Iyinoluwa Aboyeji of Nigeria may not have the personal wealth of Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, but his success as an African entrepreneur rivals that of any Silicon Valley tech titan.
The Nigerian co-founded two “unicorns” while still in his twenties, an industry phrase for companies worth more than $1 billion.
According to most estimates, Africa has produced only seven unicorns, compared to over 700 in the United States.
Aboyeji, who has many of the trappings of a global tech CEO – he is commonly referred to as “E” and wants to construct a tech metropolis – believes African entrepreneurs should have great dreams.
But they cannot simply copy-paste from the playbooks of Zuckerberg or Musk.
“We admire these guys, they’re inspirations,” he told AFP over the phone from an investor conference in the United States.
“But when we’re looking for a path we don’t look to them because they’ve got a completely different reality from ours. You’ve got to find your own way.”
Now 32, Aboyeji now spends much of his time funding startups, having left his posts in both of his unicorns – fintech firm Flutterwave and training platform Andela, which counted Zuckerberg as an investor.
“Now I’m the coach, I take a backseat,” he said with a laugh. “I had my time in the spotlight, I played well.”
His Future Africa firm, one of the continent’s biggest startup funds, is preparing to launch a new round of investing.
But it comes as tech firms across the world have slashed workers, and venture capitalists have tightened their purse strings.
The global downturn has seriously hampered African tech startups.
They attracted more than $2 billion in funding during the first quarter last year but this year’s figure is less than half that amount, according to specialist publication The Big Deal.
The gloomy figures do not dim Aboyeji’s confidence.