When it comes to entrepreneurship, age isjust a number. If you disagree, take a look at the founding members of YeigoCommunications. At just 23 years of age, Wilter du Toit, Lungisa Matshoba andRapelang Rabana have developed and launched a unique mobile communicationssolution, attracted substantial funding from serious investors and grown acompany from three to 11 employees in just two years. Not bad for a group ofuniversity honours students without any business experience. Because let’s faceit – it’s an achievement that eludes many older individuals with many moreyears of business experience under their belts.
The Yeigo product is unique in South Africa –it’s a mobile VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) solution, which enables Yeigoto offer cheaper mobile calls. Simply put, it saves users’ money by directingtheir voice calls via the operators’ data networks or directly through theInternet, rather than over the voice network. As with traditional VoIP, theonly cost incurred by a Yeigo user when calling another Yeigo user anywhere inthe world, is the data cost of connecting to the Internet. But, as a mobilesolution it offers users greater flexibility and even greater savings thantraditional fixed-line VoIP. You could think of it as a mobile version ofSkype.Yeigo chief executive, Rapelang Rabana,relates how she and her co-founders conceived the idea: “During our honoursyear in computer science at UCT, we needed to start making decisions aboutcareer paths but we realised that in the corporate world we would either beboxed as a developer or a business analyst and we wouldn’t be able to blendcomputer science and commerce together in the way that we wanted to. The onlyother option was to have our own business so we started cracking some ideas.”She adds, “The inspiration behind Yeigo was to empower the ordinary person tomake cheaper calls anywhere in the world, giving them control over how oftenthey communicate and how much it costs them.”
But developing such a solution in a countryvery much behind the times when it comes to cutting-edge technology, was noteasy. “Funding was our biggest initial stumbling block,” remembers Rabana.“Until you start meeting the right people, it’s incredibly hard to get venturecapital in South Africa, especially in the high-risk technology sector.” Butluckily she met the right person in the form of Ivan Ferrer, founder of PastelSoftware and the driving force behind ensuring that the company dominated theSouth African accounting software market. He and Rabana were introduced at aUCT Young Women in Finance conference. “After unsuccessfully approaching anumber of different financial institutions, we realised that previousentrepreneurs were a lot more receptive to new ideas,” she explains. Ferrer andtwo other private investors invested an undisclosed sum in exchange for equityin Yeigo. It’s clear that they see great potential in what the company canachieve. “Yeigo is easily accessible and will see businesses saving thousandsof rands on their telecommunications costs.”This is precisely where the business iscurrently focusing its attention. Rabana explains that the growth potential forthe company lies in the corporate sector and indicates that Yeigo has beenformed to tap into this market. She says: “Right now, the product’s limitationslie in its compatibility with certain phones as well as the quality of Internetinfrastructure.
By and large, the corporate environment is where people havecompatible phones and where the Internet infrastructure is managed properly.”She adds that this market, while currently using VoIP solutions, has a greaterneed for the mobility that Yeigo can provide. “Because they already haveinfrastructure or partnerships with ISPs they can simply add this mobileelement into their existing solution,” she says.Yeigo currently has over 6 000 users, allof whom joined as a result of the Yeigo website. “The reception has beenincredible and we haven’t even started aggressive marketing,” says Rabana, whoadmits that she and her co-founders underestimated the challenge they weretaking on when they started the company. “If we’d really got to grips with thecomplexity of what we were taking on we would probably have shied away,” shelaughs. Youthful naivety, perhaps, but its certainly worked in their favour.