more corporates involved to drive M&A activity downstream?
  • How might we sustainably explore the possibility and promises of blockchain and ICO’s?
  • How might we curate our portfolios such that we create strategic alignment and generate greater value?
  • How might we strengthen the size, depth and quality of our customer markets so scaling companies don’t contend with glass ceilings of growth despite our large populations?
  • What is the place for secondary listings and public markets?

There are many questions, and not enough answers. But it’s obvious that what got this ecosystem here, won’t take us further.

We’ll be interested to hear your own thoughts and hypothesis on exits in Africa.

See you next week,


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Series V


The term, as used in the 19th century, meant “to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps” and it was often used to describe scaling a fence. (This implied someone was attempting a far-fetched or impossible task).

It is also widely attributed to “The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen” by Rudolph Erich Raspe, where the Baron pulls himself out of a swamp by his hair.

Recently, Alex Konrad of Forbes wrote about how Mailchimp has an estimated valuation of $4.2billion — without a dollar of venture funding, and the consensus was that raising venture capital ≠ success.

Is it possible to build a successful startup on a shoestring budget? Yes, but it depends on what kind it is, and what ‘success’ looks like to you. Some sectors are capital intensive, and it’s unlikely that individuals/FFFs can afford the investments required. But if you’re building, say, an internet startup with a SaaS business model, it’s generally easier to get by without investment — as long as you’re willing to be patient about growth.

Because you can’t launch a startup into a vacuum, you need to figure out where your customers are/where they will come from. So, you either: run ads (expensive) or build your community (longer but cheaper). You have to work as hard as you can to make a dent and get people to notice you. It is also essential to define what success means for your startup and to enjoy what you’re doing.


One thing to keep in mind is you don’t want to have all your money in the bank in the beginning. Sometimes, you can pay for needs as you go. You need to understand how much it will cost you to build, and where it will come from, but you don’t need to have it all at the inception.

A way to save cash is by making small tweaks to your hiring process. For instance, Kendall Ananyi of (VP portfolio) said last year that in the early days, they didn’t hire anyone who didn’t already own a laptop.

Being your company’s sole funder can be both a blessing and a curse (and a choice many businesses don’t have). Every founder should be conscious of the point at which they’re no longer capable of going at it alone. Venture Capital is only one tool in your toolkit, and like any other, you ultimately have to decide whether it matches the use case you imagine for it.

Links from the Internets

  • Podcast: Shola Akinlade on getting into YC, building Paystack, growth, and the future. [Link]
  • Marketing: How trial length affects SaaS conversions. [Link]
  • Product: The art and science of Product development. [Link]
  • Bill Gates on Paul Allen. [Link]

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Series V

Healthcare that matters.


“There are perhaps few industries that have more to gain from the Internet revolution than medicine.” — NYTimes

We’ve only just begun to witness the integration of technology into healthcare. It is a fascinating time to see health tech startups leading this charge, using mobile technology, cloud-based infrastructure, machine learning, and a multitude of innovations that will help us impact the lives of many positively.

According to research conducted by Mckinsey and the World Economic Forum, many of the most compelling innovations in the health industry come from emerging markets. This sounds right for two reasons:

  • First, necessity begets invention: in the absence of adequate health care infrastructure, entrepreneurs and existing providers must improvise and innovate.
  • Second, because of the weakness in infrastructure and resources of emerging markets, entrepreneurs face fewer constraints; because the lack of infrastructure means low-entry barrier and change is welcome.

New approaches to healthcare delivery are not in short supply.

In Mexico, for example, telephone-based healthcare advice and triage service, MedicallHome is available to more than one million subscribers and their families for $5 a month, paid by phone bills.

It is not hard to see or explain the use of technology in healthcare but how might these new forms of healthcare delivery drive down costs and effect change within the context of Africa?

First, is by getting closer to the patients; entrepreneurs can lower distribution costs by moving the delivery of care much closer to the homes of patients. For instance, Visionspring’s early work involved training the locals or ‘vision entrepreneurs’ to conduct outreach and sell high-quality, low-cost eyeglasses in their communities.

