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In under four years South African mobile payments platform Zapper has grown to operate in 12 markets, employing over 300 people. It sounds like a SA startup success — but who really owns the Durban-based company?
The company, which earlier this month introduced mobile payment starter packs to the market, does not provide information on its website on who its owners are.
While a number of media stories have in the past have referred to Zapper Group CEO David de Villiers (pictured above), as the founder of Zapper, the former IT head at Investec bank told Ventureburn that he started the firm in November 2013 with an angel investor company.
“I met up with an angel investor company and we started the company,” said De Villiers, adding only that the angel investors are from Israel.
Zapper is owned by the fund or investors… we’re working together, says CEO David de Villiers
When Ventureburn asked for the name of the angel investor company, the Zapper CEO responded only that he would “need to check with them” on whether he could provide the name or not, adding however that he believed it was public knowledge.
“Zapper is owned by the fund or investors… we’re working together,” he added. When pressed by Ventureburn on whether this meant that Zapper was then majority owned by the Israeli fund, De Villiers became defensive: “I am not prepared to answer that”.
The company, he said, had both an SA-registered operation, while a number of other connected firms were registered in different countries.
Ventureburn then questioned De Villiers on the amount in funding that the angel investors had invested in the business so far. Again, he said he would “need to check with investors” on whether he could disclose the information or not.
What he was prepared to divulge was that after working for Investec for some years where he was part of a team that looked at transactional banking capabilities, he moved to IT company Derivco where he helped built software for a mobile gaming company. It was here that he picked up some expertise on ecommerce.
When Zapper launched it initially targeted the European and US market, entering South Africa just over a year after its launch. De Villiers said the decision was taken to target overseas markets first as he reasoned that the “potential for business is more” in the US and UK markets.
Are Zapper’s investors then simply venture builders looking to grow the company to a super value before selling to a larger company at a sky-high price?
“We want to build a company that is valuable to shareholders,” he said, adding that Zapper is signing up about 400 merchants a month. He estimated that the company has about 20 000 to 25 000 merchants globally at presently (most of these in the UK and US) — with about 10 000 of these based in South Africa.
The real value in the platform, he claims. is that merchants are able to use the data the payments platform collects on customers, to build things such as customised loyalty programmes and to craft better communication messages.
But then — who owns the company? De Villiers however doesn’t believe this is important enough to share with the media.
Featured image: Zapper Group CEO David de Villiers from ZapperUSA via Twitter