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Kinyungu Ventures Calls for Changes to VC Strategy in Africa

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Kinyungu Ventures Calls for Changes to VC Strategy in Africa, SiliconNigeria

East African venture advisory firm, Kinyungu Ventures has published a white paper Chasing Outliers: Why Context Matters for Early Stage Investing in Africa that has foundthat there continues to be a wide misalignment between traditional venture capital models and the African market.

The team behind the report is now calling for a broadening of approaches to institutional investment on the continent.

Speaking with 100 Pan-African founders, investors, and LPs across 15 African countries, the research suggests investors should prioritize investing structures and practices that reflect the realities of operating in Africa. This includes adopting more flexible investing structures with longer time horizons. 

According to the paper, there are multiple mismatches between key characteristics of Silicon Valley VC and African markets, which influence how startups and funds maneuver as well as what results they expect and produce. Findings show that African markets are large, but also fragmented, and its consumers have limited purchasing power.

Furthermore, consumers on the continent are difficult to acquire and retain, yet the sheer size of the African market also presents a real opportunity for profit once the environment is clearly understood. The paper’s key recommendations for funds include:

  • Adopting more focused investment strategies, such as investing in b2b companies or cross-subsidizing a portfolio with less risky, steady return assets 
  • Considering non-unicorn investing models geared at more resilient companies, with returns distributed more widely across the portfolio
  • Using flexible structures such as debt or PCVs to accommodate market-level changes, where feasible
  • Allowing a longer time horizon for returns, understanding that growth could be slow and difficult to achieve for many companies 

Kinyungu Ventures catalyzes resilient businesses for local intergenerational prosperity. The East African-centric investor focuses on entrepreneurship in East Africa, startups, seed funding, debt financing, impact investing and angel investing.

Speaking on the launch of the white paper, Tony Chen, Managing Director ofKinyungu Ventures and  co-publisher of the report says, “Capital in Africa is scarce and pursuing a “growth at all costs” strategy where capital pools are shallow presents huge risks for companies. We’ve also found that many great businesses don’t fit the typical VC profile, but have tremendous unfulfilled potential.”

Tayo Akinyemi, lead researcher and writer of the report added: “In our conversations with numerous investors and founders, it is clear that nuances in variables such as consumer behavior, cultural norms, and business practices impact startups significantly and being on the ground is crucial for success.  While African markets aren’t always able to provide the outsized returns that Silicon Valley typically looks for in high-growth companies, a more focused strategy here could unlock real gems, as has been proven by some of the startup successes the continent has seen over the years.” 

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Africa Region

MTN Nigeria Records N1.3trn Revenue, 76.5m Subscribers

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MTN Nigeria Records N1.3trn Revenue 76.5m Subscribers, SiliconNigeria

Today, MTN Nigeria Communications Plc (MTN Nigeria) announced its audited results for the financial year ended 31 December 2020, reporting service revenue increase by 14.7 per cent to N1.3 trillion.

It reported strong operational execution and resilience in its business by connecting 12.2 million new customers, bringing total subscriptions to 76.5 million.

Outgoing chief executive officer, MTN Nigeria, Ferdi Moolman speaking on the financial results said, 2020 was a challenging year for all. The unprecedented disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic caused the businesses and people we serve, challenged us in new and demanding ways.

The impact continues to evolve. Adoption of our data and digital services accelerated as lockdowns and gathering restrictions were imposed, and work-from-home became the norm for many.

He said active data users increased by 7.4 million to 32.6 million, supported by growth in gross connections and the expansion of our 4G network. Our mobile money (MoMo) business also continued to accelerate with a 269.2% increase in the number of registered agents to over 395,000 and 4.7 million active subscribers from approximately 553,000 in 2019.

Service revenue grew by 14.7%, in line with our medium-term targets, driven mainly by voice and data revenue. Voice revenue growth was 5.9%, and although this was subdued in Q2 due to COVID-19 induced restrictions, we saw a pickup in momentum into H2. Data revenue rose by 51.2%, with increased data usage and traffic.

