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How wiGroup Keeps Doubling their Turnover

Here’s how a business that was started from Bevan Ducasse’s apartment is dominating the point of sale integrated mobile transacting market.

Nadine Todd

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 Vital stats

The growth stats

  • 2008: wiGroup makes no money. It’s living off investment finance while developing and tweaking the platform.
  • 2011: Breakeven
  • 2012: R7 million
  • 2013: R20 million
  • 2014: Projecting R40 million
  • 2015: Goal is R65 million
  • 2016: Goal is R100 million

 

What strategic decisions did you make in your start-up phase that are still paying dividends today?

The first and biggest has been taking great care to get the right people onboard from day one. Businesses are essentially their people. If you get the people part right you set the foundation and the environment for success.

The second was to find the right funding partner. I was 24 years old and I’d left my job to start something on my own. I’d been working for another start-up and realised that I wanted to be in that environment – I wanted to be an entrepreneur, taking risks and creating new things.

The problem was that I had only a few months of rent in hand, and I needed a few million rands to get my idea, which centred on point-of-sale transactions from a mobile device, off the ground. I needed an investor, but I also didn’t want to just take money from anyone.

I wanted an investor who would add strategic value to my business, specifically a company with retail and point of sale (POS) relationships in place. When I met Capital Eye Investments (which was UCS Group at the time) I knew it was a good match.

They were looking for innovative software companies to invest in, and I was looking for a company to add strategic value to my business. That relationship still holds today, and it’s been a strong contributing factor in our growth.

Did your start-up strategy align with today’s growth figures?

Absolutely… not. The initial incarnation of the business was wiWallet, a solution that enabled you to load your credit card details onto your mobile phone and pay in participating stores using your mobile phone.

Initially, we had partnered with some small innovative coffee shops, and launched on 8 August 2008: I remember walking into Café Neo and buying coffee using my phone linked to my credit card. It was an incredible feeling.

However, wiWallet was a consumer play and one that was probably seven years ahead of its time. We learnt a lot of very quick lessons in launching the business, the key one being that big retailers were not going to integrate a point solution to their POS for every new application that launched.

It was too risky for them; they were wary of backing the wrong horse knowing that there would, in the near future, be a slew of mobile applications all wanting to integrate to them. Equally, the banks were very hesitant about the idea.

We realised that what the market really needed was a platform that would sit between the retailers’ POS and the growing number of applications that would begin entering the space, so we pivoted our business from a consumer play to a business to business play.

This is when we changed the name to wiGroup, and built our new platform, an open and interoperable solution that enabled retailers to integrate once to their POS to then be able to accept any mobile transaction application, including vouchers, coupons, payments, loyalty and money transfer applications.

From the outset we knew that we needed to attract the big retail players for our business to be successful. Once you’ve got two or three major clients on board, the rest will follow. But it’s a chicken and egg situation. We’re a platform for mobile applications aimed at the retail market. We needed apps on our platform to attract retailers and we needed retailers to attract applications.

How did you get your foot in the door?

Step one was proving we had the technology. Step two was making sure that we were able to articulate the value proposition delivered by the wiPlatform clearly and at the right level within the big retailers.

In any software business, real growth comes when you can scale the product. Your development costs are high upfront, but at a certain point your sales exceed your investment, and because you aren’t manufacturing a product, this results in great margins. But it’s dependent on uptake.

It’s also a slow process – you can spend up to a year going through the motions with a retail group before an agreement is reached.

Our value proposition resonated with the retailers. They don’t want to spend months vetting and negotiating with each app developer that presents them with an idea. Similarly, for app developers, getting an integration to a large retail chain is extremely difficult.

Our platform solved both those problems. It works on a similar principle to Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android in that it enables app developers to build on to it and get reach and scale. In our case this reach and scale is through the retailers that have integrated to our platform.

Read Next: How to Get Clients to Buy More Stuff

How did you sign your first big deal?

Bevan-Ducasse_WiGroup

With a lot of hard work, patience, persistence and timing. We’d proven the technology through our pilot with Vida e Caffé, which is a brand people want to associate with, so we had something innovative to show Shoprite and Pick n Pay, the retail groups we were targeting. We also understood that landing such big clients takes time, but they were vital to our growth plans. You need to be prepared for a lot of meetings, and reiterations of the concept. That’s how big corporates work, and you have to play by their rules. You won’t sign the deal if you can’t put in the time.

