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General Commentary
October 15, 2017

Cradle of… Growth

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Desmond Tutu, a lion of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, once remarked that, “when the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

For generations, the cradle of civilization has been captive to colonial overreach. Economic development has been constrained by corruption and in some cases, chaos, resulting from arbitrarily defined borders and hastily-assembled export economies focused on commodities demanded by the developed world. But for those who’ve had their “eyes closed” over the last five years, a different narrative is taking shape across the African continent. It’s a story of renewal, growth, and innovation.

Consider Andela, which announced this week that it closed a $40 million Series C financing led by South Africa’s CRE Venture Capital — the largest venture round led by an African firm. Launched by 2U co-founder Jeremy Johnson in 2014, Andela identifies high-potential, motivated talent in Africa, molds them into world-class software developers, and pairs them with companies as remote team members. It now counts over 100 corporate partners — including Mastercard, Viacom, and others — and notable backers like GV (Google Ventures), Spark Capital, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.


Source: Techpoint

As the New York Times noted in its coverage the financing, Andela was launched with a founding team of six — three Africans, two Americans and a Canadian — and a first class of four students. It now employs over 800 people, and it expects to double its team over the next 12 months. While Andela is headquartered in New York, 90% of its workers are in Africa, including offices in Lagos, Nairobi, and Kampala, Uganda.

The Andela story distills the broader opportunity in Africa. It is capitalizing on the country’s undertapped talent. It is backed by local capital alongside bluechip global venture investors. And it is developing a learning and employment model that rethinks education systems that have been employed by western countries for centuries.

And it’s just the beginning.


Looking in the rearview mirror, the economic engine for the last 100 years was the United States, Europe, Japan, and Canada. In 2000, with just 9% of the global population, these countries contributed over 50% of global GDP. But over the last 15 years, GDP growth has been flat-to-negative. Today the old guard contributes just 41% of Global GDP.

A key driver behind this change has been aging populations. Over 26% of these populations are over the age of 60 while just 15% are under the age of 15. In Japan last year, there were more adult diapers sold than baby diapers. These dynamics are not changing anytime soon. The average (weighted) fertility rate in Canada, the United States, Europe, and Japan is 1.6. At a fertility rate under two, you’re essentially dying.

Where is the growth and opportunity as we look ahead? One area to look is a group of countries we call the “VChIIPs” — Vietnam, China, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The VChIIPs are home to over 43% of the global population and command 28% of global GDP, growing at 6.7%. If you look at the demographics, they are the mirror opposite of the world’s developed countries. Just 11% the VChIIP population is older than 60, 24% is younger than 15, and the fertility rate is 2.3, driving organic growth.


Source: International Monetary Fund, World Bank, GSV Asset Management
*2017, as reported by the International Monetary Fund

But Africa is on deck. It claims five of the 10 fastest growing countries by population and three of the 10 fastest growing countries by GDP.


Source: The World Bank, The World Economic Forum

In world of stagnant or declining fertility rates, Africa’s remains high at 4.6, which is three times greater than the average developed country. In fact, the African continent is collectively home to the youngest population in the world. Over 60% of its inhabitants are under the age of 25 and 41% are under the age of 15. Less than 6% are over the age of 60.

60% Of Africa’s Population Is Under The Age of 25

Source: Quartz, United Nations

As the World’s population is projected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, approximately half of the growth in the next 35 years is expected to occur in Africa. In this period, Nigeria is projected to overtake the United States as the 3rd most populous country in the World. Over 400 million people will call a country one-tenth the size of the U.S. home.

Look for GDP growth to accelerate as the continent continues to develop fundamental infrastructure while broad segments of the continent’s 1.2 billion people claw their way to the middle class. Consumer spending power in Africa has risen from an estimated $470 billion in 2000 to over $1.1 trillion in 2016.


Startup activity and venture investment in Africa is has been primarily concentrated in Kenya (Nairobi), South Africa (Johannesburg + Capetown), and Nigeria (Lagos). Combined, these countries account for 3.2 of the 4.4 billion dollars invested in Africa over the past two years. But other major hubs of innovation are emerging.

