Operating an startup accelerator, a VC fund, & a Venture Studio in tandem - Michael Cardamone, CEO, Forum Ventures
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Eunice is the Founding Partner at Ajim Capital. Ajim Capital is an early-stage fund that invests in pre-seed and seed stage companies that focus on using technology to fill significant economic and infrastructure gaps for consumers and enterprises across Sub-Saharan Africa.
I'm originally from Cameroon, out of Central Africa, been in the US for the last ten and a half years. Came here as an international student, and I think right after college, given my immigration status, you have to get a regular job. But I always like to say I'm an entrepreneurial head. Given I grew up with an entrepreneurial dad, so I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, even though I did mathematical statistics and finance in college. So right after graduation, got my first job at Apple. At first, it was like, the grim job. Oh, my God, I love the company. Like, everything was great. But then I slowly realized that it was not for me. I'm not just one of the people that enjoyed being in corporate America.
So after I realized I was, okay, I need to start a business. I can't just be sitting here. I can’t become a multimillionaire being a regular employee. And I remember at the time, data science and machine learning and AI was sexy. It was the thing that everybody was talking about. I was a little bit in the industry, so I decided, okay, what if I build a company that is similar to the Uber and the Airbnb, but for the data science community? Very soon when I built it, started working towards growing my startup. About a year and a half into it, I was struggling. I was like, I thought I was going to become an entrepreneur, be a multi millionaire. It did not happen. I actually became homeless, car-less social-less. So many things went wrong, and I struggled to fundraise. But eventually I just met one investor that really believed in what I was doing. We started having conversations. We were building something similar. They're just different industries. So I ended up closing my first company, join him into the second one. The second company eventually, is like when you work with somebody that actually understands how the game has been played, it is a different ball game. Our second company, within two years, we raised a little bit over 3.9 million in two rounds of funding, grew the company to a multimillion dollar ARR.
Me being an African, I'm always like, how do I bring Africa in everything that I do? And I remember in early 2020, when the Pandemic was happening, there was a crazy market for software engineers around the world. I convinced my team to hire out of the African continent, and they were like, okay, if you think we can find great developers in Africa, you go for it. So from searching those African talents to, onboarding them like the payroll and paying them at the end of the month, it was just like, too many hustle.
And I started asking myself, there must be solutions out there where I can either find startups or software that can fix my problem. And some of the problems was just, is there a platform out there where I can just go and hire specifically African talent? I found it and I was like, is there a place where I can easily make payments for my employees to get paid easily at the end of the month? In the beginning was very difficult.
It's like I had to go to the bank and make the deposit. I would say like five to ten business days for them to get the salary. Not a good experience anyway. The more I search and the more I think it's like finding solutions that were solutions for African problems, I was like, oh my gosh, there's a big market, right? The African startup is booming, but for people like myself in the US that are Africans who were not aware of what was happening on the continent, and I think that was really my starting point, like, oh my gosh, what is happening on the continent? How can I help? It was never, how can I invest or how can I become an investor? It was just like, hey, how can I help these companies be successful? I've learned quite a little bit building my own company in the US.
Let me see if I can give back. Started joining several syndicate groups, angel groups, and eventually realized that there was a huge opportunity. One of the biggest challenges I heard from entrepreneurs on the continent was the fact that access to capital was very limited. And it wasn't just complaints, it was the fact, there's a very, very small percentage of capital that goes to the whole continent of Africa from VC funding, and I want to be one of them will change that. So that's how I ended up launching Ajim Capital and Early Stage Pre-seed and seed VC fund that only focused on investing in companies out of Sub-Saharan Africa.
I started the process early in 2022/late last year, I think when I started to leave my last company, I was like, okay, how in the world do I launch a VC fund, right? There's really not a lot of information on the Internet on how to launch a VC fund. I started very basic, like, hey, Google, how do I launch a VC fund?
I found a few very limited resources. I did a lot of research, and then the next thing I did was, hey, I'm going to look at every single emerging manager that I've heard of in the last one to two years, right? Because these people, they are not ten years or 20 years ahead of me. They're only like one or two years. And if I can follow their steps, see what they've been doing, and then add my little research to it, it will help me hopefully get to the next level.
And that's when I started looking at a lot of emerging managers. Janine from Overlook Ventures, Mac from Rarebreed, Lula from Gangster VC, Gale from Vitalize. I mean, I was studying every single one of them from what their thesis looks like. How did they do as all minorities, like either black or women that have been successfully able to launch their own fund?