“To accommodate this and enhance service quality, we focused on capacity upgrades and 4G population coverage, while expanding our investments in rural connectivity. Our 4G network now covers 60.1% of the population, up from 43.8% in 2019.

EBITDA rose by 9.7%, supported by service revenue growth. However, the EBITDA margin declined by 2.5pp to 50.9%. This was mainly due to increased operating expenses, arising from the rollout of new sites and the impact of Naira depreciation, affecting in particular the costs of our lease contracts. Despite the increase in costs, we recorded an improvement in our bottom-line earnings, with profit before tax (PBT) and profit after tax (PAT) increasing by 2.6% and 0.9% respectively.

 “In line with our dividend policy, the board has proposed a final dividend of N5.90 kobo per share to be paid out of distributable net income. This brings the total dividend for the year to N9.40 kobo per share, representing an increase of 18.7%.

 “I thank the Board, Management, and staff of MTN Nigeria for the support given to me and the opportunity to serve in Nigeria as I complete my tenure as CEO of MTN Nigeria and assume a new role as MTN Group Chief Risk Officer. Effective 1 March 2021, Karl Toriola will take over as the CEO. I wish Karl and his new team the very best.”

On Pandemic

Moolman said,“Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones due to the pandemic; the toll on lives and livelihoods globally has been profound. To date, Nigeria has recorded 155,417 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,905 related deaths, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). MTN Nigeria has also been directly impacted by the pandemic, with 62 employees diagnosed with COVID-19 and 46 recoveries. Sadly, one of our employees succumbed to the virus.

 Our employees adapted quickly to working remotely to ensure that our customers remained connected. I am incredibly proud that we were able to meet the challenges faced in 2020, by pulling together, working closely with the government and our regulators, and understanding our customers’ evolving needs.

“As we navigated the fallout of the pandemic, adapting our processes and structures to the new realities, we acted swiftly to support the national response in a holistic way. This was encapsulated in our Y’ello Hope initiatives through which we provided support to our broad base of stakeholders to the value of approximately N25 billion.

“We provided free-to-access services (including SMS and data) to the most vulnerable, supported the acquisition of essential medical supplies (tests and personal protective equipment), and joined the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) that drove multiple initiatives, including building isolation centres across the country.

“We also paid our taxes early in support of government’s ongoing efforts. In January 2021, MTN Group partnered with the African Union contributing US$25 million to their COVID-19 vaccination programme. MTN Nigeria is pleased to play its part in this initiative, through which Nigeria will receive 1.4 million vaccine doses for the benefit of health workers.

 “In addition, we committed marketing resources to our #WearItForMe campaign to help create awareness around wearing masks, and our REVV support programme for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) helped them navigate the new digital reality.

Operational review

 We made considerable progress in growing the base for our business, connecting 12.2 million new subscribers to access communication services. The growth in our subscriber base provided support for voice revenue, which accounted for 67.1% of service revenue and rose by 5.9%, with an acceleration in growth to 8.9% YoY in H2. This was enabled by our expanded customer acquisition touchpoints, rural telephony initiatives and revamped acquisition offers. The suspension of new SIM registration in mid-December did not have a significant impact on voice revenue as we saw an increased level of activity from the existing base.

Data revenue maintained the positive momentum from Q2, prompted by the COVID-19 lockdowns, rising by 51.2%. The performance in data was led by a combination of increased subscribers, usage (MB per user) and ultimately traffic, supported by increased network capacity and 4G penetration. Data traffic rose by 126.5% and average usage by 64.0%. We added approximately 8.2 million new smartphones to the network, bringing smartphone penetration to 45.9% of our base, up from 41.9% in 2019.

Fintech revenue rose by 27.3%, boosted by MTN Xtratime, our airtime lending service. We expanded our MoMo agent network with the addition of over 280,000 registered agents during the year. This was achieved as we continued to convert our traditional airtime agents in line with our one distribution model. Our fintech subscribers increased by more than eight times to 4.7 million, driving higher transaction volumes of over 51.5 million during the year and core fintech revenue growth of 28.0%.