Another way is to use existing technology to reinvent delivery; repurposing mobile phone systems, call centres, and other current technologies allow innovators to extend access, increase the uniformity of care, and improve labour productivity. In Mali, for example, Pesinet uses SMS to improve detection and early treatment of childhood diseases.

Expanding the skillsets of health workers through training is also necessary. The outcome of this is reduced labour costs and overcoming labour constraints. In Kenya, HealthStore has trained community workers to diagnose and treat the region’s top five diseases which account for more than half of preventable deaths there.

As African entrepreneurs continue to innovate, they need to exploit low and loose hanging fruits — existing technology and community members to implement change.

Links from the Internets

  • Management: Speed as a habit. [Link]
  • Product: Steven Sinofsky on how a company’s structure affects what it builds. [Link]
  • Fred Wilson on first mover disadvantage. [Link]

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Series V

On mentorship

Telemachus and Mentor

“Mentor” was a character in Homer’s Odyssey. He was an older friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War in The Iliad, he asked Mentor to look after his household and his son, Telemachus. Because it took so long for King Odysseus to get back, the townspeople assumed he was dead, and moved to split up his vast estate. Telemachus, his rightful heir, was too young to defend his property. So, it was up to Mentor to protect their interests. Homer wrote that Venus decided to intervene, she took the form of Mentor and visited Telemachus, helping to guide him on his journey to find his father.

Because of Mentor’s relationship with Telemachus, and the disguised Athena’s encouragement and practical plans for dealing with personal dilemmas, the name Mentor has been adopted in English as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less-experienced colleague.

Starting a company can be a lonely affair, starting entrepreneurs need a listening ear and many incubators, and tech hubs have programs to match startup founders with experienced veterans. In the traditional mentoring model, the engagement between the mentor and the mentee took place in a physical, face to face environment, but thanks to the internet, mentors can now sit in any part of the globe and make themselves available to mentees who are sitting in Lagos, Kigali, Nairobi, or wherever else.

For young entrepreneurs, finding the right mentor can mean the difference. Great mentors keep an entrepreneur honest, and keep their feet on the ground, but can also take them to heights unimaginable.

An ideal mentor has domain expertise and broad experience in a particular area; makes introductions when appropriate; doesn’t ask for anything in return, and shows empathy.

“At least for me, becoming someone’s mentor means a two-way relationship. A mentorship is a back and forth dialogue — it’s as much about giving as it is about getting. It’s a much higher-level conversation than just teaching. Think about what can we learn together? How much are you going to bring to the relationship?” — Steve Blank.

For founders: For each meeting, go with a specific challenge with sufficient homework, and data collection.

Funding is still scarce in these markets, but mentors shouldn’t be. We need more mentors — tech company founders, corporate executives, and captains of industry who will provide a great sounding board, help make tough calls, and help make introductions to potential customers, partners, or even investors.

The ecosystem will be better off for it.

Links from the Internets

  • Design: To mark its 10th birthday, Chrome launched a redesign of its UI. Hannah Lee unboxes it. [Link]
  • Management: Grammarly’s Itamar Goldminz on team diversity. [Link]
  • Marketing: PR advice from Facebook’s Caryn Marooney [Link]
Series V

A short note on founder-friendliness.

We (VCs) often claim to be founder-friendly but what…does that mean?

The mechanics of the VC industry is such that multiple firms must compete for the best investment opportunities, and one of the ways to attract entrepreneurs with a choice is to brand yourself as “founder friendly”. Being founder-friendly is not the abdication of responsibility to deliver honest, critical, often difficult feedback to them. It is treating the founders as your customers and optimising for their success above your own. (Ironically, this helps guarantee your own.)

Founder-friendliness is not — should not be — a marketing term. It should come from the understanding that everything we do is in service of great entrepreneurs. Understanding that investors will not build the future, but exist to support those who will. Of course, this does not mean they should turn a blind eye to irresponsible behaviour.