We also had a number of things going for us. First, we were speaking to them at a time when they were beginning to be approached by app developers on a weekly basis. The need for our platform was clear. Second, both retailers knew that enabling mobile transactions at their POS was strategically important.

What is interesting is that Pick n Pay and Shoprite went live on our platform within a matter of weeks of each other, but they each launched with very different use cases. Shoprite launched with their mobile coupon offering, Eezicoupons, and Pick n Pay launched with MTN Mobile Money.

Through the Pick n Pay integration to wiPlatform, MTN Mobile Money users are able to deposit, withdraw and pay from their mobile bank account at any Pick n Pay till point across South Africa. The success of the MTN Mobile Money integration opened doors for discussions with other tier one networks such as Vodacom.

Having the two biggest FMCG retailers and two biggest networks on our platform was the cornerstone of our growth strategy, and once we had them, the momentum really shifted.

What was your most strategic decision when it came to laying the foundations for your growth?

Our integrations are essential. Who we’ve targeted was, and is, crucial to our goals. So important, in fact, that having them as clients is almost priceless. Getting them on board was therefore essential, and we were willing to lower our revenue to ensure the integration and strategic positioning we needed happened.

We didn’t want to set our price point too low though – once you do that, it’s very difficult to raise your prices – so we offered them a good discount instead. They know they’re getting a discounted rate, but we won’t need to change our price point later.

Always work out what your most important strategic goal is. Ours wasn’t getting as much money in the bank as quickly as possible. I’d rather invest heavily in the business this year to see our goal of R100 million realised in 2016, and to do that, the platform needs to grow quickly and sustainably.

Our whole growth model has followed this same path. From 2008 to 2010 we were living off investment capital as we had projected. In 2011 we broke even. By 2012 our turnover was R7 million, which grew to R20 million in 2013. We’re projecting turnover of R40 million this year, and R100 million by 2016.

Our investors have seen a good return on their investment, and all growth for the last two and a half years has been organically funded through our own cash flow.

At this stage in the business, I’d rather invest a few million into new product ideas that add value to our platform and our clients than keep that money on our bottom line. We spend a lot on developing new opportunities and solutions to support and stimulate the market and on enhancing our platform.

How is your current growth stimulated?

Bevan-Ducasse

MTN Mobile Money alone has over one million users in South Africa, generating huge transaction volume through our platform. Our business model supports exponential growth as we leverage the marketing and expanse of the applications that integrate into us.

Being POS integrated, our mobile coupon capability enables our clients to close the marketing loop with any campaigns they run.  We’ve found that mobile money transfer, digital coupons, vouchers and loyalty have driven the growth, and our belief is that payments will follow once mobile transacting has become more widely accepted.

Start-up app developers are increasingly finding wiGroup when they carry out their research ahead of launching their businesses. The capability our platform offers them is clear. They’re approaching us to get onto our platform, and some of them are developing amazing, leading edge apps. It means we’re not doing it alone – we’re all growing together, and benefiting from joint exposure to the market.

Similarly, when app developers approach our clients, the retailers are sending them our way. So for example, if a developer approaches KFC with a loyalty programme, they direct them towards us, since KFC tills are already integrated with our system. We currently have R1,9 billion in transactions that have gone through our system, and it’s growing each day.

Read Next: 4 Ways to Find More Work

What additional value do you offer your clients?

Over and above the fact that they just need to integrate with one platform, we give our clients unprecedented access to track and engage with their customers.

We have built tools and products that can link to basket information and deliver deep analytics and reporting. The reporting is real time and invaluable to retailers and restaurants.

We also work hard at finding applications that will suit our retailer partners and assist in both pairing the application with the retailer and allowing them to leverage from the benefits.

How much focus is placed on development at this point?

It’s still our major focus. Of the 50 employees we have, 20 work on development, while the remaining 30 are in admin, sales, business analysis, account management and project management.

All new product sign off and direction resides with myself, but everyone in the company provides input and ideas, ensuring the product and value is always prioritised.

We also have a team that deals exclusively with agencies. So for example if Unilever and Quirk develop a campaign that rewards customers for buying Nivea products, we’ll build the app that supports the campaign.

In addition, mainstream apps will be hitting soon and we look forward to seeing the innovative and exciting ways that these applications make use of our platform. At this point the market is in its infancy in South Africa.

