Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|May 11, 2021|9 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

Click...the millions to be made through sulking at home

In a humble apartment in the shadow of mighty Table Mountain in Cape Town was born a dream. Behind its door’s entrepreneur Pieter de Villiers and a group of friends built Clickatell that’s driving business through Facebook messenger, WeChat, WhatsApp and SMS.

These days it is hard to imagine life without a phone. Think back then to the late 1990s when the internet was in its infancy and online banking and colour screens on your phone were stuff of fantasy.

It was in these far off times, when the internet was young, that African entrepreneur Pieter de Villiers built one of the foremost tech savvy companies in the world that is reaching millions of customers from Canada to Nigeria, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States. This world network was planned and executed in a small apartment in the shadow of Table Mountain, Cape Town – an eye opener from a man who trained to look after your eyes.

The year was 2000 and smart phones were merely two words in the English language. This was the year De Villiers had started out as an optometrist where he realised quickly that running a spectacle shot wasn’t for him. He was frustrated at having to deal with a stream of  customers and their eyes.

But there was something about optometry that did excite him. The maths, science, and physics and, more importantly, he loved how sending lab reports over the new fangled internet was far quicker than delivering by hand.

“We really fell into it. We were restless not enjoying our day jobs and we felt that we wanted to make a difference across the world. We stumbled across this very big opportunity which was the internet could not speak to the mobile phone. Even back then the internet was the fastest growing commerce in the world and the mobile phone was the fastest growing communications platform in the world. But there was no way for a website to reach a mobile phone,” said de Villiers.

So in his tiny Cape Town apartment de Villiers, along with his brother Casper, and two friends Danie du Toit and Patrick Lawson, found a way to send four lines of code from their computer to a cell phone over text message – a world first.

This was the birth of the company Clickatell, which has become the forerunner in industry standing up to the likes of Silicon Valley from Africa. They’re in more than 220 territories, with over 1000 networks and able to access 85% of the world’s population, including a cool 5 billion users via SMS, almost half of the world’s population.

Fast forward 20 years to 2021 and the world we live in is a far cry from where Clickatell started off.

“We were restless not enjoying our day jobs and we felt that we wanted to make a difference across the world. We stumbled across this very big opportunity which was the internet could not speak to the mobile phone,”

Pieter de Villiers, Co-Founder and CEO Clickatell.

But through it all Clickatell emerged as a global leader in the chat commerce arena allowing businesses to link with consumers on channels like text SMS, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. Every time you get a message on your phone about a loan or a deal it’s a good chance its them.

The business has grown so much there is even talk of them building Clickatell into a $1 billion tech giant, reports TechCentral.

For quiet and articulate de Villiers the profits don’t mean as much as trying to reach as many people they can.

“For us size matters in terms of making a positive impact in the world. That’s what we are chasing as opposed to that number. As founders we never went out to become billionaires or to do it for the money side. But we do like talking about billions…as in the next billion digital customers are not going to come from the United States or Europe, they’re going to come from Africa and places like Africa.”

Across the whole of Africa, the number of mobile users continues to grow and it’s harder to find someone that doesn’t have a cell phone.

“You can see the consumer’s behaviour changing. It’s quite simple you and I will not queue in a bank anymore unless you have to. You and I refuse to be held on hold in a call centre, because if you know me and know I am a client why would you put me on hold? Fundamentally the way we have come to expect brands to serve us as consumers has changed.”

But the biggest driver in digital migration has been disaster – the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, consumers have had to change the way they work and live. It’s virtually all remote now: bank accounts; complaints about service; and shopping.

“In many ways, [Covid-19] necessitated companies to reach their customers on digital for their own survival. Clients are sulking at home, in lockdown, and can’t reach you. At the same time, you expected them to download a mobile app, that they might never have done before. Or even have the memory available on their phone.”

According to the Dell Technologies digital transformation index 2020, nearly 80% of South African organisations fast-tracked their digital transformation plans and a whopping 84% are “reinventing their business models” around digital following the pandemic, reported Business Live.

This includes new ways to reach their consumers during a time where there is little need for cash, phone calls or talking to people face to face. Incredibly even apps are under threat,  with most businesses struggling to get around 18 to 24% of clients signed up through app penetration, says de Villiers.

“We can move that up to 71% at least, on channels like WhatsApp in South Africa. On top of that the other 19% you don’t reach on WhatsApp you can reach on SMS,” siad de Villiers.

“You have than 6 billion people on chat and about 4.6 billion active users on the internet. So, if you go with a premise of putting a brand where the customers are, chat is it. It’s not about the technology, technology comes and goes every couple of years, what is fundamentally different is we are putting brands like insurance companies, banks etc inside the address book of the customer on a platform that their customers already use.”

So, when you are sitting at home playing on your mobile phone and doing a bank transfer over WhatsApp or SMS you will know the team behind it and that it all began with a big in a tiny apartment in the shadow of Table Mountain

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