The uptake of our digital business continued to gain traction with the revamp of our products and services, improved customer journey and increase in active user base. As a result, digital revenue recorded growth of 107.2%, entrenching the pleasing structural turnaround in the business. In H1, we redefined how we account for the active user base to capture unique paid subscriptions, and we have seen this number grow by 75% to 2.8 million from 1.6 million in H1. This was driven mainly by subscriptions for ayoba, our instant messaging platform, which rose by 120.9% to 1.4 million.

Enterprise revenue increased by 1.5%, supported by growth in revenue from devices and fixed connectivity. The economic impact of the COVID-19 lockdown, particularly in Q2, led to a decline in the uptake of our products and services by the businesses we support. We are, however, encouraged by the recovery that occurred in H2 as restrictions eased and economic activity began to improve. We anticipate further uplift in enterprise revenue once the USSD pricing dispute is resolved and we recover outstanding fees from the banks. Our enterprise business includes revenue from mobile and fixed connectivity, cloud and ICT solutions, and devices. It cuts across voice, data and digital services for SMEs, the public sector and large enterprise customers.

 Capital expenditure (capex) in the year was N298.6 billion, up 19.4%. Excluding right of use assets, capex was up 15.2% to N240.1 billion. We accelerated site rollout in H2 following a slowdown in H1 due to foreign exchange paucity and port congestion. As a result and in line with our guidance, we were able to increase our 4G population coverage to 60.1% with the delivery of 5,724 sites during the year, of which 74% are 4G sites. 

 We expanded the scope of our service agreement with IHS Holding Limited (IHS) and amended the currency conversion provision for tower services in view of the long-term benefits. This led to the movement of the reference rate for conversion to Naira, from the CBN’s official rate to the NAFEX rate. We reviewed the treatment of non-recoverable VAT on lease payments to account for it as an expense over the lease period. These, together with the effects of Naira depreciation, put upward pressure on lease rental costs in the period. In addition to these, the combined effect of the 2.5pp increase in value-added tax (VAT) and COVID-19-related costs led to a 27.2% increase in operating expenses with a knock-on effect on EBITDA margin.

EBITDA rose by 9.7% and the EBITDA margin was 50.9%. We delivered a healthy free cash flow of N387.1 billion, up 3.2%. Depreciation and amortisation rose by 11.7% because of exchange rate and VAT impacts, while net finance cost rose by 25.4% arising from higher borrowings and lower yields earned on our investments in government securities.  As a result, we recorded a PBT growth of 2.6%. In H1, we issued a N100 billion commercial paper, which was oversubscribed, at a blended rate of 5.7% per annum. This allowed us to broaden our sources of funding and lower our overall cost of funding, which reduced by 3.3pp in 2020.

PAT and EPS each rose by 0.9%, reflecting an increase in taxation mainly due to lower investment allowance and exempt income.

COVID-19 and the impact on the business

The pandemic caused unprecedented disruption to businesses and impacted lives and livelihoods. Although the operating environment remains challenging, the easing of lockdown restrictions led to an improvement in economic activity and market conditions into H2. Our response to the pandemic and its impact can be categorised into four broad areas, namely social, commercial, network and supply chain as well as funding and liquidity considerations.

In terms of the social impact, we launched various initiatives to provide support for our people, customers and the various levels of government as part of our Y’ello Hope packages. We empowered our people to work remotely and implemented health measures and monitoring to ensure their safety and business continuity. We continue to provide welfare support to them through the MTN Global Staff Emergency Fund.

Our customers, particularly lower-income earners, benefitted from the free SMS initiative introduced in Q2. This provided customers with 300 free text messages for three months to ensure that they remained in touch with friends and family. Over 4.3 billion text messages were sent by more than 75% of our subscribers. We zero-rated access to a range of health and education sites, enabling our customers to access vital information at no cost to them. Fees for local money transfers via the MoMo Agent Network were waived for a month, during the lockdown, to support our customers.

