Tech entrepreneur: ‘Africa is a very, very long game’

Jumia, the general retail site of the African Internet Group. [Jumia]

E-commerce has been slow to take off in Africa, but Africa Internet Group, the continent’s first online business worth over €1 billion, has big ambitions. EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.

Jérémy Hodara, the co-founder of Africa Internet Group, spoke to La Tribune’s Marina Torre of the beginnings of a company which aims to become the African Walmart or Amazon.

The online retail platforms of Africa Internet Group (AIG) have recently been valued at €1 billion after the company successfully targeted Goldman Sachs, Axa and Orange in a series of fundraising campaigns earlier this year.

With separate sites for general retail (Jumia), jobs (Everjobs), property (Lamudi), classified ads (Vendito) and food (Hellofood), AIG has cast a wide net over 23 countries on the African continent. Their success has begun to whet the appetites of other major retailers like Casino and Fnac.

Jérémy Hodara and Sacha Poignonnec, two French entrepreneurs who met at the business consultancy McKinsey, were recruited by Rocket Internet. This German start-up incubator was founded by Marc, Alexander and Oliver Samwer, and is behind a number of successful companies including Zalando.

Another, more recent success story of the Samwer brothers is the food delivery company Foodora, which shares its Paris offices with Africa Internet Group, in a quirky old hotel in the city centre. While these offices may house the online marketing specialists and technicians, the heart of AIG’s business, according to co-founder Hodara, is in Lagos, in Nigeria.

Why did you leave McKinsey to get involved in this project?

I had been working at McKinsey for seven years, that’s a lot! And since Sacha (Poignonnec) and I were the two “Frenchies” in the New York office, we saw each other a lot outside work. We often got to talking about the idea of starting something together. Once the seeds have been sown, it’s a question of finding the right opportunity.

If we had not been contacted by Rocket Internet a little while later, we would probably have carried on as we were and life would have been good… When you are in business consultancy, you get a lot of calls. You do the occasional interview just to brush away the cobwebs and to gain an understanding of what is out there. Sometimes you get offers, and you think about them. For me, it was the first time in seven years that I had hung up the phone and thought “that’s cool”.

What were they looking for at the beginning?

They were launching Rocket Internet in France. Very quickly, after talking with Sacha and the Samwer brothers, we decided to start a project in Africa.

The whole interview is available to read in French here.

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