Reflecting on Flutterwave’s $170M Series C Round

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Last week, the American-Nigerian fintech Flutterwave announced it has raised $170 million in a Series C round and is now valued at greater than $1 billion. This milestone places Flutterwave in the exclusive African tech unicorn club. It’s a status that Flutterwave shares only (for now at least) with Africa’s eCommerce giant Jumia and fellow fintech, Egypt’s Fawry.

 

This is an amazing milestone for Flutterwave, which launched in Lagos in 2016 at a time when cross-border payments were extremely challenging in Africa. Today, Flutterwave operates in 33 countries and has 290,000 merchants on its platform. In 2019, it processed transactions worth $5.4 billion.


Flutterwave’s founder Olugbenga Agboola (aka “GB”), said this in a blog post discussing the new round and the impact it will have on the company.


“We had a goal; to unite Africa through payments. We needed to make the continent feel like a country. We needed to unlock doors of opportunities for the over 500 million young people in this beautiful continent. Have we been able to achieve it? Well, we are just beginning. Will we achieve it? Definitely!” GB said.


“Nothing says ‘definitelylouder than the announcement that we have now raised a Series C round of $170m to improve our technology, product, customer support, expand to new frontiers, and continue to provide the support needed for everyday mom-and-pop shops to sell to global markets.”


Yet Flutterwave’s success is a reminder that tech investment in Africa, at least at this scale, remains dominated by international investors. The latest round was led by two New York-based VCs. Avenir Growth Capital and Tiger Global Management LLC. Additionally companies like Salesforce and Visa have put money into the company.


Foreign investment in African fintech has been a positive force and few if any are wishing it away. Quite the contrary. It has helped many great African companies, not just Flutterwave, get off the ground and scale. GB himself acknowledged this as his thanked investors in his blog post.He recalled how close Flutterwave was to failure before it Series A funding came through. “If we didn’t get our Series A funding the time we did, which effectively helped us scale, we probably wouldn’t be here.”


The best VC is one that lives your product…

But Flutterwave’s milestone also stands as a reminder that growing Africa’s homegrown tech investor community remains a work in progress.


The Flutterwave news emerged as we were recording last week’s BigFive Small Business Fintech Summit. So the enormous Series C was not a specific topic of discussion. But the notion that the local tech investor community needs to find its footing came up more than once.


Firas Ahmad, CEO of AzamPay, an East African payments company, was asked during the event about the role of VCs in African fintech.


“A big chunk of the VC capital in Sub-saharan Africa is… from the US or Europe. Right. I think that's great. I think people should be investing in Africa,” Firas said. “At the same time, I sometimes feel like there's a bit of a disconnect between the understanding of the market [by] the VCs and the reality on the ground.”


Firas said this isn’t the VCs’ fault necessarily. It’s just one of the realities of investing from such a great distance. But it points to the need for more local tech investors. “I really hope to see some exits for some African founders such that they can build their own VCs internally,” Firas said. “Because the best VC is the one that lives the product that you're trying to build."

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