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Africa has around 1.1 billion members of the Millennial and Generation Z groups, who are big technology adopters. It’s the fastest-growing region for mobile game downloads, according to mobile insights firm App Annie. And so it’s about time the game venture capital boom came to Africa.
Despite this potential, international and regional studios often find it difficult make money in Africa because of fragmented and unresolved distribution and digital payments ecosystems. This is a very interesting development to me, as I’ve always wondered how Africa can eventually follow in the footsteps of big regions such as China and India when it comes to the adoption and monetization of mobile games.
Carry1st says it provides a full publishing solution, handling distribution, localization, user acquisition, marketing, customer experience, and monetization for its partners. Carry1st’s Pay1st
platform is an embedded fintech solution that consolidates popular payment methods in six African countries, allowing customers to pay in their preferred way.
“We essentially just got really inspired by some of the dominant demographic trends on the continent,” said Lucy Hoffman, the chief operating officer at Carry1st, in an interview with GamesBeat. “There are over a billion Gen Z and Millennials. Given the influx of cheap smartphones from China, people are coming online for the first time. They’re bypassing laptops, PCs, and consoles and and just going mobile-first. And so we thought it was a really interesting opportunity to get involved in the mobile space, as the cost of data is coming down.”
Africa’s hot markets include Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya.
“All of that growth is organic, because nobody’s marketing in these in these markets,” Hoffman said.
Konvoy Ventures, a video game venture capital firm based in Colorado, led the round, with participation from Riot Games (maker of League of Legends), Raine Ventures, Tokyo-based AET Fund/Akatsuki (the creators of Dragon Ball Z), and fintech specialist TTV Capital. Konvoy Ventures managing partner Jackson Vaughan is joining the company’s board.
Carry1st will use the funding to secure new partnerships with global gaming studios, launch and scale its existing portfolio of games, and expand its product, engineering, and growth teams. In an email to GamesBeat, Gordon Rubenstein of Raine Ventures said the investment was appealing because of the team, the potential total available market over next 10 years, the fast-growing emerging region in Africa, the opportunity to be the leader, and the potential for partnerships to lift the company’s profile.
Hoffman started the company with cofounders Cordel Robbin-Coker (who is the CEO) and Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu, its chief technology officer. In a statement, Robbin-Coker said the company was about to sign seven titles during 2020, and it recruited an international team and built its payments and digital commerce platform. Sweden’s Raketspel, which has had more than 120 million downloads over all its games, is among those who signed up. So have New York’s Cosi Games and Ethiopia’s Qene Games.
Since 2018, the company has raised $9.5 million so far.
Carry1st launched a game, Carry1st Trivia, in 2019, and it became the No. 1 title on Android in Kenya and Nigeria, with more than 1.5 million downloads. But the team found its expertise was more in marketing games by finding alternative ways for people to discover them. They studied how influencer marketing worked and learned how critical it was to have local payments solutions. In Africa, many smartphone owners don’t have credit cards that Google Play and Apple’s App Store accept.
In early 2020, the company raised a seed round, and now it has built a payments platform that will permit users to pay using local payment methods. That’s similar to the tactics that Krafton and Garena use in Southeast Asia.
“We’re building out a team so going out and recruiting people who come from a free-to-play gaming world and can bring their expertise,” Hoffman said. “No one was doing anything ambitious with content, and so we decided to start with gaming and try to build a really interesting mobile internet company for the region.”
It has 26 employees from 11 countries. Hoffman said about a third of the team is in Capetown, South Africa, and another half dozen are in Nigeria. The rest are spread out throughout the world.
The team includes veterans hailing from Carlyle, King, Jumia, Rovio, Socialpoint, Ubisoft, and Wargaming. In 2020, the company was inducted into the Mastercard Start Path program for the top 10 promising fintech businesses globally.
Jackson Vaughan, the managing partner at Konvoy Ventures, said in a statement that Carry1st is solving for distribution with its payment infrastructure and it is approaching sub-regions with contextual understanding. Brendan Mulligan, the head of corporate development at Riot Games, said in a statement that the number of gamers in Africa is exploding and Carry1st will introduce games to a passionate and important audience.
Monetization is a big challenge in the African market, and Hoffman said the company is solving for that with its regional fintech focus. Hoffman said she was excited to have Riot Games on board as an investor. Hoffman said the top six fastest-growing gaming markets in the world in terms of downloads are in Africa, based on App Annie data.
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