Jumia Was Not Built To Last. Here’s Why

A Rollercoaster Journey through African E-commerce Tech

Toba Akande
3 min readSep 21, 2023
Image Source: Enterprise CEO

In the ever-evolving world of technology startups, one story stands out as both an inspiration and a cautionary tale. It’s the tale of Jumia, the African tech startup that soared to unprecedented heights only to experience a breathtaking nosedive. How did the first African tech unicorn go from a valuation of $3.8 billion to a mere $3 million in just four tumultuous months? To unravel this gripping narrative, we must delve into the fascinating world of borders, entrepreneurs, and a high-stakes game of innovation and imitation.

The Birth of a Borderless Vision

At the heart of Jumia’s meteoric rise lies a group of visionary entrepreneurs known as the “border-crossers.” They are the masterminds behind the incubator known as Rocket Internet, which pioneered a unique approach to tech entrepreneurship. Their strategy was simple: identify successful businesses in one market and replicate them elsewhere. Think of it as creating clones of prosperity. These border-crossers nurtured and expanded these ventures at an astonishing pace, with little regard for profitability or sustainability. More often than not, their ultimate goal was to sell these companies to industry giants, creating a fast-paced cycle of innovation and acquisition.

Cloning Successes: The Rocket Internet Way

The story begins in 1999 when Rocket Internet embarked on its journey with Alhamdoo, an early e-commerce venture inspired by the success of eBay. In less than 100 days, Alhamdoo was acquired by eBay for a staggering $43 million. This rapid success set the tone for Rocket Internet’s modus operandi.

Another prime example is CZDU, a Groupon clone that Rocket Internet expanded across 80 countries at breakneck speed. When Groupon finally acquired CZDU for approximately $100 million, it became evident that the business model prioritized growth over sustainability.

Rocket Internet repeated this pattern with EVD and BVD, developing clones and attempting to sell them back to the original company, EVD. While the specifics of these ventures may not have been sustainable, they were undoubtedly effective at generating value and profits.

The Rise of Jumia: Africa’s Amazon Dream

Fast forward to the birth of Jumia, heralded as the “Amazon of Africa.” Rocket Internet applied its tried-and-true formula to this new venture, rapidly scaling it across 14 African countries. Profitability and sustainability took a back seat as they aimed to conquer the African e-commerce landscape. Predictions were made that Jumia would become profitable by 2020, but reality had a different plan.

By 2019, Jumia boldly listed on the New York Stock Exchange at $14.50 per share, valuing the company at a staggering $1.1 billion. At its zenith, Jumia’s stock hit an astonishing $49.77 per share, making headlines as it raised the valuation to a record-breaking $3.8 billion. However, this dizzying ascent was destined to be short-lived.

The Heart-Stopping Plunge

In a twist that sent shockwaves through the tech world, Jumia’s stock price plummeted to $2.50 by August, reducing the company’s value to a mere $300 million. Forced to confront the harsh realities of their business model, Jumia exited several markets in a desperate bid for survival. As of today, Jumia’s future hangs in the balance, leaving many to ponder the lessons learned from this rollercoaster journey.

The Lessons and the Future

Jumia’s tumultuous ride serves as a vivid reminder of the risks and rewards in the world of tech entrepreneurship. It highlights the importance of finding a delicate balance between growth and sustainability, a lesson not only for African startups but for innovators worldwide.

In the end, Jumia’s story is far from over. As it navigates the storms of uncertainty, it may yet emerge as a phoenix, reborn from the ashes of its past. Only time will tell whether this African tech unicorn can regain its former glory or if it will be remembered as a cautionary tale of ambition unchecked.

The journey of Jumia is a story of ambition, innovation, and the ever-shifting sands of the tech industry. It serves as a testament to the resilience of entrepreneurs and the unpredictability of markets. As we await the next chapter in this captivating saga, one thing is clear: Jumia’s rise and fall will continue to captivate our imagination and inspire future generations of tech pioneers.

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Toba Akande

Master of sarcasm, keeping my profound thoughts safely contained in words. Serious issues? I address them with a twist