And even more than the many things they can do, e.g., helping with organisational set-up, recruiting, corporate connections, etc., investors have an obligation to build a trust-based relationship with founders and to offer timely and valuable feedback when it is warranted.

Backing a super-smart, eager, hard-working team is not nearly enough: it’s doing the hard work of providing substantive feedback, but doing so with empathy. This gets to the essence of what being “founder friendly” should mean.

The objective is not [necessarily] to be a founder’s best friend but to be the partner that helps them be their best selves. And if this means having some hard conversations with bruised egos and hurt feelings in the short run, but with an eye towards longer-term payoffs, then it will be worth it.

Links from the Internets

  • Gradually, then suddenly. That is how disruption happens. [Link]
  • Mindshare before market share. [Link]
  • How to build products that scale in a country with no middle class. [Link]
  • Finance as a strategy. [Link]

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Series V

Customer discovery

We often see two competing mindsets while talking to entrepreneurs. On the one hand, you have those who idolize the visionary founder, who built the product, got to the market, and found that their intuitions were right. You might find them quoting Henry Ford as saying customers would have demanded a faster horse if he’d asked them. On the other hand, there are those who have outsourced their product roadmap to users.

In reality, both views are valid, and often at the same time. First, realize that most of us are neither Steve Jobs nor Henry Ford, yet we must build enduring companies. Next, even though the customer may not be able to articulate the solution, listening to them will tell you something about the nature of the problem. If Henry Ford had asked customers, they would never have asked for a car — but he would have learned they wanted to go faster. And the difference would have been his ability to sift through their feedback to guide product direction.

The process of navigating this maze is called Customer discovery. It is how you make sure the dogs will eat your dog food. It is how you check that you aren’t wasting resources on a product nobody wants.

Get out of the building

The first step is to get out of the building to test your understanding of the customers’ problem. Talking to customers is an obvious first step that gets ignored too often. At some point in the startup journey, founders may have sold themselves on their business concepts and created false confidence. Customer discovery is intended to expose the flaws in your logic, and that’s a difficult pill to swallow.

The art of questioning

If you ask customer X, “Would buy or use this product?”, Their answer would either be yes or no. But that doesn’t tell you much. We often hear things like “We spoke to x number of people, and 94% said they’d need our product”. Perfect right? But did those x number of people buy it?

It is tempting to ask leading questions that validate your preconceived notions without providing useful feedback. One day, though, we will all ‘realize’ that the emperor has no clothes.

In the same vein, you should employ both qualitative (discussions, interviews, etc.) and quantitative methods (surveys, questionnaires, etc.). You will find truth at the intersection between both of them. A deep understanding of your customer’s problems requires you to develop trust. Don’t force your proposed solution upon them. Let them lead the conversation, and you can learn what the real pain points are. Insights gained from discussions can be validated via surveys.

The result of customer discovery is that you’ll be receiving information to drive product and business model iteration. And so, it is crucial that founders, themselves, go out to talk to customers. This is a process that never ends. Great companies have developed a culture of new product innovation, and each time a new product enters development, you should dive back into learning, prototyping, and experimenting.

Links from the Internets

  • Lessons from Pillpack’s acquisition. [Link]
  • How design grows up. [Link]
  • This mathematical model could lead to a new approach to the study of what is possible, and how it follows from what already exists. [Link]
  • The Moat map and Network effects. [Link]

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In conversation with Dotun.

Today on Series V, we continue to discuss fundraising for startups in Africa. Catch up on the first and second parts here and here.

Last week, Kola Aina shared his thoughts on funding models. Today, Dotun addresses valuation and long-term thinking for African investors.

Dotun Olowoporoku

About Valuation

For startups with uncertain futures and no historical financials, the job of assigning a valuation is tricky. In these cases, startup valuation is more of an art than a science. There are many parameters to take into account like the market, the team, the product, and so on, but the most important of these is the market.

