In 1995, vodafone started. At the same time a guy by the name of Mark Shuttleworth started Thawte, a digital certificate provider that got acquired in 1999 by US-based Verisign for a little over $500 million. That was actually the beginning stages of the digital economy. Around that time was when mobile growth started with South Africa leading the way. Most phones were prepaid which means someone bought phone time before they used it, which meant that the mobile operators had cash in hand. Later on, Safaricom released a mobile money feature. Prepaid phones were so significant because they laid the foundation for the current mobile money innovation.
In early 2001, this trend moved to Ghana. A friend of mine, Mark Davies, founded Busy Internet, which became the go to place for a lot of the technology in the country. We didn’t just provide connectivity we became a center for innovation and even started our own incubator program.
This is where I invested in my first company in 2005. The whole Busy Internet revolution brought real broadband across the continent. It gave people the ability to do things that they couldn’t do before with dial-in, also keep in mind this is before the mobile providers were providing internet connectivity. So that was a big shift in the Ghanian startup environment. The revolution then moved to Kenya in 2007 where my friend Eric Hesman started building iHub where I was an advisor. I was in Kenya at the time because my team and I were working on building a submarine cable that brought broadband to East Africa. This is around the time when Safaricom came out with MPesa. Today Kenya is very much in the lead, however the next country where we’re seeing this innovation play out is Nigeria. Now I believe Nigeria is the place where we will see a new wave of innovation which I believe will be followed by the Ivory Coast.