Tech founder, advisor and early-stage investor Victor Asemota tells us why Flutterwave, a startup he himself backed in its early days, becoming a “unicorn” is such a big deal and why the company is primed for more success.
Just in case you have not heard it yet, Flutterwave is now a unicorn (a company with a valuation of over US$1 billion) less than five years after it launched. Will I gloat a lot about this? Hell, YES, I will!! The team deserves all the “accolades.” Working with them has been pure joy for me.
Will I give unwarranted advice about how to invest in winning startups? Hell, NO!! We were all lucky to be part of this by providence more than design. We all found each other, and magic happened. I also will not bore anyone with that history as it is meant for books.
What will I talk about then? Market and team ownership. The Flutterwave team exhibits the perfect form of “extreme ownership” in these parts and globally. Unicorns are rare, and it is rare qualities like this that create them. I will save you time on the explanation of “Extreme Ownership” if you can take time to watch this video and buy the book by the US Navy SEALS Jocko Willink et al.
Flutterwave is far from being a perfect company yet, the team knows that. They keep, however, striving for perfection and take every criticism as the gift of feedback. I am always amazed at the speed at which things are corrected when I highlight them privately to team members.
Other issues may have also lingered because of third-party failure; it was how they were able to work with everyone to resolve these issues and still maintain high product usage that shows that they homed in on the correct value propositions.
Value proposition and “market fit” is EVERYTHING when a market is looking for a way to solve a problem. The market doesn’t seek perfection first; it seeks “value”, and Flutterwave has consistently delivered this value over time.
Marc Andressen, in his famous treatise on “market fit,” once said –
“In a great market – a market with lots of real potential customers – the market pulls product out of the startup.
“The market needs to be fulfilled and the market will be fulfilled, by the first viable product that comes along.
“The product doesn’t need to be great; it just has to basically work. And, the market doesn’t care how good the team is, as long as the team can produce that viable product.
“In short, customers are knocking down your door to get the product; the main goal is to actually answer the phone and respond to all the emails from people who want to buy.
“And when you have a great market, the team is remarkably easy to upgrade on the fly.”
It is the market that created Flutterwave. It is an excellent company with a great team, great leadership, and is in a great market. They have not been afraid to find out if they are right or wrong. They don’t go out with preconceived notions but listen to the data. They also improve on themselves, and the team performs self upgrades with learning daily.
I will share a personal story about Flutterwave’s first foray into POS at the Jollof Festival held at the railway compound in Lagos. The company gave all of about 30 merchants tablets with POS software to accept payments from card-paying customers. I was one of those customers and saw that it wasn’t working. They quickly killed that idea after feedback from 30 merchants and customers at one event and moved to traditional POS. Iteration is that rapid.
I also personally learned from that incident to share with other businesses I was investing in to understand what works in Africa at this time and what doesn’t. Flutterwave focuses on what works the most efficiently while still trying to take people into the future. That is why it continues to grow. You have to be profitable as you undertake market discovery, or else you will be gone very quickly.
The African market is currently very fickle, and its relationship with digital has to be built on solid trust. Flutterwave keeps building this trust one customer, one merchant, and one partner at a time. Hopefully, it will soon become one investor at a time with a public listing.
All of the investors who have put hundreds of millions of dollars now into Flutterwave will expect growth. The company will deliver because Africa is the last significant uncharted territory for digital.
This experience’s beauty is moving away from hypothetical comparables with other markets to see how things work for Africa. A simple principle guides every investment decision I make now — can this be another Flutterwave?
We are looking for more Flutterwaves to help create, and there is room for them all. Flutterwave itself will power even more unicorns as I have seen something about their DNA of partnership that is rare globally. They work with the small as well as they will work with the big.
I have always said that “The ecosystem is The Stack” and Flutterwave is now well-positioned at the top of the African fintech stack to grow rapidly organically and lead by example and/or create a more resilient ecosystem through strategic acquisitions. It is now a wrap, we build unicorns by ourselves in Africa.