South Africa is known for its small but immensely innovative tech community, and a strong entrepreneurial spirit has resulted in some real global successes. One such shining star has taken his passion for mobile technology and not only helped grow a number of companies, but helped nurture a new crop of digital success stories.
Andre de Wet, Chief Executive Officer at UBU International, spent some time chatting with Clickatell and shared his thoughts on what companies need to look out for as we enter the next mobile-dominated decade, and how to prepare for the age of the Super App.
A litany of success stories
After spending some time working in Europe and Singapore in the financial services sector, Andre returned to South Africa in 2010. It wasn’t long before his experience and drive was snapped up by a local company with big plans.
His tenure as CEO of PriceCheck showcased Andre’s skill at leading start-ups and turning them into mature, profitable companies – a skill he now shares through many speaking engagements for organisations and events across the globe, with a special focus on motivating entrepreneurs.
As CEO of PriceCheck he grew the company to be the 5th most visited e-commerce site in Africa; it was voted one of the top 25 South African companies to work for by Fast Company; and in 2013 the company won the global BlackBerry App of the Year. After just four years at the helm, Andre successfully exited the company to a venture capital firm in 2015.
Shortly after that Andre was headhunted by iFlix. He expanded the company into Africa, grew its staff and its client base and later sold a share of the company to an investor – proving once again, Andre’s skill in rapidly scaling companies and realising maximum shareholder value.
It was Andre’s deep understanding of and experience in the m-commerce space that resulted in his latest venture.
UBU International provides a white-label mobile payment, customer loyalty and rewards platform for large distribution networks and brick-and-mortar businesses of all sizes. It is quickly gaining attention in a pandemic economy desperate for ways to help struggling organisations attract and retain customers by converting digital leads into real-world revenue.
Andre’s passion for Africa is a constant when discussing the future. His confidence about UBU’s future shines through when he says: “What excites me about building a potentially multi-billion dollar company is doing it from South Africa and with the help of South African skills.”
The age of the Super App is upon us
Andre explains that Africa has always been a mobile-first, or in some instances a mobile-only environment. This makes it the perfect breeding ground for the emergence and rapid growth of the age of the Super App.
As Andre very elegantly describes it, a Super App is one app that does many things. Most of us have screenfulls of Apps on our phones, but only regularly use a handful. As example, Andre points to Uber and how it transitioned from a ride hailing service to food delivery. How long, he asks, before they take the deep customer insight that they have and turn to offering financial services, turning it into a Super App along with the likes of WeChat and Gojek. Andre explains that the Super App taps into the on-demand economy and for this reason has done exceptionally well in the East. However, there is still no Super App thinking in the Western World, he says, where most consumers are still fairly tied to desktops.
Andre believes it is trust that enables the Super App. Once we have had a few good experiences on an app we are happy to have our card details stored and used across services.
“Once people are comfortable transacting on the platform, they are happy to add new services like conversational commerce. The inherent trust of platforms like WeChat, WhatsApp etc., make them the perfect leaders for the newer commercial applications like conversational commerce,” he says.
Digital trends to drive the new economy
Andre believes that while it’s not new, fintech is going to change the status quo. He says it is fintech that empowers the on-demand economy and, if you look at international markets you can see how fintech empowers the digital, and especially the mobile economies.
He also says big data and AI are really changing things up. Looking at his own UBU offering, Andre points to how big data empowers vendors with information on user behaviour – allowing them to see what consumers are interested in and eventually buying. By tracking the customer journey, vendors or merchants are far better equipped to provide products and customer experiences that nurture a loyal customer who spends more.
The third trend he says we should have on our radars is mobile.
“Of course the dynamics that comes with moving chat onto the digital platforms is something we should all be watching in the coming years,” he advises. “Added to this the advent of voice search, which will really change how we engage with the world and, by extension, how brands will have to engage with us.
A future where every business can trade from a platform
Looking ahead Andre believes Covid has kickstarted the digital revolution for real. Bigger digital access to on-demand services will see companies shift entirely, he says. His vision is to use loyalty and big data to empower smaller businesses to participate alongside enterprises.
Andre is the first to admit that he is always thinking about the future. Citing Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as well as Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill as his favourite books, show Andre as a man who turns to the classics to help him navigate the future.
Quoting one of South Africa’s national treasures, singer and performer Johnny Clegg, who said you have “…to leave a child with a vision”, Andre says he hopes to be remembered as someone who left entrepreneurs with the excitement and the wherewithal to grow their own business.
On a more macro level, he says his work over the years has led to the idea of UBU which he believes represents the future: “My lasting legacy will be to have created a new way of thinking when it comes to mobile commerce and how we engage with it. Retail or offline stores have no means to generate demand in a digital or online world. Enabling and optimising the ability to move from initiating a search on a mobile platform to an offline or retail conversion is, while remaining in the same eco-system, is the next billion dollar opportunity,” he predicts.