A lot of African founders compare their products with foreign counterparts, thinking they should raise at similar valuations, but forgetting that the market conditions are different. True, some products in Africa are unique to us, like USSD. But if your offering is Uber for x or e-commerce, and you are basing your valuation on comparables in other markets, you are going to get it wrong because the risk profile is vastly different.

How then deal should African founders approach valuation? In my opinion, by fixing the best price they can, but applying the necessary discounts to the numbers, they see on Techcrunch. Go for how much will help you get to the next milestone, and then determine how much of your company you want to give out for that amount of money. It is important to keep the next round in mind when pricing equity today. Rather than getting fixated on how much your company is worth, do a bottom-up analysis of how much your product roadmap requires, add an extra 20 %- 30% (because founders tend to underestimate how much they need), and give out a percentage you are comfortable with. Think “who is willing to give me $1.2million for X per cent of my company?”.

On long-term investors

African investors should not think of startups as a get rich quick scheme, but a commitment. Players in the African tech space should play chess and not checkers. They should be long-term in their thinking. It’s going to take time for the market to mature and they need to think beyond making money in 3 years. For instance, an investor in an African e-commerce startup should look far ahead into the future to a time where young consumers become the biggest spenders and the highest earners in the country. When that happens, most transactions will happen online. If you are betting on the technology companies that will deliver this future, you have to take a long view.

Plus, in cases where funds/investors do not have enough follow-on capital to deploy, they can provide portfolio support until the startups get to a stage where they are good enough for more money/foreign investors. They should also actively spend time building networks to secure follow-on capital for their investee companies.

Links from the Internets

  • CB Insights’ WeWork teardown. [Link]
  • Inside Uber’s rebrand [Link]
  • Lessons from Richard Zeckhauser [Link]

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Series V

In conversation with Kola Aina.

Last week, we started talking about fundraising, and we shared a few key points based on our investment conversations. Today, we will continue to explore this topic in depth.

This week, we have Kola Aina sharing his thoughts on funding models.

Kola Aina


First, it is essential to understand that not every company is venture-backable. There needs to be an implicit understanding that your investors expect some positive liquidity event within a time frame (usually 7–11 years). While startups are driven by their founder’s passion for creating something new, startup investors have a much different agenda — a return on their invested capital.

Founders need to understand the time horizon of their investors, the return profile they are looking for, and the incentive structure that guides their decisions. Depending on the discussion, different investors have different expectations and timeframes. For instance, if you’re raising impact investment, the return expectations might be lower, and there are other parameters your investors would use to measure success. It boils down to understanding your source of capital and the return expectations bundled with that capital.

Funding models that work best.

There are two ends of that stick. The first end is that capital is scarce and expensive here, and so there’s probably a higher expectation for profitability. Because of this fact, founders need to be able to stretch whatever capital they raise to stay alive for as long as possible. Some people argue that the expectation of being unicorns is not necessarily realistic in this market, so capital efficiency is critical. Several investors in this part of the world will be happy with a 10x return. That tells us something about whether to chase ‘growth’ or prioritise profitability. Becoming profitable stretches your runway to infinity, and understanding the balance is critical within the context of “Wakanda”.

On the investor side, I believe that a venture model that combines capital, mentorship, and proper governance is critical here. We don’t have a lot of repeat founders with experience, so investors must play the role of augmenting founders’ experience level and ensuring that the companies are properly governed without inhibiting them. There should be a lot more mentorship and support for the companies we invest in more so, because we do not have the depth of capital markets obtainable elsewhere. On both sides, startups and investors have to think much more in-depth and different than their counterparts in SV.

Alternative forms of capital returns

Our tendency to copy and paste what applies in Silicon Valley to Africa is wrong at the foundation. We must create models for Africa from first principles without reducing quality. I think that we should explore other ways to access liquidity for the right kinds of businesses, at the right level of maturity. Perhaps profit sharing or dividends is one option to explore. This may sound like a taboo in other markets, but in this part of the world where the investors that invest in a fund are not always as patient, there should be room for flexibility in the way deals are structured. As the ecosystem grows and as the patience of investors increases, we can focus more on increasing value and exiting in more traditional ways. But until we get there, actors in the space must begin to consider other paths to liquidity.

