We speak to wiGroup CEO Bevan Ducasse about starting a business in 2007 that not only weathered the global crash, but has grown by leaps and bounds.
It is February in Cape Town, and all the usual suspects are in full swing: soaring temperatures, traffic konfyt and raging fires across the peninsula; Capetonians are turning their gaze to winter, longing for the rain, the concomitant replenishment of dams, the drop in temperatures and the easing up of traffic congestion, which is in direct proportion to the number of tourists in the city. Until, of course, when winter does arrive and then the penchant for endless sunny days returns.
On February 22nd we ubered into an industrial complex just off the N1, grateful for the aircon and wilting at the thought of the microwave conditions that awaited us in the factoried, built-up area. We could not have been more wrong.The office environment of wiGroup is very cool – not just temperature-wise – but spacious, light- and oxygen-filled with thriving plants, hanging chairs, staff navigating the landscape on orange scooters and a sense of energised calm thrown into sharp relief by the muted, frantically busy freeway visible from the huge picture windows. This had been designed to be a happy place.
At the age of 24, one year before the global economic meltdown, he decided to follow his dreams and found a startup (operating from his flat in Mouille Point) that provided mobile transaction solutions; today he heads up the company which is garnering awards, growing by leaps and bounds across the globe, and looking forward to what the future holds.
What was it that made him take the leap?
“I had a burning desire to start something new. I wanted to add value to the world, at the same time as creating an environment where people come alive and work with passion in a culture of celebration – doing what you love, with people you love.
“Having just turned 24, with funds that would only last for the next 3 months, I raised the capital for the company at the 11th hour in December 2007.
“I wanted to build a scalable business that was annuity-based, founded on the twin principles of people and profit, which lived the maxim ‘pursue the remarkable’.
“Four of us worked from my flat, positioning ourselves so that we looked out of the window at the ocean for inspiration.
“In 2008, ahead of our time, we launched WiWallet and on 08/08/08 I bought my first coffee using my mobile. We threw away our leather wallets – a bit prematurely, as it turned out – because the world was not ready for this innovation.
And how would he define being an entrepreneur?
“An entrepreneur is someone who goes out on a limb to start something new, which is sustainable and profitable – always keeping in mind the crucial balance between people and profit. Business is driven by a need and a solution – and technology is a servant to that need. We have a wonderful team and pride ourselves on innovating prior to trends, riding the wave.”
Whilst preparing for the interview, I went onto their website and was immediately struck by the statement “We pride ourselves on creating remarkable solutions”. I asked Ducasse what it is that makes wiGroup’s offerings remarkable?
“We like to think out of the box – how we can best leverage mobile to enhance your solution. If I dig into the different verticals, for example: digital coupons – we have moved couponing from paper to the cloud; digital payments, loyalty and rewards all linked to mobile via one scan or one tap; mobile commerce – we engineered a mobile commerce stack fulfilling a mobile commerce transaction in under an hour with minimal investment, leveraging off what already exists.
“The biggest, most precious thing we can buy people is time, saving time and enegy – we are in the business of decluttering lives.”
What would you do with an extra 45 minutes?
“Our core sector is retail, adding value, focusing on the transacting side of business – facilitating money transfers, mobile payments, loyalty spend and rewards. We have re-engineered loyalty commerce and digital loyalty programmes via mobile so that the customer experience is seamless.”
This drive and passion has not gone unnoticed. Last year wiGroup won the 2016 FNB Business Innovation Awards – what has this meant for Bevan personally, and for the business as a whole?
“It is great to be recognised – and to be able to come back to the team and say ‘We did it!’ Being externally celebrated brings with it a sense of pride – and PR. Because of the FNB accolade people are reading and talking about wiGroup, which brings with it more business, building up the momentum – Jim Collins (Good to Great author) talks about a flywheel, and building momentum, with increasing pace – that is what good PR does for a company.”
And the Investec stake of more than 25%
“Always do deals that are win-win. The Investec stake of more than 25% in our company is just that. It is a wonderful opportunity that will lead to future growth and increased expansion.
“Before the Investec deal the business had already grown organically and broken even by 2012, expanding to 80 people. Then in 2016 we grew by 50% – from 85 to 135. Now we will be able to invest more in products and people and off-shore expansion. We are already in London, Amsterdam, France, Ghana and Mauritius and are looking to grow, focusing on opportunities.”
Ducasse grew up on a farm to which he ascribes his groundedness and his half-glass full attitude towards life, while his inspiration comes from people such as Richard Branson – whom he has met and who shares his passion for people, Branson having recently launched his global network ‘100% human at work’. Ducasse’s passion for people and changing the world knows no bounds and together with Skye Venter he founded Giving Hope, an online platform that enables people to ‘give back’ to charities of their choice.
The leverage and exposure received by the charities via social media platforms means they have a far higher likelihood of sustainability – and the money donated by the public and/or corporations is 100% trackable, with complete transparency and assurance that it is going to its intended destination. Zwelethu Enterprise Development’s sponsorship means that all administrative costs are covered so the full amount of any donation goes to the charity.
The sectors the charities are divided into are: ‘Love Humanity’; ‘Building the Future’; ‘Animal Care’ and ‘Save the Earth’ – and the charities themselves include places of safety, leadership, skills development, surgical reconstruction for children and animal rescue.
So, having clearly achieved a remarkable balance between people and profit, what advice does Ducasse have for aspiring entrepreneurs in this world where disruption has become the norm? “Find the thing that you are passionate about” and “Surround yourself with brilliant people”.
And his favourite meal?
The wiCode platform is an open and interoperable point-of-sale integrated mobile transaction platform for retail and hospitality businesses.
Mobile transaction apps and services
A single integration to the wiCode platform enables an app or service to be turned on at the point-of-sale of multiple retailers.
A single integration to the wiCode platform enables users to accept any mobile transaction app or service at your point-of-sale.