We rolled out a number of interventions to support the thousands of small businesses that rely on us for connectivity. These included the relaxation of payment terms at the beginning of the crisis as well as designing and delivering the multi-faceted REVV programme. These initiatives were aimed at supporting MSMEs amid the economic disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 20,000 MSMEs registered for our masterclass sessions and we provided support for the 200 MSMEs (Y’ello 200) that emerged from the programme, helping them to adapt to a digital marketplace.

To support government’s efforts at combatting the pandemic, we donated N1 billion to CACOVID and delivered N250 million worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), through the MTN Nigeria Foundation. This is in addition to the logistical and communications support provided to the Nigerian Governors Forum, NCDC and State Governments. We made an early payment of our taxes ahead of established deadlines to support the Federal Inland Revenue Services’ (FIRS) revenue acceleration efforts.

From a commercial perspective, we saw encouraging trends in our traffic patterns as COVID-19 restrictions eased. Demand for voice services, which initially came under pressure in April 2020, has fully recovered and voice traffic reached new highs by Q4. Demand for data and digital services grew significantly as lockdowns were imposed and remained resilient at elevated levels due to shifts in consumer spending patterns. There was also an increased uptake of our fintech services with transaction volume in April 2020 rising by more than three times above the March 2020 level to 4.3 million, and the momentum has continued to increase.

In terms of network and supply chain, our immediate response when COVID-19 restrictions kicked in was to enhance network capacity to maintain service quality following an unprecedented surge in data traffic. We were only able to rollout a limited number of sites in Q2 due to the constraints on movement, paucity of foreign exchange and port congestion. However, we accelerated site rollouts in H2 as restrictions and logistical bottlenecks eased. As a result, we achieved a 60% 4G population coverage in 2020, which is in line with our target.

Our funding and liquidity remain well-managed, supported by strong cash flows and approved funding facilities. Our headroom to leverage is comfortably within banking covenants and is able to meet our operational, investment and financial requirements. The foreign currency exposure of our borrowings is within comfortable limits, with 94% of our debt in local currency, which positions our balance sheet well to withstand currency volatility. We plan to use the bond market to further diversify our funding sources and optimise funding costs, while mitigating exposure to market risks.

Update on new SIM registration directive

On 9 December 2020, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) suspended the sale and activation of new SIMs, and on 15 December 2020 directed all operators to update SIM registration records with valid NINs with an initial deadline of 30 December 2020. While suspension of new subscriber acquisition continues, the deadline for NIN update has been extended to 6 April 2021 to accommodate logistical challenges.

We are collaborating with the NCC and National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to ensure our subscriber records are updated, and we have made significant progress in this regard. To date, over 37.2 million subscribers have submitted their NINs, representing 48.7% of our subscriber base. We are working with NIMC to complete bulk verification of the NINs collected. This requires improved integration with the NIMC database, the development of which has reached an advanced stage.

To support the Federal Government’s effort to ensure that every Nigerian has a valid NIN, we have been granted a NIN enrolment licence and have commenced enrolment in 36 centres across the country. We are also working with NIMC and the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy to expand our enrolment centres and provide an access point for as many Nigerian as possible. To this end, we have acquired over 15,000 enrolment devices, which are being configured for this purpose, and placed orders for additional ones.

The impact on service revenue of the new SIM activation suspension was minimal in Q4 2020, though, we anticipate that subscriber growth will be significantly impacted in Q1 2021 should it remain in place. In the near-term, we expect the service revenue impact of the suspension to be moderate as usage is primarily driven by active SIMs in our base.