On the quality of our consumer market

There are several factors at play here. First of all, there is a high level of poverty. Until we fix that, we will continue to have consumers that have very little disposable income and have to direct most of it towards basic survival. Interestingly, I think that says something about the kinds of problems founders should build companies around. As opposed to building fancy, nice-to-have companies, it probably makes more sense to build painkillers — companies that address the key pain points of the majority of our consumers. I also think that the government and regulators have a role to play. For instance, in Nigeria, when you realize that 68 million adults are without bank accounts in a nation that is said to have 190 million people, you see that it is very difficult for the majority of the population to trade within the formal financial system, and so founders must be mindful of that even as the regulators and policymakers work to improve financial inclusion.

We certainly can’t absolve the government of their responsibility, but there’s work for every actor; founders, investors, and so on.

On fundraising

Fundraising is hard. You never want to be in a position where you need the money. You want to be in a place where raising is a strategic choice. As soon as you can, you want to be default alive as opposed to default dead. A good yardstick is to ask: If you keep growing at your current growth rate with your expenses remaining constant, will you reach breakeven before running out of cash?

Links from the Internets

  • Building in a small market: stories to tell. [Link]
  • Netflix has a site for their research. All of it. Bon appétit. [Link]
  • Uber’s bundles by Ben Thompson. [Link]
  • Disrupting addresses. [Link]

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Series V

Fundraising: Markets, Models, and more.

By NeONBRAND on Unsplash

We started Series V in March to talk about the things we care about that we think you should. The things we spend our days talking about and our nights thinking about. Some of it comes from our investment application pipeline, some of it, from the people we meet, and some of it, from the things we read and listen to. But if there is one topic that underpins all the work we do in the service of great founders, it is this: fundraising.

According to Partech Ventures’ Funding Report, African startups raised a total of $560 million in 2017. For context, that’s only a little more than Toyota pumped into Uber this week. This is an unfair comparison, of course. The market conditions are not analogous — apples to groundnuts — but that’s exactly the point! The fact that this market is an untamed beast: hard, inefficient, and illiquid, means that the founders (and the firms) that figure out how to make these stones bleed will do very well for themselves.

The high population that lines pitch decks comes with high poverty rates. The increasing mobile penetration is not turning as quickly into internet usage. Founders from these parts have to pay an ‘Africa tax’ when fundraising to grow their businesses. But these gaps, these challenges are all opportunities for the best of us.

In the coming weeks, we will explore this topic in depth. What funding models work best for our ecosystem? How to manage expectations during the fundraising process? How to do investor communication and relations? How to think about legal? How to think about valuations? And so on.

For now, here’s some low hanging fruit to get us started, based on our investment conversations:

  1. Start early. Always be raising: You shouldn’t wait until you need money to start raising. It is better to think about it as an ongoing process that yields results periodically.
  2. Think about liquidity: Your investors care a lot about this, and you should too. How does the equity stake you are selling to them turn into a healthy return for their own investors?
  3. Numeracy: Show that you have a firm grasp of the key metrics that drive your business. Learn to speak authoritatively about your numbers, now and in the future. Aside from memorizing them, you should also maintain a data room, where investors and investment analysts can access all the information they need to take a decision. (This should be obvious but is missing in too many cases.)
  4. Spatial awareness: Show that you don’t have your head in the sand. Beyond your immediate concerns, what does the broader business landscape look like today and how will it evolve in the future? What does that mean for your business?

Links from the Internets

  • The informal cooperative society for handcart pullers of East Africa. [Link]
  • Samir Kaji on the key components of an emerging VC. [Link]
  • “Sometimes you need to consider a cycle of change that fluctuates between doing things differently”. [Link]
  • Protecting against groupthink. [Link]

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