And the more I learnt, the more I said, the way I'm going to structure my phone is going to be a 506C versus a 506B. I'm getting a little bit technical. 506C really just means that you can publicly solicit that you're fundraising from the general public, whether it be a press release, Twitter, LinkedIn, social media newsletter. I can get on this podcast and say I'm fundraising, right? The only negative thing about that is the fact that all your investors have to be accredited and you have to verify that they are actually accredited.
And then from a 506B, they still have to be accredited. You don't just have to verify, right? Like, I could just show up and be like, oh, my, my credit and the fund manager don't have to verify that information. So the more I looked, the more research. And I said, okay, if that's the case, I'm going to go with a public bank. Like I'm going to launch, and I'm going to put it out there. And in early January, after doing a lot of my research and putting a lot of back end work that I can't even talk about into this podcast. We eventually launched, and that was really the beginning of our fundraising.
We made sure that in our press release, we made sure that we said, hey, if you're interested in diversifying your portfolio that is investing in the African continent, please reach out to us when you go on our website. I says, hey, if you're interested in investing in Africa, invest with us. And I think what many people don't realize is that really we got a lot and lots of inbound from accredited investors, high net worth of individuals, family offices, funds or funds, just because they saw your article and we saw some of your posts on social media and we love to invest. And that amount of people would not really help us out as close and to be able to start fundraising, investing. So that is a little bit of the story behind how we were capable of raising our initial capital for Ajim Capital.
Our investment thesis is more geographic focus thesis versus a sector specific thesis. I like to say we are sector agnostic, but as of right now, we have about eight sectors that we are very interested in and that we focus on, some of them being fintech. education, healthcare, marketplaces is a big one. I have a background in marketplaces. So I'm really good at understanding how to grow and scale the marketplace both from a B2B and from a B2B2C standpoint.
So our thesis is really revolves around as long as we're looking for B2B and B2B2C tech and tech enabled software companies out of sub Saharan Africa, we really look for asset life. So we focus on software specific companies. And one thing that gets a lot of people is we don't really invest in blockchain or Web3 or member of those companies.
I have made quite a few angel investments, but I will speak to you about some of my recent portfolio companies. I would say one of them that I'm really excited is a proptech company, is called Spleet. And I think it's one of those problems that you will not necessarily hear about it in the US. But when I think emerging market, especially Africa, I think they are bringing so much value and they are going to do amazing. When I think of it, I think in most African countries, not all, landlords require you to pay, atleast in the crazy ones, they require this one to three years of rent in advance. In the medium one, they require maybe like six to twelve months. And I would say the average is maybe three to six months in advance. I know many countries, including my country, Cameroon, they experience this exact problem.
And this company, particularly Spleet, started as a property management company in the early days, like four years ago, maybe four or five years ago. And they've evolved by learning from their consumers, their customers, what are your problems? And they ended up realizing that one of the biggest challenges was being able to afford rent that you had to pay upfront. So now they offer rental pay later. I think that's how you say it, where they help you pay your rent up front and then you pay them on a monthly basis with a little bit of added fees on top of it, which for me, I thought was super innovative. It is a problem, as we all know, many Africans can’t afford that.
The other one is a fintech company. This is a problem that I've had for me personally. It's called Raenest, the payroll fintech tech startup. And really one of the challenges that I mentioned earlier was when we employed a lot of our employees from the continent, our biggest challenge was finding a good payroll like technology, where we make sure that we have the right contracts, compliance, legal for each African country.
But also they’re making it easy for them to be able to get their payment on time in their local currency. And I think that's one thing that we take for granted. Most Africans can receive money in USD. So they have to receive it in their local currency in a way that makes sense for them. This company makes it super easy. When I met with the founders, I saw the drive, what they had been able to accomplish with very limited resources that barely raised any money. They had a functioning product, they had good customers. They made me really excited. I mean, I could go on and on about all my portfolio companies, but I'll leave you with those two.
I would say fintech is the biggest one. I mean, everybody knows this. And there's a reason why fintech is that way. Just fintech is like financial services and financial technologies are like the infrastructure of any ecosystem. It does not matter if I'm building an aggregate healthcare, if I can process payment, if we can transact online, it makes it very difficult to do anything. And obviously after the transaction online comes different layers. Now, I've seen lending is another big one. I think Marketplaces will be next. And Marketplaces will go with so many layers.
It could be Marketplace and logistics. I have another portfolio companies where what they do is bridging like that cutting a lot of fragmented things that have been done on paper by hand, that have multiple layers, get breakthrough and then they are building a platform to be able to make it easy for the supply and the demand to meet each other.
