The founder of eBay sold the company after 3 years, and became a billionaire. His name is Pierre Omidyar, and for many in the U.S, this is not a household name.
But the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm has become one of the most significant investors in the African technology scene, and since actively investing, has created an out-sized impact on the continent.
In Nigeria alone, Omidyar Network has invested in 6 of the largest Nigerian technology companies, and has introduced its blend of combining impact with profits to make them uniquely different from their American equivalents. The big African technology companies have turned out more gentle, more social and seem to be more caring about the growth of everything around them than just metrics compared to their western equivalents.
One of Omidyar Networks’ early investments was in an incubator and innovation centre in Lagos called CcHub. For many years, the CcHub served as the capital of the Nigerian tech scene – it was where the various little startups were created that went on to become many of the larger ones today. CcHub is a profitable enterprise, and it’s a mix of WeWork and Ycombinator – part co-working space and part incubator.
One of the success stories that came out of CcHub was another company called BudgIt, which focuses on transparency in government budgets. A B2G company that has gone on to win large contracts to make government budgets open to the public. The investment not only became a commercial hit, but also pushed one of Omidyar’s goals – which is in leaving a significant impact.
In 2015, Omidyar Network made a surprise investment in a company called Hotels.ng – a simple service for booking hotels. On the surface it seemed unclear what type of impact this would have – but it turns out that before then, there was no online hotel booking service in Nigeria. The company has grown to become the second largest OTA in Africa, netting ON a tidy return.
Hotels.ng also represents an example of how the ON philosophy is filtering down to the companies it backs – even though it operates the seemingly boring business of online travel, the company has become one of the biggest trainers of local software developers – it runs huge software developer internships with more than 2000 participants per year, all of whom get put back into the local market. The philosophy of the company is that if they don’t create the talent, they won’t have anyone to hire.
Omidyar also co-invested with Mark Zuckerberg in a company called Andela – which basically grooms local software developers to a level that they can then work for western companies and recently raised a Series C round of $40 million. It maintains huge offices where local software developers work in a remote “managed” environment for foreign companies.
Omidyar has not been afraid to challenge the status quo – he also invested in a radically anti-government newspaper called Sahara Reporters. The founder of the paper is an unafraid rebel – he publishes breaking scoops on government bribery and other corrupt practises – and has to sneak into the country most times as the government of the day is always against him.
The Omidyar Network is probably one of the most interesting investment companies in the world, and it will be interesting to see what else they will be investing in. One thing is clear – they are not afraid to push the boundaries, and they are not afraid to go where others fear to tread.