Matt Putman, the managing director and co-founder of Emerge Mobile, the Umhlanga based technology company behind the first internationally accredited and locally developed and manufactured mobile credit card machine iKhokha, believes that the days of cash being king in the small business space are numbered.
With people not carrying cash and preferring to pay by card, SMMEs could be left behind if they don’t investigate alternative payment methods.
The mobile point of sale (MPOS) landscape in South Africa has grown significantly over the past two years in response to changing consumer needs. Developers of MPOS technology, which uses a smartphone, tablet or dedicated wireless technology device to perform the same functions as a cash register and card machine, are producing increasingly user-friendly and affordable products.
Emerge Mobile, a lean team of Durbanites, is one. It has emerged as an unlikely competitor for some of the big banks in what is a highly regulated space that has up until been neglected by financial institutions.
Over 1100 small businesses are already processing payments on their smartphones using the iKhokha mobile app and mobile credit card machine.
Emerge Mobile is now firmly focused on further growing their South African merchant base, with hundreds of new small and medium sized businesses signing up monthly.
“I think more and more businesses are starting to realise the benefits of accepting cards. Merchants don’t want to chase EFT payments that never arrive, lose sales because customers don’t have enough cash or deal with the risk and hassle of holding and banking cash. You would be surprised at how many different businesses use our solution – lawyers, tradesmen, taxi drivers, hairdressers, market vendors, funeral parlours, retailers and a whole host of other weird and wonderful businesses,” he says.
Putman’s journey has been an interesting one. Unsure of what he wanted to do career wise, he completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in Media and Communications at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. He was involved in a Durban-based nightclub whilst completing his studies which gave him invaluable insight into the payment challenges of smaller companies and the proliferation of smart phones.
Needing “a change of industries”, he joined forces with his father, Clive, who had a track record of building successful companies in the security technology space.
He transitioned into the role of relationship manager at Entesys, a new side project of his father’s.
“I was searching for a business idea that excited me, something that could become a really big business and have a meaningful impact. I subscribed to Fortune magazine to try and stay abreast of international trends. One day, I came across an article about Jack Dorsey, one of the founders of Twitter. He had recently launched a company called Square in the US. The article immediately got me thinking about ways we could use mobile technology to be innovative and disruptive and offer small and medium businesses a low cost mobile credit card machine with other awesome functionality in South Africa,” he recalls.
Emerge Mobile was the result. He began to raise funds for development and, in February 2012, registered it with Clive and Ramsay Daly (his best mate since his schools days) as co-founders. They worked out of Clive Daly’s home for the first year.
Putman admits that, throughout the process, his biggest challenge was to believe in himself and remain determined to succeed despite the many obstacles along the way.
“The best part for me was proving to myself and others that, if you are determined enough, you can find a way to realise your vision. Being able to take an immature idea conceived by a naïve 27 year old and turn that into a tangible business in one of the toughest market sectors in South Africa and deliver measurable benefits to 1000 plus merchants is what keeps us going.”
But this is just the beginning. The sizeable South African SMME sector needs a product like iKhokha. “People are looking for an innovative, affordable tool to help them accept card payments. The key for us now is how we can create broader brand awareness and reach the addressable market at scale as quickly as possible, balanced against a sustainable cost per acquisition,” he says.
Putman’s vision is for iKhokha to be the market leading challenger brand servicing SME’s in the mobile commerce space, starting with card payment acceptance but quickly expanding to other financial service needs.
“We also want to help grow the start-up space in KwaZulu-Natal and assist other young people in starting their own companies,” he says, emphasising his pride in being a local entrepreneur.
“We pride ourselves in being 100 percent home-grown. We are a company built by South African entrepreneurs servicing other South African entrepreneurs. Being KZN based is as important for us. We want to help foster growth in our awesome city.”