This series will cover 100 firms that have been pioneers and trendsetters in their industries in Nigeria and have contributed in one way or the other to the startup ecosystem in the country. These firms cover various market segments like hospitality, fintech, agriculture, energy, health, enterprise, etc.
1. Hotels.ng: Hotels.ng is an online travel agency specializing in hotel bookings within Nigeria. They help customers book hotel rooms online, providing comprehensive help and support to their clients, to make the hotel booking process smooth and easy. The firm is located in Yaba and was founded in 2012 by Mark Essien.
The business was initially meant to be a hotel listing website, but with initial analysis showing a strong market and the domain recording considerable traffic numbers, Essien returned to Nigeria from Germany to begin the business. He started by taking pictures of hotels in Calabar and signing agreements with hotels in the city. Traffic numbers were so impressive, that on the day hotel bookings was activated on the platform, they instantly got bookings.
Through press articles and the evident progress, Hotels.ng caught the attention of Jason Njoku, whose Spark VC in 2013 made the initial investment of $75,000 and a follow-up fund of $150,000 in that same year. In 2015, the firm secured a $1.2m Series A funding from EchoVC Pan African Fund and Omidyar Network to scale, and it has, with its Hotels.africa and Fly.africa platforms catering to an international market. As at February 2019, the firm has 11,272 hotels across different states in Nigeria, with Lagos having the highest share with 24.7%, and is well on its way to accomplishing its vision of becoming “the biggest provider of travel information and reservation in Africa”.
2. iROKOtv: Dubbed the “Netflix of Africa”, iROKOtv is a web platform that provides Nollywood movies and series on-demand. It is the largest legal online distributor of Nigerian movies, with over 5000 films in its library. The firm was co-founded in Lagos in 2011 by Jason Njoku and Bastian Gotter.
According to Jason, the idea to start iROKOtv came after his mother gave him money to buy Nollywood movies in London, and after several attempts, he couldn’t find any to buy or stream online. Seeing that there was a global market for these movies but major accessibility issues, he decided to go to Lagos and purchased licenses of Nollywood movies straight from producers. Having struck a deal with YouTube in Germany, he opened a channel called Nollywoodlove, from where he streamed these movies. From the traffic his channel got, he decided to create iROKOtv with Bastian. Despite the positive press iROKOtv has received over the years for being a pioneer in taking the Nigerian movie industry to the global scene, iROKOtv struggled in its first 14 months, as there had been over $50,000 invested by the co-founders with less than $1,000 in revenue. Jason’s doggedness in the potential of the business made him convince Bastian into
investing $100,000 more to “truly capture the Nollywood opportunity”. 6 months later, they were making $50,000/month through their subscription-based model.
According to Crunchbase, iROKOtv has raised $30m in VC funding, with Tiger Global Management, Canal+ and Kinnevik AB, the lead investors over the three rounds. The platform has received widespread acceptance all across Africa and beyond, with Nigeria accounting for 41.9% of the total subscriber base, French-speaking African countries accounting for 18.3%, English-speaking African countries (minus Nigeria) accounting for 6.6%, and non-African nations accounting for 33.2%.
3. Paystack: Paystack is a payments gateway company that allows Nigerian merchants to receive funds from anyone, anywhere in the world. Despite being founded in 2015, the firm serves over 25,000 businesses, with AXA Mansard, Nairabet, God is Good Motors, Domino’s Pizza and Taxify, as some of its notable clients. Paystack was founded by two longtime friends and former-Babcock university students, Shola Akinlade and Ezra Olubi. After launching his intranet enterprise tool, Precurio, Shola did some consulting work for banks and it was during the tinkering of MasterCard's API, he noticed that no payment processor or gateway was facilitating recurring payments for merchants. That’s when he got the idea for Paystack and with Ezra's help, they started building the platform. In November 2015, they were accepted as the first Nigerian team to join Y Combinator, and in January 2016, they came out of beta testing to have their first public launch.
As at July 2017, Paystack had processed over N1bn in transaction volumes, and a little over a year later, in October 2018, they processed over N10bn in a single month, with over 2.9 million payments collected. According to CrunchBase, the firm has raised $11.7m in funding already, from firms such as Visa and Stripe. With staff members in their offices at San Francisco and Lagos, spanning across the engineering, product, design, growth and business departments, the team is revolutionizing the payment space in Nigeria.
4. Flutterwave: Flutterwave is a digital payments technology company that provides end-to-end payments technology and infrastructure that enables payment service providers, global merchants, licensed money transfer operators and Pan-African banks to process payments across all available payments’ options in Africa. It covers the entire payments value chain from checkout and risk management to settlement.
It was founded in 2016 by Iyinoluwa Aboyeji and Olugbenga Agboola and were accepted into Y Combinator the same year. The former Andela co-founder, Iyinoluwa, got the idea whilst building Andela. He noticed the issues businesses had with conducting payments in Nigeria, and as he pointed out in his Medium post, “it’s a problem that is prohibitive to the future of the growth of
the continent, and one that we felt we couldn’t ignore”. So, he, Olugbenga and their team did something about it. They created Flutterwave- a solution that accepts 350 currencies across 30 African countries, charging merchants a small service charge, which it shares with the banks.
The firm has raised over $20.4m in funding over 6 rounds. It has processed $2.5bn in payments and 100 million in transactions. Flutterwave has offices in the US, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. With 50 bank partners in Africa and over 1200 developers, the organization has been able to cater to both national and international clients such as Uber, Booking.com, Access bank and TransferWise.
5. Andela: Andela is a firm helping to build distributed engineering teams with Africa’s most talented software developers. Over the past 4 years, the US-incorporated company, which began in Nigeria, has identified and hired the top 0.7% of 130,000 applicants to work as full-time remote team members from their tech campuses in Lagos, Kigali, Nairobi, and Kampala.
Andela was co-founded by Jeremy Johnson, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Nadayar Enegesi, Christina Sass, Ian Carnevale, and Brice Nkegsa. Iyin, Nadayar, Brice, and Ian started Fora, which was a digital learning platform for African universities, but faced challenges moving forward, and had a few months before their cash burned out. They decided to reach out to Jeremy, who was the CEO of 2U at that time. Jeremy had just returned from Nairobi where he gave a talk, at the request of Christina, a Harvard Ph.D. student, for the MasterCard Foundation. The Fora team and Jeremy tossed around ideas of how to scale higher education without charging tuition, and one of those ideas became Andela. They eventually got Christina onboard and Jeremy became Andela's CEO, after leaving 2U.
Fellowships last 4 years, after which fellows are placed in one of its over 200 partners’ companies. The organization has over 1200 developers, and with $181m in funding from massive household names like Google Ventures, Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, Spark Capital and Generation Investment Management, the firm is accelerating the development of Africa’s best tech talents. Andela aims to empower 100,000 developers on the continent in 10 years and is shaping up to become one of Africa’s first unicorns, given its $700m valuation. The firm has keyed into Africa’s massive youth population and is helping to solve the global technical talent shortage, one fellowship cycle at a time.