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Many of the games in Africa are not indigenous to the continent. Despite these, some startups are gradually changing the narrative by producing and publishing made-in-Africa games.

One such African startup is Carry1st which recently raised $2.5m led by CRE Venture Capital to grow African gaming. Carry1st is the leading mobile game publisher serving the first generation of African smartphone users.

Early Beginnings

The idea for Carry1st was conceived by Cordel Robbin-Coker, a Sierra Leonean who grew up in the US and started his career in Investment Banking at Morgan Stanley before moving over to The Carlyle Group where he found himself working in the newly formed Sub-Saharan Africa fund, one of the first investment funds focused on Africa set up by a major global investment firm.

Shortly after this he and a former Stanford classmate raised capital to invest in early-stage startups in Africa, an area he had developed an interest in.

By late 2017 he had invested in over a dozen companies and was sitting on the board of many of these. One thing he noticed was “the rate of change in mobile adoption seemed to be hitting an inflection point where things were going to take off”.

Given this insight, he sought opportunities that could leverage this trend alongside the 1bn+ young population. He came across a few sports betting companies that were taking off in Africa which “dispelled the myth that African’s don’t have discretionary income” he recalls and later deduced that setting up a mobile-first company that gave people great relevant content in a social environment would do extremely well on the continent.

Carry1st Today

One of the first steps Robbin-Coker took was to bring on co-founders who could complement his skill set. He reached out to Lucy Hoffman, an old colleague from Morgan Stanley who was Chief Of Staff at the African Leadership Academy and she agreed to come on as head of operations.

He also brought on Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu who had previously held senior roles in consumer-facing mobile development at eCommerce platform Konga and Old Mutual Finance.

The first game the trio launched was Carry1st, a live trivia game where users can earn rewards for correct answers which proved to be a big success, has over 1.3m downloads, and often sits at the top of the Google Play store in Nigeria and Kenya. Carry1st Game

Soon after launching the Carry1st game, the team realised that their expertise on the ground was key in enabling them to distribute relevant content to consumers and this service could be extended to other companies struggling to launch games in Africa.

“Given the challenges companies face in launching content on the continent our local expertise allows us to help companies, both in Africa and beyond to navigate the business side and monetise their games on the continent more quickly with lower risk,” Robbin-Coker says.

A comparable company in Southeast Asia is Sea Group who was responsible for launching the popular game Call Of Duty across Southeast Asia and have a portfolio of services valued over $30bn (as of their latest share price 01/06/2020).

Robbin-Coker sees Carry1st doing a similar thing in Africa “we want to handle everything for our partners, from app store listings, creative messaging, short-form video as well as monetising content” he says.

Funding & The Future

The team has recently announced a new funding round that brings their total amount raised to $4m with the latest round being led by CRE Venture Capital with participation from Perivoli Innovations, Chandaria Capital, Lateral Capital, and Transsion’s Future Hub, among others.

CRE Partner, Pardon Makumbe said: “We are excited to partner with the world-class team at Carry1st to take the pain out of distributing and monetizing games across Africa.

The continent is young, vibrant, and mobile-first – by focusing on the building blocks, we believe Carry1st is well-positioned to define the category and catalyse the development of the industry for Africa’s over 1.3 billion consumers.”

With a large young population, the demographics look very exciting for games and other forms of mobile content where Africa has leapfrogged desktop in many ways. The enthusiasm for the space and collective expertise of the team, investors, and partners make Carry1st a company to look out for in Africa over the coming years.

By Tommy Williams for Forbes

Musa Suleiman
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