This is an easy and convenient platform, and we’re ready for even greater growth, particularly because we pay a lot of attention to what consumers want, and to what our clients need.

Global expansion

  • wiGroup is currently in discussions with one of the biggest switching companies in Nigeria. With an agreement already in place to integrate the company’s tech into one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, wiGroup’s reach into Africa is poised for explosive growth.
  • wiGroup is currently launching with partners through the SADC region.
  • Talks with large retail groups in the UK have already begun. 

Dealing with competition

wiGroup-competition

wiGroup might be a first mover, but success breeds competition. Ducasse’s strategy to deal with competition is threefold.

Continue to expand wiGroup’s platform as fast as possible.

By definition the strongest competitive advantage a platform can have is reach — Facebook, Google and Apple have all proven this model.

Add Value

Continue to add valuable products to the platform,always striving to be innovative and leading with creative ideas. Every new product wiGroup bolts onto its platform puts it another step ahead of anyone else wanting to enter the space.

Ensuring excellent service and relationships.

“We strive to be the most reliable partner to our clients, always providing them with excellent service,” says Ducasse. It’s easy to pay lip service to the importance of focusing on the customer, but in wiGroup’s case, there is a strong understanding that through these relationships the company ensures clients trust them, and more importantly, like working with them.

“We believe this is critical to keeping their business and assisting us in gaining further market share through their positive word of mouth.”

Taking advice

“I read a lot of business books and biographies of top entrepreneurs. I’m inspired by the drive for perfection, out-the-box thinking and passion of people like Steve Jobs, the genius of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and the energy and passion of Richard Branson.

“There are also so many excellent business lessons in top business books. We’ve built the entire company around Jim Collins’ advice in Good to Great on finding the right people and getting them on the bus. One person doesn’t run a business, especially as we grow. A business is only as good as the team you have, so make sure that you’re hiring well — and giving your employees a great environment within which they may excel.”

 

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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Need To Trim The Fat To Boost Profitability? Listen To Your Clients First

Jeff Bezos believed that once you win the client over by doing this, everything else will follow – not least profitability.

Marc Wachsberger

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Finding the balance between offering the extras that set you apart from your competitors and keeping things ‘lean and mean’ to minimise wastage and maximise return on investment is a tricky balancing act.

I’ve noticed that many businesses try to attract or retain customers by offering what they think their customers want, rather than finding out what they really need, and then delivering that. That’s an expensive mistake to make – and it’s not going to achieve the business results you need.

I’ve also observed that now is the age of the new entrepreneur – the game changers who disrupt the status quo long set by big bureaucratic competitors who think that their customers will just accept an inflationary (or slightly larger) increase every year, just because they always have.

While Amazon has been around for a while now, there’s also an important lesson to be learned from its launch goal, which was to bring the price to the client. Jeff Bezos believed that once you win the client over by doing this, everything else will follow – not least profitability.

How have I applied these lessons in my business?

Firstly, we design our hotels backwards – we focus on the needs of our clients, very aware that what hotel guests wanted years ago is not what they want now. That’s why we don’t offer thing like a turn-down service with chocolates on the pillow. Nobody eats the chocolates, and nobody uses the toiletries – so why should we include the costs of these unwanted extras (and the cost of the staff required to implement them) in the final bill to our clients?

Related: 7 Steps To Optimise Your Cycle Of Customer Service

We do, however, offer free WiFi internet connectivity, free parking in our buildings, free laundry services and either bed-and-breakfast options or self-catering rooms.

Simply put, we’ve cut the fat that nobody wants anyway, and added the value that our guests have said they expect.

Our clients have said that they expect the whole hotel to be a workstation, and not just the business centre in a dark, unwanted corner. So, we’ve put a workstation in every room, with always-on access to the internet. Our hotels are designed with beautiful work spaces that cater for nomadic entrepreneurs and double up as comfortable meeting spaces, again – gone are days of boardroom only meetings, our spaces are primed for work and play in one integrated space.

Our clients have pointed out that they’re already paying for their room – so why should they pay for parking?

Many of our clients stay with us for days or weeks at a time, and have said it would be helpful if we did their laundry. So, we do that for them – and we don’t charge them for it.

