10 Africans Who Founded Million-Dollar Internet Companies

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Vinny-LinghamThe number of millionaires springing up from digital ventures has grown tremendously in the past two decades, as the world increasingly embrace the potential of knowledge technologies, information and social media to produce economic benefits , employment and enable globalisation. From Mark Zuckerberg to Sergey Brin, Lawrence E. Page and YouTube partners: Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, the world has witnessed a new breed of entrepreneurs who have charted a new course in business while making a fortune at it. The good news – Africa is not lagging behind. Innovative minds in the motherland have cited and exploited opportunities in the knowledge economy, which has become more prominent as the internet usage and importance increased over the years. In this article, Ventures Africa shortlists, in no respective order, 10 Africans who have successfully amassed fortunes from founding million dollar internet companies.

Vinny Lingham

Founder Yola Inc, South Africa

South Africa’s Vinny Lingham is the founder of the popular free web building, publishing and hosting services site Yola Inc (previously named SynthaSite) based in San Francisco. Yola has attracted over $30 million in venture capital financing from investors such as Columbus Venture Capital and plays host to over 3 million active users across the globe.

Prior to Yola, Lingham founded Click-2-Customers, a hugely successful search engine marketing company with offices in London, Cape Town, and Los Angeles that rakes in about $100 million in annual revenues.

The millionaire entrepreneur recently announced the launch of ‘Gyft’ – which aims to challenge the United States’ $100 billion plastic gift card market by bringing gift cards to consumers’ mobile phones.

Mark Shuttleworth

Founder Thawte and Ubuntu/Knife Capital, South Africa

Mark Shuttleworth is Africa’s first dot com millionaire. When Shuttleworth was 22, he founded Thawte, a digital certificate and internet security company he later sold to VeriSign for $575 million in an all stock deal in 1999. It is the second largest provider of digital certification the world.

At age 26, Shuttleworth used a fraction of his proceeds to start HBD Capital (now called Knife Capital), a Cape Town-based emerging markets investment fund.

Shuttleworth also founded and funds Ubuntu, a computer operating system which he distributes as free open source software. He has a reported net worth of $500 million.

Njeri Rionge

Co-founder Wananchi Online, Kenya

Njeri Rionge is the co-founder of Wananchi Online – a leading Internet service provider which has gone on to become East Africa’s leading cable, broadband and IP (Internet-based) Phone Company.

Dubbed ‘one of Kenya’s most successful serial entrepreneurs’, she succeeded in turning a $500,000 start up to into East Africa’s top internet firm valued at $175 million dollar.

“Wanachi was a roller coaster ride in which we sought to challenge the assumption of regulators, the government officials and competitors that the Internet was not only relevant for the elite.” The Business woman told forbes in an interview.

The internet providing company became hugely successful that it rose close to $60 million in growth capital from a consortium private equity firm.

Jason Njoku

Founder & CEO iRokoTv, Nigeria

The Nigerian Internet entrepreneur is the founder of Iroko TV – the world’s largest digital distributor of African movies. Iroko TV was labeled the ‘Netflix of Africa’ according to forbes.

Earlier this year, Iroko TV raised $8 million in venture capital from Tiger Global Management, a New York-based private equity and hedge fund run by billionaire Chase Coleman.

The online streaming website, profits from lucrative content distribution deals with Dailymotion, iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo.

Analysts believe IrokoTV could be worth an estimated $30 million and CEO Njoku is the company’s largest individual shareholder.

Elon Musk

Co-founder PayPal, South Africa

Born to a South African father and Canadian mother, Elon Musk is the co-founder of ecommerce payment system Paypal.

In March 2002, Musk co-founded X.com, a financial services and email payments company. One year later, x.com acquired Confinity – originally a company formed to beam money between Palm Pilots – and the combined entity focused on email payments through the PayPal domain, acquired as part of Confinity.

In February 2001, X.com changed its legal name to PayPal. In October 2002, PayPal was acquired by eBay for US$1.5 billion in a stock deal. Before its sale, Musk, the company’s largest shareholder, owned 11.7% of PayPal’s shares.

The business mogul is also known for founding Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX – the first private company to launch a rocket into space – and for founding Tesla Motors, an electric car company.

Herman Heunis

Founder & former CEO MXit, South Africa

Heunis is the CEO and founder of South African social networking site MXit – a free online instant messenger that runs on close to 3000 mobile handsets. Last year, Heunis sold the company to World of Avatar for around $61 million. The site is a phenomenon in South Africa, and now has close to 40 million users in more than 120 countries – with 40,000 new subscribers joining daily, it is fast emerging as the biggest instant messaging service in South Africa and Indonesia.

Heunis earlier also established an ICT consultancy firm in 1990, creating Swist Group Technologies in 1998 – a software development company that would ultimately produce MXit Lifestyle.

Justin Stanford

Founder & CEO, 4Di Group/Co-founder Silicon Cape Initiative, South Africa

South African-born Stanford – a software entrepreneur and venture capitalist – is the founder of 4Di Group, an investment holding company headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa. It operates four major companies in Southern Africa including ESET Southern Africa, iViZ Security, 4Di Capital and 4Di Privaca.

After dropping out of high school he set up an internet security company which eventually flopped, but when he came across ESET – a Slovakian anti-virus software package, he negotiated with its manufacturers and acquired the exclusive, lucrative Southern African distribution rights for the product.

Stanford’s ESET Southern Africa presently operates the ESET brand in the region and sells ESET’s range of internet security products in about 20 sub-Saharan countries, recording over $10 million in annual turnover while controlling 5 percent of the anti-virus market in Southern Africa region.

Stanford also co-founded the Silicon Cape Initiative with Vinny Lingham – an IT business networking NGO that assists individuals with ICT ideas and start-up entrepreneurs to navigate the many drawbacks associated with the industry.

Adii Pienaar

Co-Founder Woothemes, South Africa

Adii Pienaar is the Founder of Woothemes, one of the world’s most popular premium wordpress theme companies.

Working virtually with partners worldwide, Adii built Woothemes into a multi-million dollar business, generating over $2 million in annual revenues from the sale of its themes.

The company also sells themes for other content management systems including Tumblr. Adii recently wrote a book titled ”Rockstar Business”, detailing his experience as an entrepreneur.

Justin Clarke & Carey Eaton

Co-founders One Media Africa, South Africa & Kenya

Justin Clarke and Carey Eaton are cofounders of One Africa Media. Africa’s largest online classifieds group by traffic, page views, advert volume and revenue.

The South African-based Private Property Holdings and Kenyan Cheki Africa Media merged their businesses to form One Africa Media which operates in three economic hubs covering East, South and West AfricaThe company has five brands, namelyPrivateProperty, Cheki, Jobberman, BrighterMonday and SafariNow. These brands are longest-established brands in Africa in their segments and have started to turn in revenues. Its majority shareholder is New York-based investment Manager, Tiger Global.

Top Australian recruitment portal Seek reportedly invested $20 million in the company, acquiring a 25 percent stake. The Australian firm says it values One Media Africa at $80 million.

Kamal Budhabatti

CEO, Craft Silicon, Kenya

Nicknamed Kenyan’s Bill Gate, Kamal is the founder and CEO of Craft Silicon – a Kenyan Software firm that provides core banking, microfinance, mobile, switch solutions software and electronic payments services for over 200 institutional clients in 40 countries spread across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Craft Silicon has an office in Silicon Valley — in Palo Alto, California – one of the very few Kenyan companies to achieve such a feat.

The software company has a $50 million market value, raking in annual revenue of $6 million.


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