Opeyemi Awoyemi, one of Nigeria’s most famous serial founders, is back with a different outfit. This time it’s not a tech company — Awoyemi co-founded online job board Jobberman (which was acquired by ROAM Africa in 2016) and Whogohost, a bootstrapped hosting platform — but instead a venture studio: Fast Forward Venture Studio.
That Awoyemi chooses this path is quite interesting, especially as many African founders either set up syndicates or venture capital funds after or during their entrepreneurial journey. But if anything, he and his co-founder Omolara Awoyemi bring the much-needed operational know-how to scale a venture studio, a rare feat in these parts. After leaving Jobberman, Awoyemi, the company’s managing partner, was a senior technical product manager at Indeed. On the other hand, Omolara, his operating partner, has worked as Country Manager of Jumia’s fintech arm in Nigeria and was Senior Program Manager at Facebook.
With such roles, including as angel investors, brainstorming ideas and identifying opportunities based on trends and tailwinds in the technology space is inevitable (the managing partner co-founded a digital bank for migrants last year, for example, which has since evolved from of customer care has evolved into). However, since there was little or no capacity to pursue these ideas individually, starting a venture studio and providing capable hands to carry out these projects was the next best thing.
This is how Fast Forward works, as the managing partner explained in an interview with TechCrunch. It starts with an “impact-driven” idea around which Fast Forward can build a solid business. The venture studio company’s idea selection is very keen on those that it believes can impact at least 10 million people and generate at least $10 million in annual recurring revenue in 3-5 years.
Once the idea is established, the venture studio finds an experienced operator who it believes can achieve product-market fit, scale the product, and lead the company. Once the parties are on the same page, Fast Forward provides the operator or founder with $100,000 — and value-add such as recruiting co-founders, technical support, initial product strategy, execution on the growth side, administrative operations such as accounting and legal — in exchange of up to 20% of the company. Fast Forward acts as co-founder of the company.
“We support entrepreneurs from day one, so we’re almost exclusively the first money in the company. Lara and I are entrepreneurs who have scaled businesses in Africa, so we see ourselves not only as investors but also as builders,” said Managing Partner Awoyemi. “We understand the market and believe that putting entrepreneurs front and center is the best way to unlock some of these opportunities that even most people don’t think about. The ideas can come from us, but they are a dime a dozen; the real work is the execution.”
Fast Forward is interested in the following sectors: B2B and B2B2C services, infrastructure fintech, e-commerce, future of work, edtech, healthcare, logistics, deep tech, blockchain and globally scalable SaaS from Africa to name a few . FastForward plans to work with 10 ideas annually in these sectors and spin off 3-5 companies that will receive follow-up funding from other investors and be included in accelerators such as Y Combinator and Techstars.
Here are some of the startups in the Venture Studio portfolio. Bumpa is a social commerce platform for 100,000+ small businesses (Lara is Founding Lead); It recently integrated with Meta to sync between apps and is currently completing a seed round. AltSchool is a Techstars-supported platform for learning coding and other tech-related skills. TalentQL, an AltSchool subsidiary, is a platform that connects tech talent with employers (Awoyemi is a co-founder). Dojah is a YC-backed identity verification and KYC platform for African businesses that is also in the process of completing a round. And Buzzline, a mobile operating system for sole traders.
Fast Forward also runs a syndicated fund that selectively invests $20,000 to $50,000 in some companies from the studio at the pre-seed stage — Bumpa is the sole recipient, according to its website. The fund, which also consists of deals its partners made prior to its founding, has invested in startups outside of the venture studio such as Casava, Convoy, Odiggo and Reliance Health.
Aside from the progress Fast Forward Venture Studio has made, another compelling result for the studio is that it has started logging exits and returns in beta, despite a generally exit-poor tech space. This is one of the points Awoyemi made when she argued that venture studios are typically better at helping founders succeed than incubators, accelerators, and funds. For Fast Forward, Awoyemi noted that startups also have the benefit of drawing on the partners’ background and their relationship with previous international employers as well as venture partners whose responsibilities include providing investor relations, strategic communications and supporting portfolio companies. Jake Bright, TechCrunch’s former Africa correspondent, is one of his collaborators.
“First, we are more practical than funds and incubators or accelerators. We stand behind committed entrepreneurs and operators and work very closely with them on our ideas,” says the managing partner. “The yields are also much higher in terms of liquidity. It is better for supporters and also for us. With all the checks we’ve done so far, we already have a total of 64 times the invested capital, which is something many small funds or seed funds can’t boast about.”
However, it’s worth noting that while several venture studios have questionable advantages over other investment firms, the model hasn’t been particularly successful and has become less attractive to founders and operators. However, Fast Forward hopes to be an outlier whose insights others can follow. While the recent activity TechCrunch has covered from the industry is a harbinger of what’s to come, the model could be making a comeback. For example, in recent months Adanian Labs, a Kenya-based studio, announced that it aims to build 300 startups over the next five years, and Purple Elephant Ventures, another Kenya-based studio, raised $1 million pre-seed -Financing to build around four startups a year at the interface of tourism, climate and technology.