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How wiGroup founder switched gears to build growth company around people

Even before a recent shared dinner, wiGroup founder Bevan Ducasse has sought to follow entrepreneur Richard Branson’s advice on creating a company where staff can thrive.

Ducasse recently met with the Virgin founder in the Cape Winelands town of Franchoek, before later inking a deal which saw the Virgin Group make an undisclosed investment in the Cape Town based mobile software firm. The deal was announced yesterday by wiGroup.

Read more: SA fintech wiGroup secures funding from Virgin, Smollan to boost global expansion

“He (Branson) took a liking to the company and the technology we’re building,” said Ducasse. “I was fortunate to have dinner with him,” he says.

Branson, he says, spent the dinner giving some advice to those present. “He talks about creating environments where people can thrive,” he says.

Two and a half years ago he and the management team were forced too “switch gears” as wiGroup moved from being a startup to a growth company

And so it has been with Ducasse, who founded the company in 2008. Initially the firm operated as wiWallet, a business to customer mobile wallet but later pivoted to become a business to business software firm targeting rewards programmes offered by corporates.

Two and a half years ago he and the management team were forced too “switch gears” as the company moved from being a startup to a growth company. “As soon as you have over 100 employees you have to switch gears,” says Ducasse.

During this time he and his team took on several managers to handle operation and processes. “We hired really solid people who have run companies for 30 or 50 years,” he adds.

Building an almost R100m a year firm

Today the company has over 150 employees and generates “close on” R100-million in revenue, says Ducasse, who confirms that he holds a “significant” share in the company. Investec Asset Management and CrossFin Technology Holdings (part of Capital Eye Investments) also hold a significant share.

But Ducasse says though not a startup anymore, the culture of the company remains one of “passion and having fun”. “We haven’t turned into a corporate,” he jokes.

He says he keeps the “energy levels” high by ensuring the team is continually innovating and building new products and by travelling each month. Perhaps part of his passionate energy has rubbed off on staff.

“I think in every business their (startup founders) personality does rub off. But when you get to a certain size, it’s about the people there,” he says.

Every month he and some of the company’s management team meet to discuss the company culture and any staff issues.

“Generally I stay focused on what is working. But at the same time it’s a chance to address issues where teams may be down,” he says.

And when issues do arise among staff, he says 90% of it is “down to their own attitude”. Says Ducasse: “I often coach them to say ‘you be the change you want to see in other people’.”

Featured image: wiGroup staff (Supplied)


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