• Tech Safari
  • Posts
  • Does the African CEO have what it takes?

Does the African CEO have what it takes?

Starting a great company is different from scaling one.

Welcome to Tech Safari!

Your tour guide on African Tech 🧭

Hello to the new folks who have joined the Safari since the last edition.

If you haven't subscribed, join 17,780 smart folks curious about Tech in Africa.

I’m lucky to be writing this from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia seeing family.

But no trip is complete without tapping into the ecosystem. So..

Next week Friday we’re hosting a Tech Safari Mixer in Addis Ababa 🇪🇹 

This week we also had a big Tech Safari announcement.

The very talented Mercy Awiti joining the Tech Safari Crew.

Mercy is a media powerhouse who is just getting started. Make sure to follow her LinkedIn to catch her content.

Welcome Mercy! Catch her incredible story here.

Alright, before we dive into our edition on The African CEO..

Remember last week, when I promised Tech Safari would ask the important questions?

This week’s question is a hard one.

If you’d rather read the stories of founders winning in African Tech, we have a whole catalog here.

Otherwise, let’s dig into The African CEO and see what we can learn from 2023.

There's only one way to ask an African Tech CEO about 2023: You don't.

Last year was brutal.

For reasons we heard all through the year:

Less funding’
Harsh macro-economic conditions’
Inflated valuations’
Unmet expectations’

And for those who survived, it's still looking cloudy.

In 2024, the African Tech CEO is in a tough spot.

And after seeing the 2023 startup graveyard, thousands of cuts, and misconduct allegations, it's time to ask the tough questions, like:

Do our CEOs have what it takes?

Last week, Twiga Foods' founder Peter Njonjo quit the board of a company he’s built for a decade.

Only a month earlier, he'd announced a six-month break from his CEO role. That break became a permanent exit.

Like its founder, Twiga Foods had a rough time in 2023.

After axing their entire sales team, Twiga cut a massive 33% of its staff in August.

Then October came, and Twiga was in court.

Incentro, a Google cloud reseller, sued them over unpaid dues worth $450,000.

But Twiga didn't ride the struggle bus alone.

2023 went savage on growth-stage startups all over Africa

Even the unlikely ones hit a rough patch, like Cellulant.

Last week, Cellulant Group CEO, Akshay Grover bowed out after a two-year run.

The last year wasn’t smooth sailing for Cellulant - marked with multiple layoffs to give the business a makeover.

Cellulant pulled through - but many other African startups didn’t live to tell the tale.

A funding winter knocked out big names on the continent:

  • Sendy, a Kenyan logistics startup, bit the dust after raising $27 million and running out of cash.

  • 54 Gene, Nigeria’s genomics startup, dipped after changing three CEOs in one year and raising $45 million.

  • And Dash, once Ghana's hot shot fintech, bailed after raising a total of $86 million. But not without some messy CEO number games and financial chaos.

I'd love to say that this is where it stops. But it rained, and it poured.

And for the ones that hung in there? It was a year of tough calls.

Everyone was scrambling to survive.

But when so many promising startups take unexpected turns, it's time to ask:

Do our CEOs have what it takes?

A lot of African startups are run by the minds behind the idea.

But if you take a company from zero to one (idea to product), are you the right person to take it from one to ten (product to business)?

Then ten to a hundred (a business to a huge one)?

Starting a great company requires different skill sets from scaling one.

Sure, you raised a $2 million seed round and built out a team of 20. But managing $20 million and a team of 200?

Whole new ball game.

Add your first-ever crisis or funding winter to the mix, and you’re screwed.

And let's not forget how early our ecosystem is.

Very few companies have hit big outcomes. And we can count those who’ve gone public on one hand.

What does this mean?

Africa’s tech ecosystem still hasn’t figured it out yet.

There’s no class of proven founders who know the playbook.

But what’s an African startup playbook anyway? No one knows. We’re still figuring it out.

And it’s because the African Tech CEO is not solving an easy problem.

Moving money, cutting out middlemen, and fixing sectors like healthcare where they’re broken at the core - these problems are bloody hard to solve.

Fortunately, 2023 was also a year of resilience.

We saw companies turn themselves around and show us a path out of the corners they were backed into.

So, what can CEOs do when the ship is sinking?

Team up - like MaxAB and Wasoko

While both companies were huge in digitising the B2B trade, 2023 didn’t spare them.

Wasoko quietly exited Senegal and Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile, MaxAB was scrambling to figure out how to survive as cash dwindled.

But a few weeks ago, Wasoko and MaxAB announced a merger.

We spoke to Daniel Yu about the rationale, and he explained:

'The mission of digitizing trade in Africa is a big, challenging problem.

Instead of competing, we decided to bring the best minds together to work on it, and put our egos down to merge our companies and create the best odds of delivering on this mission.'

Personally, it’s the 'putting the ego down’ bit I liked the most.

Cut off the arm to save the body - like Copia

If you’re slowly heading towards death, make all the cuts you can.

Then figure out how to make more money. Much easier said than done.

But companies like Copia managed to do this.

They shut down their operations in Uganda and suspended their expansion across Africa, then raised a $20 million Series C extension to get to profitability.

2023 was brutal. And it’s not the end.

In 2024, the African Tech CEO is in a tough spot.

But I think we’ll see our ecosystem's best CEOs thrive and build truly important companies this year.

What do you think of the state of the African CEO in 2024? Let me know here.

And that's a wrap!

Did we miss anything? Or just want to say hey? I'd love to hear from you! You can

And if you don't already, make sure to sign up to get this in your inbox next week

And remember - it just takes just five referrals to join our WhatsApp community 👇🏾

Catch you soon!