From start-ups to different heights of business, 2ndBase helps the world’s top tech companies expand into emerging markets. As they work on the premise that you know your business and they know the right partners, local customs and how best to optimise, 2ndBase helps and introduces all of your team to your target market. Today we had a chance to talk with the company’s CEO and Founder – Mr. Andre De Wet who shared with us how he pulls 2ndBase and the whole team together and how they continue to offer wide-ranging relevant expertise from Africa to Asia and Latin America.
Good day, Mr. De Wet! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Let’s start this interview by giving us a glimpse of what a day looks like for a senior C-level executive and seasoned entrepreneur like you?
Hi and thanks for the kind invite to share some of what I do and how our business works.
As I work across timelines my day starts pretty early as I’m either scheduled for a call with one of our clients in Asia or getting back to a client in the USA be that on email or via a similar style call.
Needing to be at the top of my game in this way I also make sure I plan my diet well and enjoy getting in some exercise in the morning. Having the opportunity to live in Cape Town lends itself to a wide range of outdoor activities I like taking part in.
Pulling 2ndBase and the team in it together, has been one of the more rewarding endeavours I’ve undertook. I worked with a big part of the team on a specific project where we’d helped a fast growing SVOD service expand into 28 countries over a 14-month period. This has given us the basis off of which we’d build 2ndBase Inc.
The team and I have grown a wide range of business from start-up through to different levels of exits, be they liquidity events, next rounds funding or even sale of companies.
On career highlights I’d say my biggest was taking the PriceCheck app to market in such a way that we’d delivered exactly what an end user needed. This was picked up internationally and we were selected as the best mobile app in 2013, beating 150 000 other entrants.
As CEO of 2ndBase, you help venture-capital-backed tech companies break into Asia, Africa and Latin America. What’s interesting about these markets? How significant are the opportunities these emerging markets provide?
Probably the biggest drawcard for me and the team in these territories is the size of the prize, the width of opportunity and the massive wins one can get. What’s so massively differentiating is how these are mobile-only countries. One needs to move away from thinking desktop and then, mobile. They have leapfrogged the former and gone right into massive mobile usage.
Let me give you an example, in Myanmar in 2013 mobile penetration was between 1%-5%, in 2017 that figure was 86%, of which 65% are smartphone users. In a country of 53 million people this is a massive opportunity. At some point they were growing by a million users per month. And honestly, who in mobile is thinking about Myanmar right now? This is just one example of a multitude of emerging market economies and as such, someone is leaving a lot of money on the table.
If you’re a mobile app platform, have you even thought of South East Asia (SEA)? Let alone a seemingly obscure country like Myanmar.
And let’s expand this topic into just the bigger SEA. It covers 10 countries (outside of China) and makes up a population of 635 million. Active mobile users that offer a large growing middle class with a collective GDP of $2.5 trillion. It’s the world’s fastest growing internet market with 3.8 million new users online monthly. And this is all via mobile access.
Bringing Africa into the picture, one has countries like Nigeria with more than a 100 million users on mobile – and the average age across 180 million people is under 25 years old (that’s opportunity right there). Yet, as much as they are always mentioned, no one talks about other countries like Ethiopia, same market size but with an annual growth rate that averaged 5.85 percent from 1981 until 2017. Just last year it was over 10%. This is massive and spells out opportunity in big neon letters.
In your experience working with companies in their business set up and expansion, what have been the greatest challenges you dealt with?
I’d say, probably the preconceived ideas and a need for companies to want to do things “their way”. Every new country is different, has other ways of doing things, has its unique challenges and local habits and things users like.
There are multiple examples of how Uber has been nearly completely removed out of Asia and SEA with Go-Jek and Grab replacing them completely.
In Africa, European e-commerce companies tried to bring their model to the continent with, shall we say, less than stellar results.
One has to take the time, and spend the money to find out what works; what works locally, how to correctly approach the new market and how to do it right.
This is where companies like 2ndBase come in and bring their experience, their many years of living and building businesses in these countries to assist and make your expansion not only worthwhile, but also successful and “fast”.
