2023 was a year etched with many challenges in the tech ecosystem but also some triumphs. TechCabal spoke to 23 leaders in the ecosystem about the year – wisdom they gained from hardship, and visions that are still as clear as day, even through uncertainty.
Now, as we round up, these are their lessons from 2023 and their predictions of what the ecosystem will be in 2024.
仙人掌年 or Year Of The Cactus
Lanre Ogungbe, CEO at Prembly
If it doesn’t work, don’t force it. It’s important to know when to quit or shut down a business instead of trying fruitlessly to make it work.
More than ever, this year emphasised how critical it is to be ahead of policies. KYC is very policy-driven, and trailing behind policies can be gravely consequential. One needs to derisk against policy changes. One also needs to derisk against economic shocks; while we predicted the economic downturn, we underestimated its magnitude.
2024 Outlook: Things won’t get better until Q3 2024 regarding fundraising. We may not see as much funding as we used to for a long time. However, I think that the economy will pick up quickly next year. We will also see a lot more silent mergers.
There will also be a new generation of founders who are more experienced in managing their businesses, who focus on unit economics, and who will provide technology that solves real-life problems.
Ifeoma Nwobu, COO at Sendstack
2023 taught me to thrive in chaos. There are a lot of variables that can throw your plan off at any time, so we had to learn how to adapt while maintaining excellence and peace of mind.
2024 Outlook: Whatever we faced as a collective ecosystem in 2023 will only worsen in the next year. I am not trying to be a prophet of doom, but I think that sometimes we need to acknowledge how the patterns in economic situations work.
I still think there will be a lot of growth just the way some plants grow in hard environments. My advice to everyone is to be a cactus this coming year.
Samuel Okwuada, CEO at Remedial Health
Running a sustainable and profitable venture will never be unfashionable. The past few years have made me question whether the tech ecosystem understands business. We were building businesses with no business model and plans to raise [funds] continuously.
This year showed that the fundamentals of business can never change.
2024 Outlook: A tougher year ahead for the economy and African startups. But there are a lot of problems to solve, so we will see a new crop of startups. However, resilience will be key.
Sethebe Manake, Founder and Managing Director at GoSmartValue
The adage, “Expect nothing and prepare for everything,” is very real for startups in the region. We have seen some awesome African startups fold this year for various reasons, making survival a critical priority for us. These times call for us to put our heads down, build and deliver. The beauty contests are over!
2024 Outlook: The appetite for local solutions and collaborations with corporations and multinationals is increasing, a great indicator that the industry is poised for evolution. We are excited about the future.
Jessica Hope, CEO at Wimbart
2023 was not an easy year for the company, but we remained intact and delivered some great campaigns, brought on new clients and welcomed back old clients. This is because we stayed true to our mission and quality levels. That’s a big learning for the year: continue to focus on the work, and the company will survive in the most testing times.
2024 Outlook: 2023 was turbulent; I think the first part of 2024 will be too. In some ways, this is a course correction, and in other ways, we’ll all be adjusting to a new normal of slimmed-down budgets, but not a reduction in quality of work.
Jude Dike, CEO at Get Equity
Never leave anything to chance, and things can always get worse. A good example is the current exchange rate. Many people speculated N1000 as the point of doom, and not enough people considered it could get worse.
2024 Outlook: I think the venture downturn is slowly reversing, I think there will be a lot of local involvement more than before. This is because valuations are no longer “unreasonable,” and more VCs are getting more money. However, I think most of these investments will be in naira.
Uzoma Dozie, CEO at Sparkle
The real eye-opener in 2023 was how crucial it is for everyone in our financial services space to pull together against cybercrime. We’ve got to team up, share what we know, and keep these fraudsters at bay. That’s how we secure our systems and give…
our customers a safe space to do their business.
We also need to tighten up our security and stick to the rules we set. Different players in the industry, chasing different goals – be it boosting valuations, increasing transactions, or growing customer bases – have kind of let critical standards slip. So, as we step into 2024, it’s high time we all get on the same page with standards to foster trust and a healthier business environment.
2024 Outlook: 2024’s looking like it’s going to be quite the bumpy ride. We’ll likely see more businesses struggling due to the economic challenges we’re facing. But, those with solid structures and foundations should be able to weather the storm.
Investors are going to get pickier. They’ll look beyond just the size of a business. They’ll be checking out the quality, the systems in place, governance, and resilience against tough times.
I’m also betting big on AI, particularly generative AI, as a game-changer. Any business that’s not investing in AI is going to miss out. It’s all about being truly digital, not just in the front-end stuff but deep in the backend too. This helps not just in sniffing out fraud, but also in ramping up efficiency and enhancing the customer experience
Big plans and moonshots
Miishe Addy, CEO at Jetstream Africa
2023 highlighted that nothing is more powerful than a group united by a common purpose, leveraging tech to accomplish their goals. If the inputs are there and pressure is applied over time, impact is inevitable. The principle played out at Jetstream when we closed our fundraising round in a tough funding environment at the start of the year.
