July 7, 2021
In a show of black excellence at its finest, leading scheduling platform Calendly was recently valued at a whopping $3bn following a $350 million investment round. Nigerian-born entrepreneur Tope Awotona founded the appointment scheduling software firm back in 2013 and since then has posted nearly $70 million in annual recurring revenue. Calendly, which counts LinkedIn and Zendesk as clients, will use the investment to provide liquidity for early shareholders and employees, as well as to continue product innovation.
To celebrate the huge valuation that has surely set the business hurtling towards unicorn status, we’re taking a moment to look back at other black founders who have also found success when selling or growing their respective businesses.
Flexible staffing recruitment app Syft has taken advantage of the booming gig economy with its platform that provides temporary and part-time employment in the hospitality sector. Co-founded by Novo Abakare in 2015, Syft received backing from champion boxer David Hayes before eventually being acquired by global job site Indeed.com in May 2019 for an undisclosed figure.
Of the acquisition, Syft’s founders said: “We are really excited to announce that Indeed.com has signed an agreement to acquire Syft. Syft’s board and staff believe this is the right decision for the company. In meeting with Indeed’s management team we found a near-perfect alignment in our vision and values in being worker-centric, increasing and democratising access to work. It soon became clear that the two companies together hold a very powerful proposition to build the future of work. The whole team will continue to run Syft day to day independently as we start to explore ways in which we can leverage our relationship with Indeed to accelerate our plans. What this does mean is increased collaboration to improve our product and service.”
Award-winning workplace lender Neyber offers employee financial benefits and boasts clients like Asda, Royal Mail and Harrods. Co-founded by former CEO Martin Ijaha, Neyber sold itself as a cheaper consumer alternative to credit card companies and payday loan providers. Having previously worked at Goldman Sachs, Ijaha founded the company in 2014 and raised over £100m in total from his former employer and other leading investors. Despite being acquired by rival firm Salary Finance in March 2020, the merging of the businesses means a combined client base featuring 15 FTSE-100 companies.
Of the acquisition, Salary Finance said: "The Salary Finance mission is to help millions of employees around the world become financially healthier and happier. The Neyber acquisition, and the additional scale that gives us, takes us several steps forward in achieving our mission.”
Leading Pan-African fintech firm Interswitch provides digital payment solutions for millions of people across the African continent. After Visa acquired a minority equity stake back in November 2019, the fintech startup was valued at $1 billion making them one of only a handful of African tech businesses to reach that elusive unicorn status. Founded in 2002 by Mitchell Elegbe, Interswitch pioneered the infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly paper-ledger and cash-based economy. Now a year before their 20th anniversary, the company provides much of the rails for Nigeria’s online banking system that serves Africa’s largest economy and population.
Speaking back in 2019, Interswitch’s founder said: “The investment makes Interswitch one of the most valuable African fintech businesses with a valuation of $1 billion.” Not one to rest on their laurels, the founders are also reviving their $10 million investment arm to ensure other African startups get a fair shake when it comes to VC funding.
Nigerian fintech startup Paystack is an online and offline payment solution for African businesses and boasts around 60,000 corporate clients. An acquisition by Stripe for over $200 million in October 2020, marks the biggest to date to come out of Nigeria, as well as Stripe’s biggest acquisition to date anywhere in the world. Indeed, Paystack had already been on Stripe’s radar long before the acquisition. In 2018, Stripe led an $8 million funding round for Paystack along with Visa and Tencent.
Co-founder Shola Akinlade said of the acquisition: “Paystack was not for sale when Stripe approached us, but for us, it’s about the mission. I’m driven by the mission to accelerate payments on the continent, and I am convinced that Stripe will help us get there faster. It is a very natural move.”
Written by Letitiah Obiri, Founder @ Polkadot Digital