Episode 019: Digitizing Africa’s Investment Ecosystem with Will Hunnam & Lanre Oloniniyi

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About Will Hunnam & Lanre Oloniniyi

Will Hunnam and Lanre Oloniniyi are the co-founders of Orbitt Capital.

You can connect with them @OrbittCapital on Twitter.

Close friends since business school, Will and Lanre were well-seasoned Africa private equity professionals.  For years, they crisscrossed the continent in search of great companies looking for capital from global investors.

But, this matchmaking process was fraught with difficulties and inefficiencies. On occasion, they’d work on a transaction, which was on the verge of closing — only for the investor to walk away at the last minute. Or they noticed that the company didn’t interest the investor due to sector, geography, etc.

The old-fashioned way of deal origination just wasn’t cutting it.

Frustrated, they brainstormed how it could be done better — and the idea for Orbitt was born. Orbitt gathers all the players in Africa’s investment ecosystem onto a single platform, instantly connecting the buy-side (investors) with the sell-side (companies) as well as invaluable intermediaries, like brokers, corporate finance professionals and lawyers.

With Orbitt, Will and Lanre have expanded beyond private equity into private debt and trade finance — which is in hot demand among African commodity exporters.

Will and Lanre speak candidly about the “penny-drop moment” when refining their business model for Orbitt, why VC is a noisy space within the African ecosystem, and what excites their investors in Africa at the moment.

Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Will Hunnam and Lanre Oloniniyi.

What We Learn from Will & Lanre: You’re Always Pivoting

Will and Lanre are big believers in constant pivoting.

“You continue to pivot until you hit a certain trajectory,” explains Lanre.

They refined Orbitt’s business model after receiving early feedback from users. Their big realization was that they should position Orbitt as a multi-sided platform instead of focusing only on the buy-side and sell-side. This would help diversify their revenues and capture a more complete picture of Africa’s investment ecosystem.

Actionable Tips

  1. Pick a co-founder who shares your values and vision. If it’s just about money, it’s game over from the start.
  2. Focus on the presentation of your pitch and stick to 10-15 slides.
  3. Use investors’ feedback on your pitch to improve your business model. If there are gaps in your answers to their questions, there are likely gaps in the business as well.

Top Quotes

  • “As a new investor or business owner or practitioner within the African ecosystem, having that resilience and the ability to play the long game, it’s definitely one of the key differentiators for those who succeed and those who don't.”
  • “Stay the course. It’s going to be tough. it's going to be exciting. It's going to be challenging; it’s going to be inspiring. You're going to get lots of mixed emotions, but whatever it is be passionate about it and just stay the course of it.”
  • “There's no time like the present. You need to take time to let your idea formulate, but then move forward and learn as you're going along. It's okay to break some things along the way.”

Links

Mentions

Key Timestamps

  • How Lanre and Will caught the entrepreneurial bug [3:07]
  • The frustrations of the traditional Africa deal origination model [5:55]
  • What an MBA doesn’t teach you about African markets [9:52]
  • The origins of Orbitt [11:42]
  • The failed deal that pushed them to set up their own business [13:10]
  • Orbitt’s business model [14:27]
  • The “penny drop” moment [18:09]
  • Deals that didn't make it on the platform [24:47]
  • How they use their nuanced understanding of African capital markets to screen deals [27:55]
  • Why Africa VC is a noisy space [29:22]
  • Why mid-market $80-150 million private equity funds are key clients [35:33]
  • Where investors are keen to invest on the continent [33:05]
  • Macro trends that will shape Africa in the next 5 years [35:22]
  • Advice on pitching investors [38:40]
  • Criteria for picking a good co-founder [42:38]
  • Common advice that is ill-suited for African entrepreneurs [44:25]
  • Books that left an impression on them [46:03]
  • Where they’d go on a 1-year sabbatical to improve their business [48:22]
  • Their one piece of actionable advice for aspiring entrepreneurs [52:17]