2024 Outlook: Our outlook for 2024 is to add long-term capital to the foundation of trust-based cross-border e-commerce we built in 2023 and blow open access to tech-enabled, fully financed cross-border trade across the continent, focusing on verticals that will make or break Africa’s development.
Seun Alley, CEO at Fez Delivery
One key lesson from 2023 is the importance of adaptability. Navigating uncertainties reinforced the need for agile strategies and resilient business models. At Fez Delivery, we’ve had to set (up) electric vehicles to move cleaner and to save cost, with energy prices soaring.
2024 Outlook: I anticipate a continued emphasis on digital transformation, with AI-driven innovations playing a pivotal role in reshaping industries and enhancing customer experiences. At Fez, we’re already implementing AI-driven solutions in our everyday operations.
Perseus Mlambo, Founder & CEO at Union 54 and ChitChat
The biggest takeaway is to be aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses. As the world changes and redraws its hard lines, perseverance will be rewarded, as will building the hard stuff that moves the needle forward, where the promotion of Africa and African interests is concerned.
2024 Outlook: It’s impossible to build tech away from the government, and so we will see closer collaboration between tech and government. We should start to see an established crop of founders placing bets on policy. We will also start to see governments worry about digital sovereignty and try to be fully involved and, in a way, guarantee against censorship.
Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Founding Partner at Future Africa
My biggest lesson this year is that God can be trusted. I made some big moves on pure faith and God came through for me. Beyond that, however, I’m learning that small is beautiful: small teams, fewer companies, and smaller friend groups. I learned I can accomplish way more by keeping the crowd away and keeping things high quality.
I took our fund management company private. For the first time since I started my career in tech, I don’t…
have any outside investors. I also kept headcount at ~10.
2024 Outlook: I’m looking forward to a few profitable tech companies exiting on the NGX, more tech companies learning to work with the government, some startups selling to large Nigerian corporates, and at least a few Nigerian startups getting investment or acquisition from large global tech corporates.
I’m also looking forward to the implementation of the Nigerian Startup Act and the launch of Itana.
Hannah Subayi Kamuanga, Partner at Launch Africa Ventures
The big lesson for me in 2023 is that inclusivity and diversity of teams, business models, geographies, and collaboration (among tech stakeholders) are key to delivering value and generating returns..
2024 Outlook: The 2023 funding slowdown forced startups to focus on capital efficiency, actionable paths to profitability and improved unit economics, which will benefit the African tech ecosystem in the long term. In addition, a stronger focus on corporate engagement and governance will be key to ensuring that financial mismanagement is avoided.
I expect progress in the development and use of alternative deal structuring and sources of capital for start-ups — not only in equity sales and SAFE but the use of convertibles, more CPs, valuations based on unit economics and realised tractions, and also the increased use of blended finance, revenue-sharing models and venture debt.
Be fast. Be flexible
Rotimi Thomas, CEO at SunFi
There is nothing new under the sun. Being cost-efficient is critical, not just during hard times but especially during good times. You never know when the market will change. Never get complacent. You get sucker punched by…
the market when you get complacent. Anticipate competition, it makes you sharper and more focused.
2024 Outlook: It will not be an easy year. Businesses, investors, and consumers in Nigeria will adapt to (the) new realities of the Nigerian economy. Inflationary pressures will continue to dominate consumer behaviour. With the above said, there is a sliver of hope that these reforms in Nigeria (will) produce a more functional economy, leading to greater foreign investment and growth opportunities.
There’s a small chance the venture market rebounds. But if interest rates drop in the US, pressure may increase to deploy capital. Right now, it’s the investor’s market. I suspect that may persist in 2024.
Ope Onaboye, CEO at Renda
The biggest lesson I was reminded of in 2023 is the need to be flexible. We had spent about two months putting together our financial model for the year when January 2023 came, and the cash scarcity threw everything off balance. While we were recovering from that, fuel prices increased, the Naira was devalued and all those projections…
went down the drain. Innovate fast and try things quickly when you are an early-stage startup. If it doesn’t work, move on very quickly.
2024 Outlook: 2024 will be a very frugal year and entrepreneurs will have to start thinking and building smart because investors are not parting with their money as easily as before. As entrepreneurs, we need to start thinking about profitability and how to build with efficiency. Efficiency is the keyword.
Seye Bandele, CEO at Pade HCM
The funding crunch got worse and we had to focus on ensuring that we continue to deliver superior value to customers. Being funded means you can operate in a way that prioritises other things over revenue generation and collection, but when you aren’t sure that VC dollars…
will come, you focus on your growth squarely and ensure you’re doing enough to keep your business alive.