Related: Good Customer Service Is About Relating At The Same Level

It’s true that many of our old-school competitors offer a broader range of products and services than we do, but we’ve built a successful business on adding the value that our clients need, removing the costs and extras that annoy them, and keeping costs (theirs as well as ours) under control by cutting out unnecessary frills.

It’s an approach that’s worked for The Capital Hotels and Apartments as a disruptor in the hotel and long-stay accommodation industry, and I’m confident that its principles would apply to any other industry that’s ripe for disruption.

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If You Want Scale, Fail Fast And Learn Quickly

Mindset, focus and an understanding of scale are essential if you want to build a highly profitable, growing business.

Matt Brown

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“The secret to scaling a business is increasing revenues without incurring a corresponding increase in operating costs,” says Tom Asacker, author of The Business of Belief, Opportunity Screams, A Little Less Conversation and A Clear Eye for Branding, all groundbreaking books that redefine business and communication for the new age of abundance. “The single most important challenge is to have a deep understanding of your value creation and customer attraction and retention process, as well as how the company will ultimately make money over time through the unique realisation of that process.”

According to Howard Sackstein, founder of Saicom Voice Services, scale used to be measured by the number of people you employed or the number of branches you opened. “Today, these questions have become irrelevant,” he says.

howard-sackstein“When Whatsapp was sold for $19 billion the business had only 55 employees servicing 450 million users who were sending 34 billion messages a day – that’s a tiny company with enormous scale. So, today scale has come to mean something very different. In the new economy, scale is about scalable technology, how do we build software and apps that can cater for a billion users? The ideas of lots of employees and lots of offices has become old fashioned.”

The problem is that scale comes with costs and that’s why money is often the enemy of entrepreneurship. “Many of the great businesses of the new economy all began in garages, a small group of people, each with real skills each trying to bootstrap an idea to see if it worked,” continues Howard.

Related: Do You Have That 1 In 100 Business That Can Scale And Land An Investor?

“Often people go looking for funding; there’s a problem there too though – they scale too fast once they receive the cash and ultimately they fail because they have too much money. Entrepreneurs need to start small and if they fail they must fail fast. They need to test the market and grow incrementally to prove their idea. Once the idea has achieved a degree of adoption and has ‘crossed the chasm’ of technology adoption, only then can you start thinking of scale. And today scale means few costs, few employees, and tech that can scale to a mass market.”

Your Mindset is Everything

Your mindset while scaling is critical. “Value creation, customer attraction and your retention process are the result of every decision you make as an entrepreneur,” says Tom. “Your mindset shapes how you make these decisions.

“Every rand spent should be to add value in the eyes of the customer, or to improve the process that delivers that value, through automation, distribution, channel partners and so on.

“If businesses aren’t hyper-focused on adding value and deepening relationships with customers, someone will come along who will. If that happens, whether or not that process produces rapid growth is beside the point.”

Howard believes that follow-through is also essential. “So many people really want to build empires,” he says. “But how do you measure your success? Is it the number of employees you have, the number of companies, your disruptive influence on the market, revenue or actual profitability?

“You really need to decide this up front and that will affect your strategy. I probably have an old school mentality, but for me profit is everything. I don’t really understand the idea of focusing on scale with no business model in the hope that on an exit someone will find value. I know that’s a common idea in the tech world and you could get lucky by following it, but I think there are few people with that degree of luck – build for profit and sustainability, build as lean as possible and keep your eye on the actual ball.”

Related: What’s Stopping Your Business From Growing?

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Do You Have That 1 In 100 Business That Can Scale And Land An Investor?

Only 1% of businesses are investable, mainly because that’s how many businesses can 10x their growth. There’s an art to scaling, and it starts with you.

Matt Brown

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vuyo-tofile-ceo-of-entbanc-group

Only one in every 100 applications typically receive funding from venture capitalists. All 100 applicants believe their businesses are scalable and worthy of funding – and yet only 1% actually close investment deals.

“Most entrepreneurs radically overestimate their prospect of success and scalability,” agrees Jason Goldberg, founder, and CEO of 10X-e and co-founder of Edge Growth.

“If you really want to scale your business, you need to know that you are absolutely obsessed with solving a problem that hasn’t been solved before – so obsessed that you wake up at night with solutions buzzing around your head; so obsessed that your mind is always on the problem you’re trying to solve. The reality is that hunger is an incredibly important success factor – hunger, the hours you’re willing to put in and your level of intensity. How far are you willing to go and how many obstacles will you overcome?”