The government of Rwanda, for example, has actively invested to position Kigali as a regional tech hub. The country has built fiber-optic cable networks to bring broadband access across the country and through its $100 million venture fund, aims to produce 100 technology companies valued over $50 million by 2030.


Source: CB Insights, GSV Asset Management

Venture investment into African startups has been rapidly increasing as entrepreneurs launch viable businesses targeting a defined growth opportunity. In 2010, only $11 million was invested into Africa startups. It ballooned to $3.2 billion in 2016.


Source: CB Insights

2016’s massive year was largely due to Jumia Group’s (formerly Africa Internet Group) massive financings. Jumia — Africa’s first Unicorn — was founded in 2012 in Lagos, Nigeria, and its footprint today spans 23 African countries. The company operates a portfolio of e-commerce businesses, offering everything from consumer products, to travel services, homes, groceries, jobs, and more. The company has raised over $500 million from investors including Goldman Sachs, Rocket Internet, AXA Group, MTN, and Orange.

The most well-funded African startups typically fall into three categories: Internet Infrastructure, Mobile Payments, and Online Marketplaces. But other companies such as Zipline (drone delivery of key medical products) and Andela (technology talent development) are broadening the aperture.


Source: CB Insights, Crunchbase, GSV Asset Management

South Africa based Naspers, one of the largest digital consumer platforms (commerce & entertainment) in the world with a $100+ billion market value, has played an enormous role in investing and supporting startups in Africa and around the world. Notable investments include Tencent (it owns 30%), Flipkart, Delivery Hero, Foodpanda, FarmLogs, and more.


Africa missed the PC revolution, but it is “leapfrogging” into the smartphone age. Today, there are over 290 million smartphone users across the continent, a number that is projected to grow to 900+ million by 2021.

According to The Economist and the GSMA, an international trade body, for every 10% increase in phone penetration in poor countries, productivity improves by more than four percentage points. A doubling in mobile-data usage increases annual growth in GDP per person by half a percentage point.

But the ability to leapfrog to new technologies, business models, and ideas creates compounding returns. Mobile phones, for example, have enabled African countries with limited banking and payment infrastructure to become leaders in mobile payments. Over 43% of Kenya’s GDP flows through M-Pesa, a telecom-based payment platform. It has been a true pioneer in the mobile payments industry and set the stage for other emerging services, such as Paytm (India), AliPay + Ant Financial (China), GoPay (Indonesia), and Venmo (United States).

While it is unrealistic to expect that African countries will leapfrog their way to advanced economies, the lack of infrastructure across the continent leads to massive opportunities for innovation without the constraints of developed countries. Paradoxically, this often creates a window to the future.

Today in Rwanda, Zipline is using drones to to deliver blood from Rwandan blood banks to rural areas for emergency transfusions. Right now, the country struggles to get blood to remote clinics that might not have a reliable way to store it, and can’t predict in advance which blood types they’ll need. Furthermore, 75% Rwanda’s roads are unpaved and often unusable during the rain season, making them impassable to the vehicles that are deployed to make emergency medical deliveries.

Working with UPS and vaccine distributor Gavi, Zipline’s goal is to have 15 autonomous aircraft deployed daily, making 150 deliveries to 21 medical stations throughout the Western half of Rwanda. With the addition of a second hub, the company believes that they can service the entire population of 11 million people.

In the United States, an analogous service would almost be unheard of due to FAA regulations — not to mention potential FDA restrictions. For context, it took Amazon three years before it was fully approved to conduct its first drone delivery in December 2016… and that was in the United Kingdom.

Andela is another prime example of the leapfrog effect.

According to research from the Brookings Institution, the developing world is about 100 years behind developed countries in educational attainment and achievement.

You might think these gaps would have tightened significantly with the technological advancements and increased connectivity of the Internet Age. But educational models have remained effectively unchanged for over a century — which has resulted in linear progress against one of the great challenges in our time.