Outlook

The operating environment remains challenging and uncertain due to the effects of the pandemic. We remain focused on the safety and wellbeing of our staff, customers and broader stakeholders, as well as mitigating supply chain challenges, while safeguarding our financial and liquidity position. While we continue to manage the attendant risks and support our stakeholders, however, we are also well placed to unlock the opportunities that have risen in the areas of financial inclusion along with the rising demand for connectivity and digitalisation. We continue to refine our strategy to make our operating model future-fit to adapt to a dynamic world for sustainable growth.

In view of the new directive on SIM registration, our immediate priority is to protect our base by collaborating with NIMC to drive NIN enrolment and ensure that our customers’ records are updated with NINs. 

We remain focused on our MoMo business given the important role it plays in driving financial inclusion in the country. We continue to engage with the CBN regarding obtaining a Payment Service Bank (PSB) licence, which would help to accelerate this ambition of broadening financial participation and inclusion.  In the meantime, we will continue to expand the agent network through our one distribution model, broaden our service offerings and drive the overall contribution of our core fintech business to service revenue.

We will fast track 4G sites rollout to further increase population coverage, while continuing to expand rural coverage. Although the availability of foreign exchange remains a constraint, we strive to minimise its impact on the business. We will sustain our drive for cost management across the business and strengthen our operations and financial position to unlock efficiency and support margins.

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Africa Region

MTN’s Ayoba Reassures Users On Privacy, Security of Messaging App

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MTN’s Ayoba Reassures Users On Privacy Security of Messaging App, SiliconNigeria

African messaging app Ayoba has assured of privacy and security protection and content suitable for younger users as people everywhere ramp up their usage of instant messaging.

MTN Group is proud to partner with this unique instant messaging platform localised for the needs of consumers across Africa.

Launched in 2019 to improve access to affordable communications, ayoba is active in 17 MTN markets, and is also available to download onto Android smartphones in numerous other markets from Google Play and via the ayoba website www.ayoba.me as an over-the-top (OTT) offering. 

Ayoba is focused on protecting users’ privacy and security:  it is not possible for messages in the app to be read by anyone else or to be shared with any third parties, including MTN.

The app features peer-to-peer private messaging which is end-to-end encrypted; ayoba treats data with the utmost care and respect in line with its privacy policy. 

All the content available on ayoba channels is curated and reviewed to ensure that its 100% family friendly and safe for younger users. A team of editors checks every post on ayoba content channels before it goes live across over 100 content channels and 120 games.  

Ayoba has also recently launched an in-app assistant, Aya, to guide new users on how to use the instant messaging app. Aya appears automatically in the app and can run a variety of interactive tutorials for key features within ayoba. 

Ayoba users can send and receive encrypted messages, share photos, videos, files, voice notes and even their location, and can also subscribe to live channels. Localised content is available through these channels that aim to entertain, educate and empower communities.

Since 2020, as COVID-19 spread across the world, ayoba’s daily lifeline data allocations on MTN’s networks in most markets allowed users free connections with family and provided them with zero-rated access to credible information through special COVID-19 channels.

10 REASONS TO USE AYOBA:

1.     FREE TO USE: ayoba is free to use. You need data to send messages and files to your contacts, but if you are on the MTN network, you will get free data every day to use the app.

2.     CHAT NOW: Instantly send and receive text and voice messages with any of your contacts.

3.     SECURE: End-to-end encryption means that messages in a conversation cannot be read by anyone else.

4.     QUICK CONNECT: Use your existing address book to quickly and easily connect you with your contacts.

5.     CHAT WITH EVERYONE: Send SMS text messages with anyone in your contact list, regardless of whether they’ve installed ayoba or not.  If the contact to whom you send a message does not have the app, the message will be delivered by SMS.  That contact can then respond by SMS and the response will come back into your app.  This is a unique technology.

6.     GROUP CHAT: The more the merrier. Set up group chats to easily communicate with friends and family in a single chat. 

7.     SHARING IS CARING: Share videos, images, audio, and other files with your contacts.

8.     LET’S MEET: Share your real-time location with your ayoba contacts.

9.     CHANNELS: Consume all content across various categories ranging from news, sports, music to entertainment and much more, all within the ayoba app.  We have over 30 content channels live in Nigeria including Pulse for entertainment, and the MTN YelloStar competition. 

