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Carry1st has raised $20 million in funding from marquee investors for its mobile game publishing platform targeted at unlocking demand in the African market.
Andreessen Horowitz, founded by web pioneers Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, with participation from Avenir and Google. The round represents Andreessen Horowitz’s first investment in an Africa-headquartered company, and partners David Haber (fintech) and Jonathan Lai (gaming) will be joining Carry1st’s board as observers.
A number of prominent angel investors participated in the round, including Grammy winner and renowned crypto investor Nas, and founders of Chipper Cash, Sky Mavis, and Yield Guild Games. In addition, investors from Carry1st’s May 2021 funding are returning as investors. Those include Riot Games, Konvoy Ventures, Raine Ventures, and TTV Capital.
Africa’s fast growth
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.
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A report released in 2021 from Newzoo and Carry1st, showed that the number of gamers in Sub-Saharan Africa is set to increase by 275% over 10 years, leading to a 728% increase in revenue. Carry1st has positioned itself to be the conduit for international and local mobile game companies to profitably serve these consumers.
Robbin-Coker said he has been gratified by the growth in the Africa games ecosystem, especially in free-to-play games. That’s why more venture capitalists and strategic investors are visiting. Once you invest heavily in the Middle East, he said, the last frontier is Africa. And Africa has already seen an explosion in its fintech space, Robbin-Coker said.
International and regional studios often find it difficult make money in Africa because of fragmented and unresolved distribution and digital payments ecosystems. I’ve followed Carry1st closely 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.
On the back of 96% month revenue growth, Carry1st will use the additional capital to expand its content portfolio; grow its product, engineering, and growth teams; and acquire tens of millions of new users. Notably, Carry1st is expanding into game co-development, working with leading game studios on original concepts, and developing the infrastructure to support play-to-earn gaming.
“The No. 1 thing we want to do with the funding is to expand our content portfolio,” said Cordel Robbin-Coker, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We have seven games licensed right now. We’re looking to be really aggressive about sourcing additional globally successful titles on the free-to-play side.”
Lucy Hoffman, chief operating officer, started the company with cofounders Robbin-Coker and Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu, its chief technology officer.
Since 2018, the company has raised $29.5 million so far.
Carry1st launched a game, Carry1st Trivia, in 2019, and it became the No. 1 title on Android in Kenya and Nigeria. 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.
The company has a team of 37 people across 18 countries, including mobile gaming veterans hailing from Rovio, Socialpoint, Ubisoft, and Wargaming.
“We are delighted to be making our first investment in an Africa-headquartered company in Carry1st, a next-generation mobile games and fintech platform,” said Andreessen Horowitz General Partner David Haber, in a statement. “We see immense opportunity for the company to mirror outstanding successes we’ve seen in markets like India, China, and Southeast Asia. We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with founders Cordel, Lucy, Tino, and the Carry1st team on their mission to build the Garena of Africa.”
Carry1st provides a full stack publishing solution, handling user acquisition, live operations, community management, and monetization for its partners. The company enhances monetization in the region through its embedded payments solution and online marketplace for virtual goods, which allows underbanked customers to pay for content in their preferred way.
Since its last funding round, Carry1st has launched its online marketplace for virtual goods. It launched its Sponge Bob: Krusty Cook-off title with Tilting Point.
The biggest markets for the games now are Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt. One game, Mine Rescue, has done well in global markets. It’s a hybrid casual and puzzle game. Roughly half the revenue comes from ads and half comes from in-app purchases.
The company is also looking into building its first-party co-development business, so that it can fill gaps in the market in Africa with its own games. Carry1st has support for multiple languages, but it can hit roughly 900 million people in Africa between English and French.
The company recently partnered with online payments pioneers PayPal and Chipper Cash, to enable people across Africa to easily and securely purchase virtual goods – such as Tinder subscriptions, mobile data, and gaming currency – on the Carry1st Shop. Consumers can pay via a range of local payment options including crypto, mobile money, and bank transfers.
Carry1st has signed publishing deals for seven games from a number of leading studios including Tilting Point, publisher of Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off, which Carry1st recently launched in Africa.
Other gaming partners include CrazyLabs, a world-leading casual and hyper-casual mobile games developer and publisher and Sweden’s Raketspel, a studio which has over 120 million downloads across its portfolio.
“We’re thrilled to partner with Carry1st to unlock the mobile gaming industry in Africa and support the team as they scale solutions to the hundreds of millions of new consumers coming online for the first time,” said Nitin Gajria, managing director for Google in Africa, in a statement.
Robbin-Coker said the company has been studying nonfungible tokens (NFTs), cryptocurrenices, and Web 3 as a possible way new business. But other tasks include expanding distribution and local partnerships across other countries. The company is working on incorporating cryptocurrencies into its market.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity,” Robbin-Coker said.
Taking popular titles and making them successful in Africa is a big part of the company’s strategy, Robbin-Coker said.
“I don’t think all top games would do well in the region. But there’s a large subset of them that we believe can do well in a region with the right sort of culturally relevant marketing and distribution,” he said. “As well as the the monetization engine that allows willing payers to actually be able to buy in game assets. Our push is to sign more titles from major global game companies.”
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