At current rates, for example, sub-Saharan Africa will have implemented complete lower-secondary education — a cornerstone of first World education standards — 95 years from today. 

Andela is capitalizing on the untapped talent pool and fragmented education infrastructure and combines an unlikely source of talent with a new model of education. The company identifies high-potential, motivated talent in Africa, molds them into world-class software developers, and pairs them with companies as remote team members. With an acceptance rate of 1%, Andela is one of the most selective training programs in the world — more exclusive than the likes of Harvard and Princeton.

Similarly, Nairobi-based Moringa School has created a career accelerator focused on transforming higher education in Africa, starting with computer science. Serving customers ranging from universities to tech hubs and governments, Moringa has built a platform of high-quality content and instruction. Like Andela, it isn’t constrained by traditional assumptions of what “education” should look like.


by Luben Pampoulov

Maps To Success

Not too long ago, we had to have a paper map in our car. I remember multiple times stopping at gas stations to ask about the right highway exit to my destination. Back then, if you wanted to become a taxi driver, you actually had to know the entire city by heart.

Fast forward to 2017, and we’ve gone from studying Atlases to asking Siri where to go. Nowadays, you go visit a new place, anywhere in the World, and you just hop in your rental car and Waze will take you there.

Driving in 2017

Google Maps pioneered navigation mapping, and Waze then took over as the better alternative for real-time mapping…and it truly became an amazing service. But as we move forward in time, our lives become ever more digitized. Accordingly, the use cases of maps are increasing. Today, real-time mapping is not only used for Transportation, but in Social Media, in Gaming, and in Augmented Reality.

There are four major Mapping datasets of global data — TomTom, HERE, Google, and Mapbox. HERE is the rebranded Nokia Maps, and was acquired by a German car makers consortium in 2015. The following year, Navinfo, Tencent and GIC also acquired a 10% stake in HERE.

Apple, while spending about $1 billion per year to develop its own dataset, still buys data from TomTom. And Uber, which had previously said it would spend $500 million a year on its own mapping technology, has had a rough ride so far. In 2015, Uber hired the creator of Google Maps, Brian McClendon. But in 2017, McClendon quit as part of the mass exodus when Uber started to fall apart. It is unlikely the $500 million budget is still as large, but Uber will certainly be in this game going forward.

One of the most interesting location dataset providers today is Mapbox. It was founded in 2010 by Eric Gundersen, and it is an open source alternative to Google Maps. Mapbox drives mapping services for autonomous driving, for social media, or for AR. While “sitting” in the back, Mapbox’s technology is used by over 300 million users, with use cases including Instacart, Airbnb, Doordash, and others.

Mapbox also powers Snap Map — Snapchat’s new feature that has become highly popular among its 173M+ daily active users. Snapchat saw a 10% increase in engagement, that was directly correlated with the launch of Snap Map, only ten days after launch. Last week, research firm Axios said it estimates Snap Map has increased overall engagement on Snapchat by 40% since June.

During Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Snap Map became a major media source for live coverage from what was happening inside the hurricane — users were able to watch live snaps from each location by tapping on the exact location on the map…powered by Mapbox.

Not surprisingly, Mapbox announced it raised a $164 million Series C round led by SoftBank last week. Existing investors DFJ, Thrive and Foundry Group also participated in the round. The company said it will use the proceeds for the following three areas:

“1. Building out an automotive unit, including in-car navigation and autonomous driving by investing in our deep learning and vision capabilities;

2. Expanding the AR/VR/Gaming platform, specifically by growing the Unity Maps SDK team, and

3. Accelerating their global expansion across Southeast Asia, China, and Europe.”

Two years ago, Mapbox’s Founder and CEO Eric Gunderson spoke at at our Pioneer Summit (watch video).

We have Mapbox high on our priority list, and believe it will be one of the leaders for real-time location data in the future. 

Pioneer Notes

by Li Jiang

What I Learned From Reading Every Amazon Shareholders Letter

Originally published on Medium

A new mentor of mine suggested I read Jeff Bezos’ Letter to Shareholders to refine my thoughts around building a career and a business.

