Sramana Mitra: Is telecom the largest category in which you’re doing chat commerce?
Pieter de Villiers: Telecom is the largest category where we see high-volume adoption of chat commerce. However, we believe that financial services will eclipse that very soon.
Sramana Mitra: What kind of financial services?
Pieter de Villiers: The chat banking example I gave you seems to be just chat banking, but it is a commerce transaction. For you to do a banking transaction or payment, you need to do KYC and all these different elements that a typical CPaaS provider doesn’t handle.
Sramana Mitra: How did you build this company in South Africa? Is it a venture-funded company? Did you bootstrap the company?
Pieter de Villiers: It’s important to know that we were four founders. The other founders were my twin brother, my best friend from school, and a friend of his. They say family, friends, and fools are the only ones who back you when you start. It was very much bootstrapped and bootstrapped with little capital. That’s one of the advantages entrepreneurs have in emerging markets where they can get a lot done.
Sramana Mitra: I’m a huge fan of bootstrapping.
Pieter de Villiers: We managed to get some angel investors interested. We raised $68,000. With that, we were able to build an $11 million run rate business in five and a half years. We didn’t raise any additional capital. Being in South Africa, capital for technology businesses was few and far between. We took the business to the US. Large US clients were engaging us. Then we got a Series A investment from Sequoia. That was a $6 million Series A. Then they led the Series B round in 2012 for the expansion into commerce.
Sramana Mitra: So, what’s the total funding you’ve raised for the business so far?
Pieter de Villiers: The total capital was less than $20 million. A month ago, we announced a $91 million round from Arrowroot Capital. Arrowroot’s thesis is simple. They bet on companies that they believe are becoming important companies that are changing the way consumers behave and transact.
Sramana Mitra: What level have you reached from a revenue point of view?
Pieter de Villiers: I can tell you that we do double-digits in the billions of chat and messaging interactions per year. Every one of them is monetized. We also do 1.5 million payment transactions per day. We share the face value of the transaction. We are part of the unit economics of the transaction itself.
Sramana Mitra: You’ve built a fairly large business at this point.
Pieter de Villiers: It’s a 21-year-old business. We’ve never had negative growth. Entrepreneurs who chase money will just come and go. Our view is to make the world a better place at scale. We want to do that through customer journeys and experiences. We are quite happy to do this for quite some time.
Sramana Mitra: What is the current configuration? Are you still based in Cape Town?
Pieter de Villiers: I spent 10 years in the Bay Area. A large part of our commerce and payments growth came out of Africa. I’ve felt that waking up and being the last to know what’s going on wasn’t a good thing for me or the company, so I moved back to be closer to the payment side. Our Head of Technology, CFO, and Head of Commerce are all based in North America. We have a very strong business in the US.
Sramana Mitra: How big is the company in terms of headcount?
Pieter de Villiers: 300 plus. At the end of this year, we’ll be close to 500.
Sramana Mitra: A large portion of that is in South Africa?
Pieter de Villiers: A large portion is in South Africa. Also at Toronto, Bay Area, Atlanta, and even Nigeria.
Sramana Mitra: Wonderful story! Thank you for your time.