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SA’s Clickatell secures R1.4 billion in funding as one idea snowballed into success

Pieter de Villiers, Co-Founder and CEO at Clickatell. Photo: File

Pieter de Villiers, Co-Founder and CEO at Clickatell. Photo: File

Published Feb 24, 2022

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CLICKATELL, a South African small business that has grown to become a global leader in chat commerce, from one idea, which snowballed into success, this week announced it had secured $91 million (R1.4 billion) in funding.

Clickatell sits within the chat economy and boasts 7.7 billion users compared to 4.7 billion internet users. Since its launch, Clickatell boasts one of the largest messaging-as-a-service footprints globally and fastest growing mobile pre-paid networks, serving more than 28 000 companies across 960 mobile operators in more than 220 countries and territories

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Essentially this fintech powers businesses to connect, interact and transact with consumers anytime, anywhere in chat. Clickatell’s platform powers mobile messaging/ CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) and payments within chat.

Pieter de Villiers, the co-founder and chief executive at Clickatell, is a former Cape Town optometrist and helped launch the company in 2000, which is now a multi million dollar business.

He explains Clickatell’s journey to success. It all began with a simple idea over 20 years ago of, “How to connect the internet with the mobile phone. Back in 2000 those two worlds did not collide... How do you bring the commercial universe to communications.”

De Villiers said in 2019, Clickatell was the first to launch chat banking, bringing banking services functionality to chat channels.

“Our successes would not be possible without the trust and collaboration of our customers, some of Africa’s largest and most successful companies in the world,” he said.

Part of his success was through the backing of Endeavor, which leads the global high growth entrepreneurship movement and promotes economic growth and job creation by selecting, mentoring and accelerating the best high-impact entrepreneurs around the world – with a very strong presence in South Africa.

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De Villiers one of the high-growth local entrepreneurs who was handpicked by Endeavor to be part of their worldwide mentor network.

Alison Collier, Endeavor South Africa managing director, said Endeavor was incredibly privileged to invest into Clickatell, one of the most admired and successful highgrowth companies to emerge from South Africa.

“Clickatell has an exceptional CEO and talented team, who are leaders and role-models to entrepreneurs across the ecosystem. We are fortunate to play a small part in their journey.’ Pieter de Villiers is one of South Africa’s high-growth globally scalable entrepreneurs who was selected by Endeavor to be part of the Endeavor network, headquartered in New York and present in 40 markets globally,” Collier said.

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Clickatell investors now include Arrowroot Capital, Kennedy Lewis Investment Management, Sequoia Capital, DAG Ventures, Endeavor Global and Harvest. This round was led by Arrowroot Capital, with participation from Kennedy Lewis Investment Management, Endeavor Global and Harvest.

Clickatell said it had delivered double-digit profitable growth for several years and would use the Series C capital to scale and expand three key areas: Accelerated development and innovation of its chat commerce offering, the expansion of its footprint in the US, and scaling of sales and marketing efforts on the back of growing demand from leading brands.

The new capital would also allow the company to significantly grow its engineering skills. Clickatell said it had already earmarked over 200 positions with a strong focus on boosting its African skills complement in the coming months.

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De Villiers said the company would not only be looking to grow its market influence in Africa, but would continue to invest in addressing the widening gap between the demand and supply of digital skills on the continent as well as encouraging entrepreneurship and start-up innovation.

“While expansion in the US is a high priority in this capital raise, Africa will remain a core market for us and one where our purpose of creating a better world for all through technology really shines through,” he said.

Clickatell said it processed more than 30 billion interactions, and 2 billion commerce transactions during the Covid-19 period alone as it enabled customer-centric brands to connect, interact and transact with their customers wherever they were sheltering in place during the pandemic.

Matt J Safaii, the founder and managing partner at Arrowroot Capital, said, “We have a shared vision with Clickatell that brands will need to invest in chat commerce to transform their customer experience. With 93 percent of conversations that transpire on its chat commerce platform ending in a transaction, Clickatell is sure to continue to make waves in this growing sector.”

Clickatell has more than 10 000 customers, many of which are Fortune 500 companies, include global brands such as Coca Cola, Deloitte, GT Bank, Booking.com, GoDaddy, IKEA, Novartis, Standard Bank, Tangerine, Telegram, US Foods, Visa, Zipcar, Capitec and others.

With a massive $80 billion plus total addressable market, the chat commerce market is viewed as the third big wave of digital commerce, following the e-commerce and App Commerce markets.

Along with his work with Clickatell and the mobile industry, De Villiers wears another cap - that of actively works to promote and empower entrepreneurs in Africa in digital skills training in South Africa. He serves as chairman of SiMODiSA.org, a public benefit, not-for-profit organisation based in South Africa and Africa.

“Africa has a wealth of talent and Clickatell will continue to work with both the public and private sectors to ensure that the potential, both of individuals and companies, can be realized,” said de Villiers, who is also Chairman of SiMODiSA, an industry-led initiative to address and overcome barriers facings SMEs and startups in South Africa.

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