Exits of startups in Africa: inspiring examples… Who’s next?

Check out inspiring examples of African startup exits. Who could acquire the startup you’re building?

When investing in a startup, investors expects to get the return on their investment at the moment of ‘exit’, when the startup gets acquired. Investor Keet van Zyl already commented in an earlier article on the VC4Africa blog: “Trade sales to strategic buyers have been the most significant exit route in Africa, accounting for over half of all exits, followed by secondary buy-outs. Because African Stock Exchanges are relatively illiquid, exits via IPO are rare.”

A startup could for example be sold to a bigger local company or to a bigger foreign/international company. At that moment the company’s founders, investors and other shareholders all get their share.

When looking from the perspective of the founders in many cases a smaller exit can be more profitable than a larger exit: in the case of a small exit, when less investments in the company have been made, founders often still own a larger percentage of the company at the time of the acquisition.

One in three African investors exited one or more investments

Recently VC4Africa reached out to investors for a new edition of the annual ‘Venture Finance in Africa’ research. This survey, reaching over 125 investors, includes business angels, venture capital firms, social impact funds and other investors and firms investing in African startups. The survey included the questions: Have you exited one or more of your investments? And the answers given can certainly make us hopeful: one in three investors (32%) disclosed their investments led to one or more exits. And of these investors with exits, 14% disclosed their investments led to more than five exits already. This means there are many more African startup exits than is often thought.

Still, last year in a post on the iAfrikan blog, a South Africa based startup founder complained: “If you look at the 20 year history of tech in SA, the exits are limited to Naspers, MTN or Vodacom (with the occasional miracle of exiting to foreign firms like VeriSign, Oracle or MasterCard)”.

Examples of startup exits across Africa

Let’s take a look at some examples of startup exits in Africa, and what kind of companies made the acquisitions. The lists below are not comprehensive and only include some examples. If you know other examples not mentioned here you’d like to share, please add your examples in the comments!

 

South Africa:

 

On tech blogs and in other media, most has been published about many big exits in South Africa. See some examples listed below:

Two ‘golden oldies’:

– In 1999, South Africa’s Thawte, founded in 1995 by Mark Shuttleworth, was acquired by US based network infrastructure company VeriSign for $575 Million. Thawte was the first certificate authority to issue SSL certificates to public entities outside of the United States and is the fifth largest public certificate authority on the internet. Thawte is currently owned by Symantec.

– In 2001, South Africa’s online banking company X.com, founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, merged with US based online banking company Confinity, and the merged company was renamed PayPal. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. (In 2012, Paypal was acquired by eBay for US$1.5 billion.)

Some more recent examples:

– In 2010, South Africa’s group buying site UbuntuDeal, founded by Jess Green, was acquired by South African e-commerce website bidorbuy (led by US based investment manager company Tiger Global LLC). The amount was not disclosed.

– In 2011, South Africa’s mobile financial service provider Fundamo, founded by Hannes Van Rensburg, was acquired by US based financial and payment cards giant Visa for $110 million.

– Also in 2011, South Africa’s process improvement software company CSense Systems, founded by Derick Moolman and Jacques Ludik, was acquired for its technology assets by US based industrial software company GE Intelligent Platforms, a subsidiary of General Electric. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

– In 2012, South Africa’s mobile community firm Motribe, co-founded by Nicholas Haralambous and Vincent Maher, was acquired by South Africa’s instant messaging application Mxit. Motribe had developed the photo-based MxPix and JudgeMe. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

– Later in 2012, South Africa’s MXit, founded by Herman Heunis, was sold to South African investment group World of Avatar for around $61 million. According to studies, Mxit still had 7,4 million monthly active subscribers in 2012, but after user numbers dropped dramatically the company announced its closure in October 2015.

– In 2014, South Africa’s virtual gift card provider Gyft, co-founded by Vinny Lingham, CJ MacDonald and Mark Levitt, 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 million and 70 million.

– Also in 2014, South Africa’s satellite-based communications company Capricorn Satellite Communications was acquired by UK-based Applied Satellite Technology to increase its global reach in 2014. After the acquisition, the company rebranded as AST South Africa. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

– In 2015, South Africa’s radar startup iKubu, founded by Franz Struwig, was acquired by US based satellite navigation multinational Garmin technologies January 2015. The financial terms of the acquisition were not released.

– Also in 2015, South Africa’s branchless banking startup Tyme Capital, started by MTN and retail chain Pick ‘n Pay three years earlier, was acquired by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) for an undisclosed amount.

– And in 2015, South Africa’s WooThemes and WooCommerce, co-founded in 2008 by Adriaan Pienaar, Magnus Jepson, and Mark Forrester, were acquired by the US based WordPress.com holding company Automattic for US$ 30 million.

Far less startup exits are known from other countries across Africa. Some examples are listed below. If you know other examples not mentioned here, please add them in the comments!

 

Ghana:

 

– In 2013, Ghana’s electronic medical claim handling company ClaimSync, co-founded by Seth Akumani and Emmanuel Yirenkyi – and incubated at Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), was acquired by Netherlands based global biometric identity management company GenKey. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

– 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 US based multinational mobile social media company Kirusa. The financial terms of the acquisition were not released.

 

Kenya:

 

– In 2014, Kenya’s mobile tech startup Dynamic Data Systems, adding more functionality in M-PESA transactions, was acquired by Safaricom. According to some sources the deal was only a partnership. The startup was a winner in Safaricom’s AppWizz contest. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

– In 2015, Kenya’s mobility solutions company Weza Tele, founded by Hilda Moraa, was acquired by Ghana based financial services company AFB for over 1 million USD.

 

Nigeria:

 

– In 2013, mobile transport directions app company HopStop.com, founded by Nigerian entrepreneur Chinedu Echeruo, was acquired by Apple for what is thought to be USD 1 billion. The company HopStop.com was not registered in Nigeria but in the US. We’ve listed it here and hope to hear of more Nigerian examples.

Who will be next?

The examples listed above show many African startup exits have been realised already. Acquisitions have been made both by local African companies and foreign and international companies. The next question is how the space will develop further, across all African countries: Will we see a wave of more startup exits across the whole African continent in the years to come?

Please note the shown lists of African startup exits are not comprehensive and only include some examples. If you know other examples of African startup exits not mentioned here, please add them in the comments!

Photo Credit: renaissancechambara via Compfight cc

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