Now more than ever, companies are expanding their business overseas as a way to keep their business growing. What are the key considerations for businesses wishing to expand in emerging markets? What should they pay close attention to in order to make their expansion endeavour a success?
As per the question above, do your research, use a company that understands the local lay of the land, find help. As critically important as it is to scale fast, it’s just as important to make sure one does it right. And it’s not difficult, there are specialists around and they charge a fraction of what the loss of opportunity cost might be or the cost of doing it wrong.
Attention to local customs, local “what works”, and on the more boring side make sure you have all your regulations, admin, tax and the like sorted. Companies and especially exciting new platforms can explode very fast. Take up can be massive, very quickly. Make sure you’re prepared for this.
Again, not knowing how, should not be a reason not to expand, just as one has someone at home to do the things you aren’t a specialist in, this help exists when expanding.
In terms of your offerings, what are your services that are mostly in-demand for businesses seeking to expand in Asia, Africa and Latin America? What have been the remarkable achievements and best feedback you have received?
That’s a pretty wide question as each client is different with different challenges. However, what comes up time and time again is our network of contacts and being able to get the seemingly difficult issues or intros done well, effectively and quickly.
Helping a VC backs media company expand into 28 countries in a 14-month period with the team that makes up 2ndBase is probably our most remarkable achievement to date. We even got one country going from 1st employee to business signed and live with a Telco in 8 weeks. That is not the norm but shows what can be achieved if one uses the right team.
With your impressive experience and achievements in the mobile, e-commerce related fields, do you think emerging markets offer more potential and growth opportunities for digital businesses comparing to more established markets?
I’m going to answer that question in two ways. Firstly, in first world countries things are easier, more people have credit cards or ways to pay, data is cheap etc. But if one looks at pure opportunity and where the world is going, emerging markets are where the next unicorns will come from.
Another real consideration is the ease of growth. In the greater Silicon Valley there are something like 70 000 VC backed businesses – that’s fishing in a very small pond to try and be successful. If one took some of that VC money and expanded into 4 or 5 markets in SEA or similar, it will get you a large new client base, a real reason to become an international brand and ultimately makes you more investable for that next raise or liquidity event.
On a lighter note, within the span of your professional career, what are the most significant things you have discovered/learned? What would be your advice for those aspiring to become a successful entrepreneur or C-level executive in the future?
Ah, the fun stuff. So, I’m someone that likes to take on new challenges both in business and also in my private life. Just last year I crossed a part of the Himalayas on motorbike over a 14-day period. And the year before, I set up a Guinness world record in Kitesurfing.
I mention these as they encapsulate the message or advice I’ve learnt, being that the only thing that holds you back is in your mind. You can truly achieve anything you decide to do. Or at least you can have the most fun trying to get it done.
Please remember that you only have one shot at this thing called life – you might just as well make it count. So, make each day a new reason to do or try something new, to wake up and think, ok, what’s today going to bring.
How do you make sure that you maintain a healthy lifestyle at and off work? What’s your daily grind?
As mentioned earlier, I try and get an early hour’s workout in, 3-4 times a week. I do this early before my day starts. It also allows me to get my thinking in order and my day planned.
I don’t do coffee at all in the morning and might only have a cup in the early afternoon.
On weekends you’ll either find me on a motorbike out discovering the roads and countryside surrounding Cape Town or on a kiteboard or surfboard in the ocean. All these allow for the best digital switch off.
What does success mean to you? What are your plans/goals in the next 3 to 5 years?
This changes so frequently, but I’d say it’s being able to do what one enjoys every day. Be it growing your own business or company, helping another do the same, being a valued mentor for someone starting their new business idea, or just finding time to sit with a child or young person and opening them up to the delight of opportunity.
Over the next 3 to 5 years I plan to build 2ndBase into one of the top emerging market specialists and during that time find a handful of really ground-breaking new ideas that we become a fundamental part of taking to market.
Oh, and also to go and find some really interesting and new places to go and ride motorbikes.
One of my favourite sayings is, “Let’s…so, let’s go do things they’ll write books about.”
Thank you very much, Mr De Wet. It’s a pleasure speaking with you.
About the Interviewee
He has a passion for everything digital and how it can, does and will change our lives – and how to use this to aggressively grow businesses.