[REPORTAGE] How Rocket Internet and AIG want to conquer Africa from France
Not a week without talking about the German Rocket Internet. Her recapitalization, his acquisitions lustily, his conquests… Are regularly relayed by the specialized press. But who knows that the German incubator has set up its lightning expansion model in the heart of Paris? More precisely, within one of the companies of which he is a shareholder and co-founder, Africa Internet Group (AIG), created in 2012 by two French people who are formerly of the consulting firm McKinsey. Discreet about its figures, the company achieves several million euros in turnover per month, with double-digit growth, we read in the African media.
AIG, which first opened the doors of its busy Milan Street HQ to media since November 2014, is a bulimic Russian doll. Russian doll because of the organization chart: Rocket Internet and the two African telecoms operators, MTN and Millicom own AIG, which incubates and owns a dozen start-ups in its hive, which themselves, at the end of the chain, manage their local offices mainly in Africa and the Middle East. A bit like the food chain, but for start-ups. And bulimic, because it replicates the terribly efficient model of the Berlin incubator: first, identifying emerging countries and markets, second, absorbing users as quickly as possible.
Bringing mobile internet to Africa
It is a chaotic and incessant craving that reigns at the Paris headquarters, up to the potential represented by the African market, and more particularly that of mobile services. With 835 million subscribers in 2014, the continent is the third largest telephony market in the world, to the delight of Chinese smartphone manufacturers, and on which portals only have to grow. How to resist the 1.1 billion Africans, including 34% who are now part of the middle class, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB)? By 2060, almost one in two Africans will be middle class. An eldorado of future consumers who sees new benefactors arrive who “offer” Internet access, sometimes before running water.
In Paris, nestled in the rooms where start-ups congregate, is Jovago, the online hotel reservation platform launched in 2013 which already has nearly 250 employees in its “three major hubs” in Lagos (Nigeria ), Nairobi (Kenya) and Dakar (Senegal). Its objective: to assert its leadership in the face of attempts to Expedia and of Booking.com in this market.
“We are bringing jobs and access to Internet services to Africa,” says Paul Midy, CEO of Jovago. The portions of the cake to take are plentiful. In Nigeria, 88% of Internet traffic goes through mobile networks (GSMA study).
Go fast and strong
In large African cities, Paul Midy ensures that employees work “in new buildings, among the first to be secured”. On the salary side, Jovago does not prefer to communicate, “it always seems very low in the eyes of Europeans, because yes, we apply market prices”, recognizes the 32-year-old French leader who also negotiates partnerships like the one with the Ministry of Tourism in Nigeria for it to refer to hotels on the Jovago site.
Impossible to know which e-commerce vertical or which Jumia, HelloFood, EsayTaxi, Carmudi, etc. is the most profitable for AIG and Rocket Internet. Go fast and hard. This is the only watchword of these young employees aged 25 to 30 who fuel and take their breaks in the living room of the former occupant, (the infamous Bygmalion company.) “I have a vision at 6 months », Loose Paul Midy, also a former member of the McKinsey firm called by his AIG bosses, Sacha Poignonnec and Jérémy Hodara. Like AIG, it advocates “100% entrepreneurship” but seeks more in its African offices to work with “leaders”. In the end, another definition of entrepreneurship.
VIDEO: At AIG, in Paris
“I learned that you don’t do anything great when you’re alone, and that you don’t do anything great without a good team. All of my work since arriving in Jovago has been to find the right people. At McKinsey, we work with a lot of analytics but also a lot of people. Despite the 10,000 employees worldwide, the consultants operate in an entrepreneurial fashion. In Jovago, I learned a lot about how to manage a big team of 250 people. Also, to coordinate everyone, I owe it to myself to be exemplary in my way of working. I learned to adapt to new working methods, by Skype, and no longer by email. I discovered Africa 5 years ago, more particularly Gabon, and I hope that we can get out of the terrible a priori that we talk about in the media such as “Ebola” and “extreme poverty”. Paul MIDY, CEO of Jovago.