Fundamo’s vision is for a truly connected mobile financial services ecosystem that acts as an agent of positive social, economic and technological change.
Add one part maverick, two parts trial and error, a dash of grit, and, the magic ingredient, a sprinkling of luck, and you might have the recipe, if not for success, then maybe for the deep satisfaction that comes from giving each minute a full 60 seconds run.
So says self-proclaimed rebel, Hannes van Rensburg, who resigned as CIO at Sanlam 13 years ago, swopping a high-paying job with the proverbial corner office, company car and stock options to pursue his start-up dream.
“It was very frustrating and boring. The corporate atmosphere is too disruptive to my way of thinking. I always say, if something has a fence around it, the reason is so you can climb over it. Rebel is a good description. I do not like to follow the prescribed path,” he says.
This was not his first start-up. He was also in the leadership team behind Infomet, which was sold to IBM in the early 1990s, and developed one of the first CASE (Computer Assisted System Engineering) tools in the world. “Those start-ups that failed will go unnamed. They failed pretty quickly,” Hannes says.
Fast forward a decade and his start-up vision Fundamo has become one of the world’s most sophisticated mobile financial service platforms, deployed in more than 34 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. With headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa, and with initial funding from Venfin, a Remgro company, Fundamo (a portmanteau of the two words, “Fundamentally” and “Mobile”) offers mobile financial services to unbanked and under-banked mobile subscribers including person-to-person payments, bill payments, wireless airtime top-up, and ticketing.
Hannes insists that he is an ordinary guy who believed in his dream and who was lucky! “I am nothing special. I made more mistakes than most. I think the lesson is to work hard and stay on for the full time, when many around you might have quit.”
Working with clients and partners globally, Fundamo has played a major role in the development of the mobile financial services industry since 2000. Fundamo launched the world’s first mobile financial service in a developing economy with Celpay Zambia in 2002.
In June 2011 Fundamo was acquired by Visa Inc. for $110-million. The acquisition combines Visa’s global network scale, product suite, financial institution
associations, and security with Fundamo’s capability in mobile financial services.
The acquisition created a globally inter-operable mobile payment platform that can connect existing mobile money services with Visa‘s global payment network. Fundamo’s vision is for a truly connected mobile financial services ecosystem that acts as an agent of positive social, economic and technological change.
Hannes believes that young South Africans are uniquely poised to take advantage of and thrive in an increasingly globalised world. “They are growing up surrounded by a lot of diversity, be it language, culture, music, they are going to be flexible enough to deal with it and this is a very important trait in the complex, multicultural corporate environment. Because of this upbringing, I think young South Africans are going to approach problems in a flexible way and excel out there!”
But, he warns, do not for a second think it is going to be an easy path. “It will never be as easy as you think. It is not even close to being as glamorous as it is made out to be. It is hard and painful and it will demand a lot of you. Even if you persevere and stay committed, you may still fail – but at least you would know that you gave it your everything.”
So, what would the older man – Hannes turned 60 recently – tell his younger self? “I would tell a younger me to be more patient, to be more focused, to save my energy to do the right things well and to not waste my energy on the long shots. However, I would probably not have followed this advice, and even if I did, I am not sure if the story would have turned out better.”
But, and perhaps this too is a secret ingredient, Hannes has no regrets. Not one!
“I have made many, many mistakes. I should have read contracts more thoroughly before I signed them, I should have been more careful before I trusted people – those are the key lessons I think, maybe also to have more courage to say, “No” sooner.
“I wasted money on wild goose chases and untested ideas. I procrastinated on things that I enjoyed thinking about, but I sort-of knew would never pan out. But I do not have any regrets. Even the terrible mistakes that I made (sometimes even to the point of smashing the dream), were good, because I am a better man because of them.”
So what did the younger man get right? The dream, which must by definition, be a little bit vague! “This allows scope for creativity, for building upon it. A dream is a picture of the future, and the most important part about realising a dream is to be able to communicate that vision. Any individual, any team want to know where they are going. If you can provide an exciting picture of the destination it will bring people together. It will boost confidence. It will be challenging but inspiring.”