So I read them all dating back to 1997 and here are my takeaways:

1/ Jeff Bezos is still Jeff Bezos

Despite memes to the contrarian, the core operating principles of Amazon hasn’t changed much if at all since the company went public in 1997.

Amazon aims to be the world’s most customer-centric company. In the 1997 letter, Jeff laid out 8 bullet points on Amazon’s philosophy and throughout the years, he repeatedly talks about these principles. I highlight some in this post.

From his 2014 letter on the type of “dreamy” business Amazon aspires to build:

Customers love it, it can grow to very large size, it has strong returns on capital, and it’s durable in time.

Takeaway: determine a handful of core principles for your life or company and compound upon those principles over time.

2/ It’s not about the money, it’s about the f***ing money (h/t Bill “Coach” Campbell)

Many people over the years have criticized Amazon’s lack of interest in “making a profit”. This could not be further from the truth.

Amazon simply has a different lens to look at “profitability” as Jeff outlined in the original 1997 letter:

“When forced to choose between optimizing the appearance of our GAAP accounting and maximizing the present value of future cash flows, we’ll take the cash flows.”

More specifically, Amazon focuses on maximizing long-term free cash flow per share.

When Amazon drops their prices, they actually know that this strategy decreases revenue and margin in the short term. And they know the price elasticity well enough to know almost exactly how much money they are losing by doing this, but they are building long term value for their customers. In turn this strategy attracts more customers to Amazon who spends more in the Amazon ecosystem over time and increases the long-term value of the company.

Jeff uses the entire 2004 letter to explain why measuring by long-term free cash flow per share is a better way to manage a company. I won’t go into the example (read his 2004 letter!). But suffice it to say, if you can put $1 into an engine and generate many $ of cash back over a reasonable period of time, you would be a happy owner of the business.

Takeaway: doing the right thing is better than doing things right. Manage your life and business by the right metrics.

3/ Jeff doesn’t do math like mere mortals, because It’s ALWAYS Day 1.

Jeff invariably ends each year’s annual letter to shareholders by attaching a copy of Amazon’s original 1997 letter with the sign off that it’s “still Day 1”.

To Jeff, being a Day 2 company means decline and death (2016 letter). They become too focused on processes and move too slowly.

A brilliant tactic Amazon uses to make high-quality and high-velocity decision is to say:

Disagree and commit

If a team brings Jeff an idea that he disagree with, he can continue to disagree, but immediately commit to supporting the team. The project gets green-lit and the team is moving forward. If they had to actually convince Jeff of the idea, it would have taken much much longer.

If you are rapidly scaling into a large enterprise, you owe it to yourself to read the entire 2016 letter. Here’s a “snack” from that letter:

Here’s a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.

Takeaway: fight corporate entropy like your company’s life depends on it, because it does. Always operate as the hungry upstart in your life.

4/ Elephants can dance, faster and faster.

The size of a company is often an anchor to its growth. While this is true mathematically for its revenue growth, it doesn’t have to be true for other parts of the business.

People build companies, as Sequoia Capital quips on their homepage navigation bar.

Amazon asks for the company to increase the quality of its people as it scales. This is incredibly hard to do. Here are 3 litmus tests Jeff lays out in the 1998 letter:

Will you admire this person?

Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they’re entering?

Along what dimension might this person be a superstar?

Another gem was in the 2015 letter. Jeff draws distinction between Type 1 versus Type 2 decisions within companies. Type 1 decisions are not reversible, type 2 decisions are easily reversible.

Too many companies treat every decision as a Type 1 decision as opposed to treating most decisions as a Type 2 decision, make them much faster and change course as needed.

Takeaway: improve the quality of your team and your decision-making process even in the face of scaling. On a personal level, commit to doing better work even as you become more successful.

5/ Only the paranoid survive, but don’t focus on the competition.