Team- When building a company, especially early stage when nobody knows you, you're just getting started. Maybe you build something. You have to be able to know that that team is a strong team. Either they have prior industry knowledge in the market that they are serving, or they have prior entrepreneurial knowledge. How good does the team work together? Are you solo? We don't require you to be like, have a co-founder. You can be a solo. But what experience do you have in the market that you're serving? Are the right people on your team?
Temperament- Are you a leader that can attract investors, that can attract customers, that can attract the best team players? Do you have a great vision and mission and really values for your company and what you want to accomplish?
Timing- Is this the right time for the product? Is the market ready for it? I think a lot of African founders, or just like a lot of Africans in general, or even other emerging markets. We see something happen in the US or Europe or even China or anywhere else in the world, we're like, oh my gosh, that looks pretty cool? I think I can build something similar in Africa and make a lot of money. But unfortunately, the African market is not ready for it. There are just too many breaking layers that will not allow you to be successful at this time. Not that it's a bad business. It's probably a good business, but is this the right timing?
Traction- How much revenue have you had? Is this just an idea? Is this something that you actually brought in customers? You have a good MRR, you have a good ARR. Like, what are we talking about? As for us, we like to say at least five to 10,000 in MRR for us to get excited about the opportunity. We have looked at opportunities that are less than that, but that's at least our starting point.
Technology- How good is your product? Is it scalable? Are you making the best and efficient use of technology for your business and product.
Those are the 5 T’ we use to evaluate startups at Ajim Capital.
We are seeing some progress. But again, we all know the statistics, right? Like less than 2% of funding goes to minorities and I think something like less than 0.7% goes to black women. And this is just in the US. If I even have to bring to the African context, it's even worse, I think at this point, it's more from the sense of we can't keep trying to have a seat at the table. We need to get to a place where we are all saying we're going to make our own tables and we're going to create them. And that's what I'm seeing quite a lot of people do nowadays.
Yes, we can keep talking about, oh, we need to see more funding go to Africans, underrepresented founders, but also we minorities, right? Like, I live in the US. But I can categorize myself as many things. I'm an immigrant, I'm a woman and I'm black and I have an accent and I have all these different things that are against me. But every single time I always tell myself that if I have to look at the negativity that is brought on to us, I'll never do anything because I'll be like, why even try? I probably wouldn't be able to raise money. But if I said, oh, Africans can get funding, how about I make that change? I will go out and I'll raise money and I'll invest in these African founders. And I honestly think we're seeing more and more of that.
We're seeing more women and more minorities either like launch their companies or launch your own funds and deciding that they will only invest in a particular underrepresented community that have been on the surf over the last decade and a lot of years to come.
Even though we are doing that, it's unfortunate because the people who sit on the money. So for me, it's like, yes, we've climbed the base ladder of like, okay, we are not founders anymore. We're now fund managers. The next thing that we want to be able to climb is like, okay, now we're also LPs, right? At the end of the day, that's the third layer that a lot of people don't really realize until you see it in my seat and you're like, oh, that's where the money is actually coming from. So we need to figure out how to bring more minorities and women to be LPs. And there's a lot of education that has to be put in that.
But I truly believe that a lot of very wealthy Africans and minorities and women that are not just educated about this particular industry and if they're new at a private market, especially venture capital, is one of the most profitable asset class that is out there. A lot of people pay attention to the VC industry. So that's the hope that I want to say. I actually think that I want to see more and more minorities and women on that third layer versus the second one.
What sectors and regions you invest in?
I'll say top three, I'll say fintech, marketplaces, B2B SaaS. And my top region will be Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya. But I really want to add Senegal, Cameroon.
What stage you typically invest in? Pre-seed and seed, very early, mostly like 70% to 80% pre-seed.
What's the typical check size?
I would say between $100k to $250k is where I want to be. As of right now, it's more around 50K.
Where can founder pitch you?
If you go to our website, it literally says 'Pitch us'. And that's the best way to get in touch with my team. Not in my DMs, not on my social media. I don't respond to those. The best way to pitch us is by sending an application directly on our website at ajimcapital.com and you will find a place that says 'Pitch us'.
Where can our listeners follow you?
So literally on every social media platform you can think of out there is at EuniceAjim and on my LinkedIn is Eunice Ajim.
Pitch Ajim Capital - https://www.ajimcapital.com/
Follow Eunice on Twitter - https://twitter.com/euniceajim
Follow Ajim on Linkedin - https://www.linkedin.com/in/euniceajim/
Hosted by Prashant Choubey- https://twitter.com/ChoubeySahab
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