Durban certainly has an air about it lately, there’s an electric charge in the air I feel, with new venues, new ventures and new creativity being cultivated & captured every week it seems. We might often be viewed as the laid back sibling in the South African city family, but we actually like it that way and more young entrepreneurs are choosing to stay in Poison City these days, rather than heading off to the big smoke or the mountain.
There’s a refreshing stream of market type events, pop up restaurants & stores, open days and startups, all pioneering the world wide trend to go solo and work for yourself in Durban. I myself left full time corporate at the beginning of the year and headed off in the direction of project to project payments, instead of a guaranteed monthly pay cheque. It’s freaking scary to start of with and I often get asked how I did it and where I got the money to do it.
That’s another story though – instead, I got to turn that table around and sat down to ask those questions of Matt Putman and Ramsay Daly – 2 born and bred Durban boys who’ve laid claim to the market with the launch of iKhokha and are thereby enabling small business owners to set up and take secure payments anytime, anywhere in a 5 day turnaround time. It’s a beautiful middle finger to the big banking institutions who suffocate small businesses in paperwork and red tape and then take a hefty cut to process credit and debit card payments.
Jane Doe can take payments at her market stall and John Deere (yes I changed his name) can take money from his spaza store customers with ease. Standalone retail stores, beauty & hair salons and on-the-road businesses like plumbers can all now take payments in real time. And it works just by plugging a card reader into a smartphone – that’s it. Genius.
So I wanted to know how these 2 actually ended up founding iKhokha and what their journey to this point has been like.
I always love hearing the story of how an idea was germinated or a company founded – it’s usually such an ad hoc stream of events and yet it leads to such an impactful outcome.
Matt & Ramsay went to high school together – they have a humourous repartee, finishing each others sentences and the banter between them leads to much laughter. It was an extremely refreshing hour learning how Ramsay – an ex debt collector and wannabe Bear Grylls and Matt – whose first job out of school was at a curio shop at uShaka, ended up in the technology game, revolutionising the way small businesses take payments in South Africa.
An article in Fortune Magazine about Square in the US piqued their interest and started the research into the possibility of a similar device in SA, the technology behind it and the route to market.
What fascinated me most was that neither of them had any background in this type of technology, there was just a dogged determination to investigate further and educate themselves by researching online and learning more about the digital and mobile industry. An in-depth analysis of what it would take to get a card reader into SA ensued and from there they developed the initial prototype – a 3D printed mockup of a working unit, as well as an app which was developed in India. Up until this point, a large amount of time and a relatively small outlay of cash was all they had invested in the project, so risk was low. But their future plans needed an investor to progress, so armed with their business plan, prototype and app, they aimed to approach a progressive local bank for capital to take the project further.
But that’s not exactly how things panned out. Ramsay headed to Cape Town to take up a position at a digital agency and Matt stayed in Durban, making a living playing online poker. The end of the dream?
Nope, they agreed to carry on with the project and months of skype sessions kept some momentum going.
A chance meeting with an old friend in Cape Town gave the project added momentum, as this led to the guys introducing their rudimentary prototype to potential investors and then venture capitalists. They embarked on a collaborative process with a few stakeholders at this point, perfectly demonstrating another new way of thinking, one which is gaining great momentum in SA and Durban more recently.
And that is the exact space in which iKhokha is now gaining traction. It’s allowing new-age businesses and like minded collaborators the freedom to trade with their just their product and a smartphone. Device owners also have access to the iKhokha analytics system, which allows them access to a reporting system most small businesses wouldn’t usually have access to and more recently, the device has the added the ability to sell airtime, so owners are able to sell more than just their own products, providing an added revenue stream.
From a magazine article to a fully fledged payment system in the palm of a business owner’s hand – that is pure gold.
So what’s next for the duo?
There’s a slew of new products and apps on the cards, all highly confidential of course, but they’d also like to engage with like minded thinkers, looking for a soundboard for their own ideas, to assist them with the process of bringing an idea to market. It’s a new space for South Africans who are relatively new at this startup game and to have access to a team of guys who’ve walked a bit of the walk, would be an invaluable asset for a lot of people.
Look out for the X-Men version of a technology university in your city soon ;)
There’ll be no stopping at the success of just one device, these guys have an infectious enthusiasm and dynamic approach to doing business, as well as a passion for Durban and its small businesses.
And it’s pretty damn cool that they’ve cultivated all this and managed to stay down to earth, proud Durbanites looking to make a change to the retail landscape in SA – thanks for your time guys.