Meet the 32-year-old Nigerian who successfully founded two separate billion-dollar startups

BY Preta Peace Namasaba February 15, 2024 5:10 AM EDT
Iyinoluwa Aboyeji. Photo credit: Iyinoluwa Aboyeji

A unicorn, a privately held startup company with a value of over $1 billion, is a remarkable feat. But to start two unicorns when Black and particularly African entrepreneurs struggle to raise funding from venture capital firms is simply mind-blowing.

Nigerian serial entrepreneur Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, 32, boasts the extraordinary accomplishment of co-founding two African tech unicorns – Andela and Flutterwave. He is currently at the forefront of Future Africa, an early-stage venture capital firm with a portfolio of 100 companies collectively worth over $6 billion.

Aboyeji credits his education for his passion for social justice and international development. He finished his senior secondary at Loyola Jesuit College and went to Columbia International College where he studied international development, legal studies, and economics. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in legal studies and international studies from the University of Waterloo. 

From the start, Aboyeji’s goal was to build an African future where prosperity and purpose were within everyone’s reach. But first, he needed to gain working experience to actualize his vision. He served as an intern for the World Youth Alliance (WYA) at the UN office in New York and was appointed president of the board of Imprint Publications, one of Canada’s biggest student-owned publishing companies. In 2010, he launched Bookneto Incorporation, a social learning platform that enables users to share and organize learning resources within learning communities. The company was acquired by the Canadian Innovation Center three years later.

Following the successful acquisition, Aboyeji started Fora, a distance learning platform for African universities. But the company didn’t go as he’d hoped. He was unable to raise the necessary capital we needed and lacked the political networks to wade through various regulatory barriers. Aboyeji sought feedback on his idea and was convinced to pivot to a new model that aligned more with the mission to empower young Africans through education. This was the start of Andela.

In 2014, Aboyeji co-founded Andela, a job placement network for software developers. The company launched its first recruitment cycle in Lagos with a call for applications on Twitter. From over 700 applications, they hired their first cohort consisting of four Nigerian software engineers. Andela secured $10 million in Series A funding in 2015 and another $24 million the following year in a Series B round of funding led by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Andela went on to secure $40 million in Series C funding, a $100 million Series D round of funding and a hefty $200 million investment in 2021. Following the Series E financing, the company officially achieved unicorn status with a $1.5 billion valuation. It has since expanded globally, connecting technologists with access to opportunities with international companies on a long-term basis. But by this time, Aboyeji had resigned from the company to establish his next venture, Flutterwave.

Aboyeji would later explain how building Andela inspired him to create Flutterwave:

One of the big pushes I had at Andela was servicing more local clients. And I was trying to understand why we weren’t getting more software jobs from the local startup community and it boiled down to the fact that they couldn’t make money. Most of them had to rely on partnerships or, subscription or service agreements with larger companies. And if you have one customer, why do you need payments? We engaged in particular with Access bank while I was at Andela and try to build them something called ‘Pay with capture.’ And I met them for flutter wave on that project.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Aboyeji cofounded Flutterwave in 2016 to provide a payment infrastructure across Africa. He stepped down as the CEO after leading the company for two years. Flutterwave went on to raise a $170 million Series C funding round in 2021, reaching a valuation of over US$1 billion and attaining unicorn status. It raised a further $250 million Series D funding round a year later bringing its valuation to over $3 billion.

As with the connection between Andela and Flutterwave, Future Africa was also established because of what Aboyeji had learned at Flutterwave.

“In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, we realized that a lot of institutional investors were dropping their commitments because they were uncertain about what the future would look like post COVID-19 and they wanted to go back on commitments. However, we still had companies that had to be funded, especially because of the crisis,” Aboyeji explained the importance of Future Africa.

Having founded numerous startups, Aboyeji was familiar with the unique challenges that African entrepreneurs encounter while raising capital. He established Future Africa, an innovation fund that provides individuals with the opportunity to invest in African tech startups. The results of this unique investment model speak for themselves. The fund’s first beneficiary, a Kenyan company working on the cutting edge of respiratory health research and medical device manufacturing, raised capital within 72 hours. The second company, helping Africans invest globally amidst the pandemic, received funding within five hours and was fully over-subscribed in a day.

In addition to providing capital, Future Africa coaches and creates a supportive community for Africa’s up-and-coming entrepreneurs. The fund has invested in over 100 companies across the continent with a collective worth of over $6 billion. Notably, it has invested in Moove, a flexible car ownership platform that empowers Uber drivers in Nigeria, and Itana, a network of charter cities for African technology talent.

Aboyeji has previously asserted that he is on a mission to save the African continent and its people from ruin. His trendsetting business ventures have already set the pace for entrepreneurs, he is now helping others build businesses that can change the world.