How African giant Carry1st is spending its $20m raise

 

More games, acquisitions, a major scaling up of operations and a push into web3 is coming from top African publisher Carry1st, CEO and co-founder Cordel Robbin-Coker has told us.

Having already attracted series A investment led by Konvoy Ventures and Riot last year, in January Carry1st revealed another round of funding, this time led by a16z, Avenir and Google. Individual investors including rapper Nas, plus the founders of Axie Infinity maker Sky Mavis and crypto game-maker Yield Guild Games were also involved.

“First and foremost we’re going to use the funding to expand our content portfolio,” Robbin-Coker tells us. “Having capital allows us to pay seven figure minimum guarantees for great games and even acquire mid-sized titles, providing capital for folks who want to allocate to new development or their core portfolio.”

Carry1st is also using the cash to scale its product, engineering and growth teams in payments and commerce to help games monetise better across a wider set of African countries. Co-development and web3 projects are also on the cards.

Carry1st started out making Android-first games for African markets like Carry1st Trivia and Gebeta.

“This investment allows us to be aggressive and exploratory,” says Robbin-Coker. “We like casual and midcore games that replicate offline social experiences – so local card and board games and mobile-first sports are a big focus.”

“On a continent where the median age is 19 and over two-thirds of smartphones are owned by males, we see a lot of potential for shooters – battle royale, team-based and more tactical,” he continues. “In frontier markets, these games all depend on heavy community engagement and alternative payments, which we think we can help with.”

Hypercasual and web3 games are also on the agenda at Carry1st, “but they both need some innovation around monetisation to really scale,” says Robbin-Coker.

Web3, in particular, will be “more impactful in Africa than anywhere else in the world,” he says, and Carry1st is already in dialogue with a number of studios in the crypto space. “There are so many legitimate functional use cases across payments, defi and gaming,” he continues. “As of now, five of the top 20 countries in crypto adoption globally are in Africa.”

Robbin-Coker was once a high-level private equity investor, working with big businesses and on tech startup seed deals. When HQ Trivia blew up in 2017, it inspired Robbin-Coker and co-founders Lucy Hoffman and Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu to make Carry1st Trivia, an African spin on the hit quiz game with hyper-localised questions and a social meta. (“Carry1st is a play on Nigerian slang meaning to take first place or win,” explains Robbin-Coker.)

The team then grew Carry1st into a publisher, helping third parties monetise in Africa, where expertise with local payments systems is essential. The firm now has offices in seven African countries, with Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa the standout markets. 

After a previous round of funding, the company also launched the Carry1st shop, a broader online store that includes phone credit, mobile data, entertainment and grocery vouchers, on top of gaming currency.

And, well, we had to ask about Nas, one of Carry1st’s other investors. Nestled in among names like a16z, Google and Riot, the legendary rapper’s name stands out a little.

It turns out he and his business partner are prolific venture investors, and have made early bets in Robinhood and Coinbase.

“They were investing in web3 before many VCs even knew the term,” adds Robbin-Coker. “They understood the Carry1st value proposition instantly – it was super cool.”