A year ago, Jumia made a highly celebrated debut on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). It was the first ever African company to be listed on this stock market and many compared it to the likes of Amazon.
Now, the e-commerce start-up has closed shop in three African states, failed to make profits and has been dropped by its original owners.
This is a surprising twist, given that the coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in online retail, but Jumia’s problems seem to predate COVID-19.
An expose by Larry Madowo (former editor for BBC Africa Business) has revealed some shocking truths.
When it debuted on the NYSE, Jumia was listed at $14.50 a share. This gave the e-commerce company a value of $1.1bn. In a mere four days, its stock price rose to $49.77, setting an African startup valuation record of $3.8bn.
A few weeks later, Jumia’s stock fell spectacularly, with accusations of fraud and phony accounting, a derisive review from a known trader, lawsuits in New York courtrooms asserting fraud on Jumia’s part, and a public relations catastrophe over its identity scaring away shareholders.
The share price is now $2.15, which it has been since August of last year.
A week before the first anniversary of Jumia’s debut on the NYSE, Rocket Internet (a German technology investor and its original owner) sold all its shares in Jumia.
Also, Jumia’s public claim to be an African company has been called into question given that its headquarters are in Berlin, Germany, its Technology and Product Team in Porto, Portugal, its senior leadership in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and its CEOs (Jeremy Hodara and Sacha Poignonnec) are French.
Its claim has been called an exploitative means to conveniently co-opt an African identity and profit of the continent.
Then, there was the scandal when Mr. Poignonnec gave an interview after the NYSE debut on CNBC and stated that Jumia’s engineering team is based in Portugal because Africa lacks talent.
“Jumia’s first year on the NYSE is a proper reflection of the value of the company,” says Rebecca Enonchong, a Cameroonian tech entrepreneur and a critic of the firm.
“The hubris of the IPO has led to the reality of a bad business model. The stock price, hovering under $3, is a reflection of that.”
Jumia’s IPO was billed as a coming of age story for the continent’s nascent start-ups, but it arrived on Wall Street just as the market’s patience for unprofitable unicorns started wearing out.
The American e-commerce giant Amazon, to which it is often compared, took six years to become profitable, but eight years after its launch, Jumia is still struggling.