In 2001, Jeff formally introduced Amazon’s plan of “relentlessly lowering prices” as the third pillar to complement relentless focus on convenience and selection.

Amazon is driven by paranoia, not of their competitors, but of the changing customer preferences and the shifts in product and technology paradigms.

In 2006, Jeff talks primarily about the importance of making bets that are tiny in the beginning to avoid “Innovator’s Dilemma” — not being able to make small bets because a company is so focused on optimizing its larger businesses. Since Amazon has seen many $10 million seeds turn into billion dollar businesses, they are constantly nurturing small ideas and treat them with the same importance as the big ideas.

While Amazon has crushed many of its “competitors”, they do so by relentless focusing on customers and invention.

Takeaway: constantly find ways to learn and improve yourself, even when you don’t “have to”. Because by the time you do, like transitioning to a new career, it might be too late.

6/ Move fast and break things, with stable infra.

Sidebar: you can see by now I’m “mixing metaphors” here by pulling in philosophies from other people like Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, Andy Grove, Louis Gerstner, Paul Graham. Perhaps there are some universally applicable lessons from these success stories.

In 2005, Jeff argues that decisions must be made by both judgment and data. Data would suggest lowering prices to be a terrible idea, but judgment would say that delighting customers by lowering prices is an amazing long-term strategy.

In 2008, Jeff argues that companies must make decisions not by doing only things they are already good at, because what you are good at doing might not be valuable to customers. Companies must do things their customers demand, even if those things make them uncomfortable.

Amazon is comfortable with constantly inventing businesses that they have no expertise in. From the 2010 letter:

“Many of the problems we face have no textbook solutions, and we — happily — invent new approaches.

At Amazon, the team is empowered to invent new. In 2013, Jeff wrote about The Mayday Button:

“This decentralized distribution of invention throughout the company — not limited to the company’s senior leaders — is the only way to get robust, high-throughput innovation.”

Risk taking is asymmetric. Big winners pay for so many experiments. In baseball, you are constrained to only getting a maximum of 4 runs, but in business, you can make a bet and get 1,000 runs (2015 letter). Amazon has had just a handful of those — AWS, Alexa, Prime — that’s paid for every experiment.

Takeaway: growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. Stretch yourself in ways where you have the potential of achieving an asymmetric outcome.

7/ If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.

In 1999, Jeff alluded to the most powerful force driving Amazon. And in 2002, he confirmed that.

Most businesses have to pick between premium offering or lowest prices. Paradoxically, Amazon can both have the best customer service while lowering prices because the underlying technology it sits on top of is improving at the rate of Moore’s Law.

By using technology to transform customer service into a fixed expense, Amazon can simultaneous drive customer experience and lower prices.

In 2014, Jeff clearly articulated the other flywheel that Amazon has developed over the years — the holy trinity of Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), Marketplace, and Prime. FBA attracts more sellers to join the Marketplace, which increases selection of products, which attracts more Prime customers, which attracts more sellers to sell through the Marketplace and use FBA for logistics.

These are just two examples of Amazon accumulating more power in its platform by building on top of foundational Megatrends.

Takeaway: find a Megatrend you can ride, be it Moore’s Law, compound interest, or just a company that has the potential to be the next Amazon.

8/ Do things that don’t scale…drive the Chevy

When Amazon was just starting, Jeff drove packages to the post office every evening in his Chevy Blazer. His vision was that one day Amazon would get a forklift.

He’s got much fancier rides now (below). But at its core, Amazon executed on Jeff’s simple principles day in and day out for 20 years.

I read all 20 of his letters since Amazon went public and in the end, it all feels as if it was a single letter Jeff wrote in one setting, which is the way it should be. The consistency in which Amazon has executed, even if meant Jeff had to drive his Chevy Blazer to the post office, has allowed it to endure beyond almost all of the Dotcom era companies and will surely propel Amazon into the future.

Takeaway: Rule #1: execute every day. Rule #2: don’t forget Rule #1.

Market Update

Week ending October 15, 2017

World Indices

U.S. Indices Snapshot

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