Originally from the a small village in the south of Germany, Leonard Stiegeler now has a very big job indeed.
Having worked for the likes of Jumia and Zando after moving to Africa in 2011, he has been at Ringier Africa since 2013 and is now the general manager, based out of Lagos.
Founded in 1833, Ringier has become a very big fish in Africa since launching its arm on the continent in 2013. It now has three key business model groups – publishing, classifieds and marketing – across 10 Sub-Saharan African countries, running brands like Business Insider, Jobberman and Cheki. It disposed of its e-commerce assets earlier this year.
Stiegeler is bullish about the continent’s future and Ringier’s own prospects.
“Africa to me still represents the continent with the most unused opportunities in the world – in business and for its people,” he said.
“We are lucky that Ringier is long-term-committed to the build-up of sustainable online businesses in Africa and has therefore been funding their build-up in the past years. All our business-model groups are generating substantial and growing revenues to fund themselves and their expansion.”
Ringier looks more at acquisitions and partnerships than equity investments, with Stiegeler saying it focuses on the niches its existing businesses operate in.
“We are always interested in international and local businesses in those spaces that are interested in long-term partnerships. Sub-Saharan Africa, outside of South Africa, is our sweet spot and a region that we have gained a lot of experience in in the last five years of operating on the ground,” he said.
“What differentiates Ringier from many other companies is that we usually see an acquisition as the start of a longer term relationship and collaboration. Ringier is running partnerships across the world with various different types of organisations and individuals, and has been doing so successfully for many years.”
Africa’s tech space is becoming more and more exciting, with more and more funding coming into the market and ecosystems in places like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa maturing.
“Specifically great is that there are more and more local founders working on difficult problems. Very similar to how mobile phones leapfrogged landlines in Africa, I am sure we will see other major problems being solved by technology in a revolutionary way in the years to come,” Stiegeler said.
Though he said the African continent and its startup ecosystems are of course highly diverse, there are certainly challenges faced across the board.
“What is clear is that the environment in many markets – not the best infrastructure, country-specific political or macro-economic risks, a lack of highly-educated tech talent with many years of experience, a lack of data on market opportunities, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa – makes operating hard,” said Stiegeler.
“The aim of the best African startups I come across and the aim of the internet and digital media businesses that we are building is to actually develop business models leapfrogging these problems.”
He gives an an example of this Ringier’s new media publisher Pulse, which is now reaching about 40 million people per month in Nigeria alone via its various channels.
“The biggest offline newspaper in Nigeria has a distribution of about 40,000 copies per day, only because distribution is so difficult. The distribution via the internet, mobile and social is enabling millions of people to have access to local information and entertainment,” Stiegeler said.
He believes investments will continue to increase, noting two developments here as especially noteworthy.
“The rise in investment from American startup incubators such as Y Combinator, 500 Startups and Techstars in Africa, showcasing their belief in the ecosystem and local founders, as well as the rise of strategic Chinese investment on the continent in the internet and media space, showcasing that after Chinese investment in infrastructure and devices, they are looking to go deeper into the value chain in Africa,” Stiegeler said.
“I see both these developments intensifying in the coming years.”