That’s “good morning” in Yoruba
In Yoruba culture, aso ebi is a uniform attire normally worn during ceremonies. It’s a way for attendees to show solidarity with their hosts.
Last week, Nigerian payment startup Flutterwave became a unicorn.
Almost immediately, social media was lit up with butterfly emojis, representing the company, and unicorn emojis, representing its new status.
This formed a beautiful sea of light blue, white and purple, a digital aso ebi of sorts, a show of solidarity.
For purists only
A unicorn is a private company with a valuation of $1 billion or over. As of March 2021, there are more than 700 unicorns around the world.
In Africa, there 4 billion-dollar tech companies that the press typically refers to as unicorns, but some would argue that Flutterwave is the continent’s first “true” unicorn, all the others have asterisks.
1. Jumia, the e-tailer, reached a $1 billion market cap after its IPO in 2019, but the company had 2 asterisks:
*Foreign ownership and
2. Interswitch, the fintech giant, was valued at $1 billion in 2019 after Visa’s investment, this made Interswitch Africa’s first unicorn. But the company had 1 asterisk:
*Outgrown startup status.
, the Egyptian payments powerhouse, watched its market cap swell to $1 billion in 2020 and $2 billion
in 2021. But the company, too, has
*Outgrown startup status and is
4. Enter Flutterwave in 2021:
Why’s this important?
This might seem like a distinction without a difference, and on some level, it is. After all, a billion-dollar company is a billion-dollar company.
But the valuation methods used for a private company and a public company are very different (Read more
). And, to use the old cliche, comparing one to the other is like comparing apples to oranges, even though they’re all fruit.
At either rate, Flutterwave might not remain private for much longer, according to CEO Olugbenga Agboola:
“We may consider the possibility of listing in New York or a possible dual listing in New York and Nigeria.”
Although he’s also added that the idea isn’t to IPO yet but to be IPO-ready.
For the home-grown element, that’s a thing of national or even continental pride. For all its success, it’s been hard for many Africans to fully identify with Jumia because of its European origins. So when it hit the $1 billion mark, there were no digital aso ebis.
As for the startup debate, this is about the company’s stage of growth. Fawry reached the $1 billion valuation after 12 years of operations, Interswitch did it in 18 years. Flutterwave, on the other hand, took 5.
Although, it’s not hard to see why growth was significantly more difficult for Fawry and Interswitch. Those companies were market creators, if anything Interswitch walked so Flutterwave’s butterfly could fly. Also, access to venture capital and investor confidence wasn’t as high in those company’s early days as it is now.
And as those indicators continue to trend up, you suspect that not only will Africa get more unicorns, but they’ll also be much younger.