Related: What’s Stopping Your Business From Growing?

With this in mind, Jason and Vuyo Tofile, CEO of Entbanc Group, a fintech and digital support services firm share their top 3 secrets of scale.

1. You need to shift into a ‘scale’ mindset

Jason-Goldberg

Start-up entrepreneurs are focused on the hustle: More work, more energy, more sales. These are all important factors in building a business, but scaling a company requires a different focus. “Scaling up is all about architecting an enterprise and strategically putting in place the building blocks that will move you from working primarily in the business to working on the business,” says Jason.

“You need to minimise the work in the business so that you can work on the business and build a great company.”

This is easier said than done though. Often the biggest stumbling block to a company’s ability to scale is the founder. “The company founder or owner’s inability to really focus on solving an initial problem for specific target market, understanding what their business really does and is offering, and finally how to truly replicate that service or offering can be major barriers to growth, and they all lie with the entrepreneur,” says Vuyo.

The lesson is clear – you can hustle and make sales without clear structures and strategies in place, but that won’t get you to scale.

“A lot of entrepreneurs love the innovative and creative mind space of start-ups as well,” adds Jason, “which is great, but scaling is all about executing all those great ideas that you innovation and creativity helped you to come up with. If you can’t do that, you’ll never be able to scale.”

“Having the ability to execute on growth is critical,” agrees Vuyo. “Execution of the vision is far more important than having a strong vision. Vision without execution is meaningless.”

2. Get the right team in place

According to Vuyo, if you want to scale your organisation, you need the right people on board – and this too is a crucial skill the founder needs to foster. “You have to be able to build an effective team around the business,” he says. “You don’t need to be able to do everything yourself – in fact, in order to scale you mustn’t – but you do need to know who you need and where you need them.”

For Jason, the lead indicator of your ability to scale is whether or not you can build a sales organisation. “Can you shift from selling to becoming the architect of an organisation that sells for you?” he asks.

Alongside this ability is shifting from hiring who you can afford to who you need. “Start-ups hire talented ‘jack of all trade’ young high potentials (who are typically overworked and underpaid). This is an essential start-up tactic. Mature firms in scale-up mode need seasoned leaders who can take each part of your business to the next level.

“Having an awesome team is your most important ingredient of success. Every senior person needs to be pretty impressive in general, spectacular in their roles, and work well as a team.”

3. Understand if your business is scalable

Not all businesses are scalable – and that’s fine. Not all entrepreneurs want to scale their businesses either. However, if you do want to scale, it’s important to know if your business falls into the scalable or un-scalable category.

“There are three basic rules of thumb,” says Jason. “First, how big is the problem you’re solving? Is this a problem that lots of people have and are willing to spend money on the solution?

“Second, what kind of problem is it? Is your solution a vitamin pill or a headache pill? How does your client feel if you don’t exist? You’re not scalable if they don’t have a painful experience without you. In other words, do they have a headache if they haven’t seen or heard from you today?

Related: Is Your Business Ready To Be Funded?

“Finally, how different is the value you bring to your client than all their other alternatives? You need to be ten times more valuable than your competitors. If you’re not, there’s too much competition, and you’re unlikely to 10x the business.”

Vuyo agrees. “Scale is all about having a service or product that is of real, tangible value to your customer. All the resources and brand equity in the world won’t help you scale if you aren’t providing real value.”

Secrets of Scale Event #3

PART 1 – BUILDING THE AEROPLANE

This segment will be the majority of our focus and will cover practical “how to steps” for scaling your business. We’ll be revealing how to design a scale ready business and walk you through common pitfalls that all entrepreneurs will encounter as they “build the aeroplane” and how to avoid them. We’ll also reverse engineer how to design a scale ready business from a 150 strong team all the way down to a 5 person team.

PART 2 – BUILT FOR WINTER

This segment is all about how to ensure that you remain profitable as you scale. We’ll unpack how to bring different revenue streams, partnerships and products/services to together to help you weather any storm.

PART 3 – SCALE BLUEPRINT

In this segment we’ll explore the systems that can help you scale, how to automate repetitive processes and outsource non-essential tasks and how to design a business that makes more money while you sleep than when you’re awake.


Listen to the podcast here:

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