William Bao Bean

Serial startup investor William Bao Bean, general partner of SOSV in Shanghai, started in 2021 to invest in his first startup ventures in Africa. In Disrupt-Africa he explains how his experience in China helps him to make his first investments in Africa.


Heading up SOSV’s efforts in Africa is general partner William Bao Bean, who has previous VC experience with SingTel Innov8 Ventures and Softbank China & India Holdings, having been a research analyst previously. He says the firm backed its first eight African startups in 2021, including MarketForce and Treepz, and makes comparisons between what is happening on the continent now and what he has seen in Asia over the last few years.

“Africa shares a lot of similarities with other mobile-first markets such as India, Southeast Asia and China, where I have been investing for two decades – 300 million in Africa will get online for the first time using a smartphone, having leapfrogged the use of PCs entirely,” he said.

“The availability of low-cost smartphones, easy access to the internet, and ubiquitous digital payments make Africa a fertile ground for breakthrough technology startups.”

That said, customer acquisition is still a pain for early-stage startups, he said.

“Under the stranglehold of Facebook and Google, companies are forced to spend venture capital money on ads, effectively selling equity to acquire customers,” Bean said.

To address this, he founded SOSV MOX, an SOSV programme that invests in mobile-first, mobile-only startups, and helps them acquire users through partnership models instead of advertising.

“We have over 100 million daily active users in our internet portfolio as of August 2021. Any African tech startup backed by SOSV can take advantage of this ecosystem,” said Bean.

SOSV’s approach may be quite different, but it seems to work. Among its investments globally are crypto-product trading platform BitMEX, the first unicorn to go through an accelerator programme in Asia, and AI English pronunciation assistant ELSA, the first investment in Asia by Google’s AI venture arm Gradient Ventures. Its limited partners are corporates, financial institutions, family offices, and high-net worth individuals from around the world, including Credit Suisse, Tiedemann Advisors, Davy Group, Nan Fung Group, ZX Ventures, HP Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. Its fourth fund raised a whopping US$277 million.

“We’re interested in startups in all stages, focusing on software internet companies that are providing scalable solutions for e-commerce, education, fintech, SaaS and media,” said Bean.

“We’re committed to leveling the field for the best teams around the world: we are bullish on Southeast Asia, South Asia, MENA-Pakistan, Eastern Europe and Africa.”

More in Disrupt Africa.

William Bao Bean is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your (online) meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

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