Questions for Swiss Ringier Africa’s GM


Leonard Stiegeler, the General Manager of Swiss Ringier Africa AG

Leonard Stiegeler has been the General Manager of Swiss Ringier Africa AG since 2016 – leading the company’s operations in classifieds, e-commerce, content and its digital agency on the continent. Brands belonging to the group are among others Pulse, Jobberman, Cheki, DealDey, Brighter Monday, Private Property and Rupu and it is active in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Yesterday, he delivered a paper on ‘The Future of Digital Publishing; What Africa’s investors are looking for in Digital Media,’ at The Guardian-hosted session of Social Media Week Lagos 2017.

Nigeria has been listed, alongside Kenya and South Africa, as a top destination for tech investors. What is the attraction to Africa and why now?
The African continent is highly diverse and so are its various national technology eco-systems.

One common factor I look out for however, is the chance technology has to leapfrog long and tedious development in many sectors on the continent – to catapult African markets to the cutting edge in each field. This does not only drive business growth but supports development in general.

This trend has been seen in the past. Mobile phones enabled near ubiquitous communication and connectivity in the 1990s and 2000s, in many African markets without the earlier build-up of expensive, less flexible landlines. Those landlines will not be built any more, as they are no longer required: A Nigerian small business owner now communicates with his suppliers the same way an American small business owner does – via mobile phone on the go. And now, with the rise of smartphones, falling internet cost and the rising connectivity through social networks, more and more sectors have a critical mass of demand to be attractive for large scale technological advancement in Africa.

Combined with the underlying positive long-term macro-economic trends in Africa, this makes for a proposition to seriously consider for investors.

What precisely do you look out for in an African startup that helps you decide to invest?
Companies that have value propositions addressing the opportunities unique to Africa mentioned above are top of my mind.

For example in publishing, where Ringier’s new media publisher in Africa – Pulse – is reaching tens of millions of readers through distributed content. Or in marketing, where Ringier’s complete digital partner in Africa – RDM – is working with SMEs and large companies to harness the unique distribution power of the internet to win.

And then there is of course the factor that is true for any start-up to become successful globally: a great, dedicated founder and team with the staying power to make it through tough times.

What is most important in a startup/investor partnership – what terms or goals should be clearly defined?
There needs to be a clear understanding of the financial terms on both sides. It helps nobody if either side feels they did not get a correct and fair deal later on. Therefore I would always advise specifically the start-up to do another round of advice-seeking with an independent legal and financial advisor.

With that set up, I think it is important to be able to talk openly and communicate well even in difficult situations. This avoids frustration on the side of the investor based on lack of insight and also helps the startup utilize the experience of the investor to the maximum.

How do you judge your success as an investor? At what point should one evaluate a partnership?
While in Africa the funding cycles may be longer and liquidity mechanisms different, in the end the judgement needs to be on financial return for financial investors.

To get there may be quite different though: with technology eco-systems that are simply still earlier in their maturity than say in the United States, a more active interaction and approach by investors can lead to better and more fruitful partnerships.

How does a project like Social Media Week Lagos contribute to the digital conversation and startups in general?
The Nigerian and broader African digital story, is larger than one person or one company. Therefore, collaboration is crucial. Events like SMW help like-minded people to meet and exchange – with the potential to build long-term relationships. Startups should use this to their advantage and also not be too shy to address their possible future investors.

What are the 3 most important skills critical for a startup CEO?
Perseverance, Imagination & Leadership

What are the common mistakes these CEOs make and how can these errors be avoided?
I think CEOs should be less hesitant to learn from what other people have already tried and failed at. Not every possibility needs to half-hazardly be tried by yourself. Great American investor Warren Buffett said it well:
‘It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.’

Why will an investment fail? What are the red flags?
The very definition of ‘venture capital’ says that it involves risk. This risk is varied and may often have nothing to do with the skill or hard work of an entrepreneur. An early-stage business is vulnerable to a huge amount of potential issues that can let it fail. So while there isn’t a clear cut path to success or failure, the previously described values and opportunities can go a long way to increasing the probability of success.

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