2024 Outlook: Due to the reasons above, in 2024 we’ll see the rise of actual business-minded startups that have fine-tuned things like their unit economics, are focused on providing value for their markets and are doing a decent job at it. As a result, there will be a better inflow of funding into these companies. Also, I expect to see more collaboration among investors, as foreign investors have now learnt to trust local investors more and will work with them to make the right investment decisions in the new year.
Back to the basics
Tonye Irims, CEO at Wisolar
Obsess over a market: We stayed focused on our industry niche which led us to build deeper relationships with the customers and understand their larger problems. Focus on customer problems: So many founders waste valuable time chasing investors, competitors, and things that don’t matter. Focus on customer problems and solve them.
Build a great culture: Our engineers worked Saturdays if necessary, with no benefits, only government holidays, and a simple office. But even then, we were rated 4.5 on Glassdoor because we had an amazing culture.
2024 Outlook: Further and larger start-up investments in Africa. More diasporans returning to take advantage of the opportunities available in Africa, especially in the areas of agriculture and medicine.
Axel Peyriere, CEO at Auto 24
Be frugal, be true, be transparent, share challenges, accept them, and move forward. The 2020/2021 times are over, there’s no more FOMO in terms of funding startups.
2024 Outlook: 2024 means back to rationality. Better funding, better founders, better startups, and better businesses.
Anthony Itaigbe, Izesan!
Listen to your instincts. Follow your intuition. If there’s no manual, that means you’re onto something new. Never stop hiring—the best and brightest are always out there waiting for an opportunity. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t repeat mistakes.
Listen to your customer. Listen to your team. Be like water—adapt so that you can overcome. Find healthy outlets to vent when things take a turn for the worse.
2024 Outlook: In 2024, the startup ecosystem will delve deeper into market correction with a renewed focus on profitability over growth.
Oluwaseun Adegoke at TechPR Nigeria
The biggest lesson from 2023 is that integrity is crucial. I think that was a major theme for the ecosystem and a lesson every founder needs to take note of.
2024 Outlook: Regarding 2024 though, the macroeconomics aren’t looking good; in terms of US interest rates and our local naira devaluation and spiking inflation. So that just means foreign VC money still walking away from Nigeria like Craig David and more startups shutting down.
Ndabenhle Ntshangase, Founder & CEO at AirStudent
The importance of making decisions quickly in a startup cannot be understated, however, we tend to think that everyone has to agree. One of the business lessons from this year is that sometimes you have to commit to the work even when you disagree with the method.
One of our partners said, “I’ve made many mistakes, but never the mistake of being deceitful in business. I guess I’ve always understood that people do business with people so I had to make sure people can trust me”. This has truly seeped into our culture at the company.
2024 Outlook: In 2024 we will see more and more corporates opting to use technology to book their travel instead of travel agents. We will also have more first-time overseas travellers.
We recently officially launched our corporate offering, which will give corporate clients access to some of the best travel-tech tools for their needs. We also plan to increase our staff to service our growing business.
Eric Asuma, CEO Kenyan Wallstreet
A critical revelation in 2023 has been the recognition that sole reliance on advertising is insufficient for meaningful expansion. To truly thrive, media companies must embrace innovative business models, a lesson exemplified by the struggles faced by traditional media entities in Kenya that failed to adapt and innovate.
Moreover, I have seen first-hand the importance of cultivating exceptional talent who possess a deep understanding of the local landscape to scale a new media enterprise in Africa.
2024 Outlook: I foresee a shift where innovative use of AI will become instrumental in enhancing newsrooms, particularly in discerning and interpreting trends, especially within the financial media space. We will be unveiling an exciting initiative in Q1 2024 along these lines.
Sylvia Brune, CEO at pawaPass
Meaningful offline conversations reveal common ground, fostering understanding and empathy that diminish fear and the perceived need for a “protector” role in various situations.
As someone involved in building online products in the user verification and anti-fraud space, this perspective has shaped how I approach our products and their users.
Individuals who may appear fraudulent are often just seeking ways to make their lives work through workarounds and hacks. Differentiating between them and actual fraudsters poses a challenge, but one worth tackling.
2024 Outlook: We will crave even more real-life connections. Successful companies will be those creating conditions for these connections to flourish. In the identity space, this will mean enabling genuine human access to platforms and tools that enhance real-life thriving. Achieving this involves effectively combating the rise of identity fraud and addressing the risks associated with AI being used for nefarious purposes.
Cynthia. E. Chisom, Vice President at Spark Africa
Raising a lot of money doesn’t guarantee that your startup will be successful. Also, the government plays a very important role in ensuring that startup founders are successful, especially in a country such as Nigeria. Governance is key.
2024 Outlook: Two predictions are that Abuja will be the next interesting place for startups in the ecosystem. I can foresee that we’ll start to see more startups outside Lagos in places like Akwa Ibom, Enugu, and Edo State building momentum.