10. LISTEN AND PLAY: We have a free music service in the app so you can listen to trending songs on our fantastic playlists.  We also have games that you can play, such as BattleShip, Pinball, Solitaire and more.  New content is added every day.

The app supports over 20 local languages spoken across MTN’s markets, including isiZulu, isiXhosa, Pidgin, Yoruba, Swahili, Hausa, French, Arabic, Portuguese, and English. At the end of June 2020, ayoba had two million active users. In November 2020, ayoba was named the ‘Best Mobile App of the Year’ at the Africa Digital Awards 2020, acknowledging Africa’s first super-app, which offers users free instant messaging, mobile commerce and interactive entertainment

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West Africa

ROAM Africa Reveal Impact of COVID-19 on Jobs Markets in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya

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ROAM Africa Reveal Impact of COVID-19 on Jobs Markets in Nigeria Ghana and Kenya, SiliconNigeria

ROAM Africa (Ringier One Africa Media), the leading digital classifieds group in Sub-Saharan Africa, has today released three new labour market reports that shed more light on the effects of the COVID-19 on the African jobs market.

The reports also reveal transactional sales roles as the most in-demand jobs across Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, and provides other insights and analysis that will help employers and jobseekers across the continent to navigate the new employment landscape. 

With job cuts, furlough extensions and new working habits developing across the continent, many employers and jobseekers are looking for guidelines to help them understand where opportunities are available and how to prepare for the future of work. The Impact of COVID-19 Job Reports, which were compiled by Jobberman (Ghana and Nigeria) and BrighterMonday (Kenya), explore factors such as trending industries/sectors, trending roles, trending skills, trending salaries/benefits, major trends caused by COVID-19 and job market trends and forecasts for Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. 

The reports are based on information from the databases of the jobs platforms – with more than 24 million combined job applications and more than 100,000 registered employers – external research and insight from external business leaders.

According to the reports, Sales roles in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya are the most sought-after, with 15%, 4% and 13% of job postings in each market respectively between January and August 2020. IT & Telecoms was the top industry with the most job postings in Ghana and Nigeria, 12% and 16% respectively, while the Government had the most job postings in Kenya with 15%.

Customer Service & Support was the most declining job function in Ghana and Nigeria, with 2% and 5% respectively and Management & Business Development was the most declining job function in Kenya with 4%. Companies in all three countries are hiring more professionals with Mid-level experience to fill their hiring activities than any other experience level, although not as much as they did last year.

Despite a decline in hiring in some industries, the reports predict a rise in demand for certain skills post-COVID as companies prepare to address the challenges brought about by the pandemic. The reports predict that hard skills such as digital and coding skills, data analytics and literacy and problem solving skills, as well as soft skills such as adaptability and agility, emotional intelligence and critical thinking are the skills companies are hiring for right now.

There is also a change in how employers view compensation with mental health and wellness benefits, flex pay and childcare support more prominent in compensation packages. Virtual recruitment, remote working and the acceleration of technology adoption are some of the other major trends caused by COVID-19.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Hilda Kragha, Managing Director of ROAM Africa Jobs, said, “these reports not only highlights the impact of the pandemic, but also serves as a guide for all employers to assess how they deal with change. The pandemic has undoubtedly caused a number of challenges, but some of the changes it has brought are quite exciting, because they offer the potential for dynamic transformations.

“As we assess and plan for the future, business leaders, HR practitioners and policymakers will have to work together to develop effective solutions that will make them better equipped for the future and create a better workplace for both employers and employees”.

The new reports, The BrighterMonday Kenya Impact of COVID-19 Jobs Report, The Jobberman Ghana Impact of COVID-19 Jobs Report  and The Jobberman Nigeria Impact of COVID-19 Jobs Report will all soon be available to download on the ROAM Africa website.

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