BusinessDay

Olumide Soyombo: from selling mail accounts to funding startups

It started in 1996, Yahoo was just incorporated and went on to become the most popular starting point for web users and the top search engine receiving 95 million page views per day.

That same year, a 12-year-old Olumide Soyombo decided to set sail on an entrepreneurial journey starting by selling pre-registered yahoo mail and Hotmail accounts to people.

He had stumbled on the business idea while browsing the Internet. After learning to register mails for free, he was able to get people registered for N150.

It is exactly 26 years now and Soyombo’s journey appears to be beginning again. After funding about 33 tech companies, the serial investor is creating a venture vehicle called Voltron Capital, a Pan-African pre-seed and seed firm for elite tech founders tackling critical problems in the continent’s largest markets.

Read also: Are you ready for venture capital funding?

Co-founded alongside Abe Choi, CEO of Simple Dealer, Voltron Capital plans to deploy capital in up to 30 startups across a range of sectors. The mission is to address the severe lack of access to early-stage funding for African tech companies.

“Voltron Capital is the beginning of another incredibly exciting journey for Abe and I, but it is also a celebration of the road Africa’s entire tech space has traveled to date,” Soyombo, Co-founder at Voltron Capital.

How did Soyombo go from the little boy selling mail accounts to become one of the most important figures in Nigeria’s startup funding landscape?

It is safe to say the young Soyombo had always loved technology and probably fancied himself building stuff which explains a BSc in systems engineering at the University of Lagos in 2005, even though he had wanted to be a medical doctor while growing up. He soon followed it up with a Masters in Business Information and Technology from Aston University, Birmingham, US.

After his Masters and return from Birmingham, Soyombo 2008 co-founded Bluechip Technologies with Kazeem Tewogbade, a Computer Science graduate from the University of Ibadan. They started the company with a seed investment of N5 million from Soyombo’s father.

While Bluechip Technologies went on to become a multi-million dollar enterprise company that provides data warehousing solutions and enterprise applications to banks, telcos, and insurance firms, time will soon reveal that Soyombo was not cut out for the drudgery of a 9-5. His happy place was helping early-stage startups get off the ground.

He and Tewogbade would later establish LeadPath in 2014 with the goal to invest $25,000 in early-stage startups.

Soyombo said he was motivated by the rise of a startup ecosystem at Yaba Lagos. He shared the idea with a mentor network he had built. One of the mentors reached a seed investment of $1 million. LeadPath kicked off with a $1.5 million fund to invest in selected startups as pre-seed.

The startups LeadPath select are made to undergo a three-month accelerator program and afterwards pitch their ideas before investors on a Demo Day. It was a template the founders borrowed from Y Combinator.

But it didn’t quite work out the way they planned it.

“In 2014, three months after we found out that there was no investor to put them in front of. So you’d have to write another check yourself,” Soyombo told TechCrunch. “We quickly saw that the accelerator model didn’t work, so we started investing individually. It’s funny how things have changed since then.”

Soyombo and his team have since accumulated a portfolio of 33 African tech startups including Mono, PiggyVest, Spleet, Migo, TeamApt, and Paystack. In that period also, he has raised over $70 million, ranging from pre-seed to Series A, and he has also overseen two secondary and one primary exit.

By teaming up with Abe Choi, that portfolio is likely to grow, given that Choi has a portfolio of 15 tech startups- two of which have been exited. Collectively, the founders’ existing portfolio spreads across a vast range of sectors including finance, energy, logistics, retail and education.

Voltron Capital plans to deploy $20,000 to $100,000 per company and will primarily focus on startups in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Northern Africa.

“We want the next wave of African tech success stories to not only make an impact on the continent but to be truly global; through Abe’s strategic connections to the USA, we’re confident we can provide our portfolio with the best possible opportunities to achieve this through our US and global network,” Soyombo said.

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