How to ensure a return on the investment of time and money
E asyEquities is a South African online platform that allows anyone to buy shares in the brands and companies they love. Having had great success at fintech challenges, including the Singapore Fintech Festival, which was entered via KPMG Matchi, EasyEquities spoke to us about how to get the most value from these events.
EasyEquities has been scooping awards locally and internationally, and has also fared well at fintech challenge events. We asked CEO and founder Charles Savage to tell us about the EasyEquities experience and to share some advice for other fintechs and organisations running these types of challenges.
Charles, please tell us a little about EasyEquities.
Our goal is to democratise all things investment. We’re approaching our break-even point as a business and we’ve achieved some significant milestones. The first is that we’ve built a valuable brand that is highly trusted and is engaging a new audience in investing – one that is demographically representative of the South African opportunity. Everyone is included, from a 12-year-ols running their own stock portfolios to a 94-year-old previously disadvantaged South African who felt they would never participate in owning shares in this country. It’s been an incredibly rewarding journey.
The other highlight for us has been that our business model has been validated in two ways. One is that we’ve partnered with leading South African organisations to deliver our platform capability into their ecosystem. One is SATRIX and the other is Bidvest Bank. Finally, we’ve raised significant capital for this business – 100 million ZAR (roughly 7 million USD) from Sanlam – which secures our growth and aspirations through to break-even in the South African market.
The future is really exciting for us and links into why we participate in these fintech festivals. We think what we’ve proven in South Africa is scalable to other markets, especially those with similar setup to South Africa five years ago. Our focus is largely on emerging markets and seeking to partner our capability into a market opportunity, where the partner brings local knowledge and regulatory understanding and we bring platform capability. There needs to be a level of maturity and fintech support that enables our business model. There must be a very strong payments layer and smartphone penetration rates must be good. If those are in place and there’s a low propensity for retail stock investors to be investing in the local stock market, we start to be interested.
We’re not emerging markets biased, however. Our first new market entry is going to be Australia, which is in the process of being set up. Our first on-the-ground resource has arrived there this week to start with setting up the business regulatory framework. We plan to launch within the next few months.
We had started investigating Australia as a potential market and our focus was shifted at the Singapore Fintech Festival, where a lot of Australian banks were present. We gained a lot of insight through dialogue with them and sharpened our focus.
That all sounds very exciting! And the Singapore Fintech Festival seems to have been a useful event for you. How do you go about choosing which events and challenges to enter?
We don’t attend events for the sake of attending events. We’ll always choose based on it being a market we’re interested in and one that we have done some research on. We also look for a level of sophistication and maturity at the event that ensures there’s going to be a good marriage of fintech on display as well as potential partners. Our key objective is to forge a partnership. You can do a lot of research on a desktop – you don’t need to attend an event. For us, there must be enough C-suite potential partners in attendance.
The Singapore Fintech Festival is a great example – anyone and everyone in tech is there, but on the other side, anyone you’d want to partner in the region is also there. We also look at how professionally the event runs its fintech stage or competition. We’ve paid some school fees on that front previously, but as we’ve grown, we’ve become more discerning. We’re looking to play to a big crowd on a professional stage where there’s a high probability of forming a partnership.
How do you prepare for an event like this?
Firstly, we crowdsource our team internally. We take the problem statement to our team and we ask people to motivate what contribution they could make. We pick the strongest and form a team that will be responsible for delivering on that problem statement. We share accountability and responsibility as a team, but we don’t select that team based on tenure or experience, but rather on their own motivation to be on the team.
We also have a deep desire to win. We want to prove that as a South African fintech, we are as good as anyone else in the world. We measure our success by our performance at the event, but also by how the work we’ve done gets implemented in our platform approach. For example, there were aspects of the Singapore proposition that were not mature components of our platform, specifically Thrive, our loyalty programme, which was an integral part of our pitch there. And we ended up maturing that product component on our platform so that it was real and tangible on the day.
We don’t do PowerPoint presentations. We solve the problem and then we enable the problem on the platform and deliver a solution that is working in the market. We don’t do events because it’s about winning an award – we have to like the problem statement. Then the real measure of success is what kind of partnership opportunities we come back with. In the case of Singapore, it’s opened lots of doors into Australia, as well as a significant partnership opportunity in Malaysia.
How important is your marketing collateral at an event like this?
We always put effort into ensuring we’re memorable. At this event, where we weren’t allowed to sell shares within the region, we gave away socks instead of stocks. Normally, we’d give away vouchers, which we’ve found works really well. But the real value is in the engagement at the stand. You’ve got to send your A-team – people who can deliver your unique selling points concisely and engage with the audience. We send our senior team members and they are all on-pitch.
What’s your secret to success when it comes to ensuring you are always on-brand?
I think it’s the shared ownership of our success. Everyone plays their part and can tell the story from their perspective, and that’s consistent across the group. Everyone is deeply entrenched in the storyline. There’s a deep sense of purpose that runs through our DNA and it doesn’t matter who you talk to in the team – they will articulate that well.
While you’re at the event, how do you make sure you get the most out of it?
We focus on engaging the right people. I’m more interested in talking to someone who’s VP of a bank than someone from a PR agency. We spend hours beforehand understanding who the delegates are and we make a point of canvasing the people we want to speak to at their own stands. We scan who’s there and we identify people we’d like to see. When we get time with them, we want it to be a good conversation, where we set some actionable outcomes – maybe a follow-up call.
We also use the conference tools available, such as scanning tools to capture people’s contact details, or a conference app that pulls in delegates’ LinkedIn profiles and Twitter handles and offers in-app messaging features.
We also try to connect with people ahead of an event. For example, at Singapore, we reached out to five or six people on LinkedIn and tried to set up a time to meet them at the show. We try to get in early, so we’ll get in touch a week or two beforehand.
We’ll also look at the meet-ups that are going on outside of the show and check out the tech ecosystem, so we’ll drop in on the local incubators.
Social media is something EasyEquities is very good at. Do you find it valuable in helping to identify potential partners?
Social media has been very good for us and continues to be good for us. A lot of our partners have found us through our social media and validated our brand through those platforms. It’s more a case of partners finding us than us finding them on social media.
What’s your advice for being memorable at an event where there are so many people exhibiting?
First off, our marketing stands out in financial services. We wear T-shirts, not suits, and we have some fun. And people tend to notice. We are also responsive to questions and opportunities. We rule them in or out quite quickly. We don’t want to waste our time or theirs.
What are the challenges you’ve come up against in seeking to expand into new markets?
The first is finding the right person within the organisation who has the levels of authority to make decisions. The second is ensuring that person understands your message very clearly – what your value proposition and capability is. And the third one is regulatory fit. Regulatory compliance is different in every region and so we need to have contextualised our pitch and understood the environment. It’s very easy to use regulation and compliance as an excuse not to partner. You need to be well prepped from that perspective.
Why have events and fintech challenges been part of the strategy at EasyEquities?
Well, it’s free marketing, but more than that it forces you to rethink your proposition in the region. It really prepares us for a regional opportunity and puts us through a formal process – which adds discipline to the process – that ensures we are ready for the pitch day. We also have the desire to showcase South Africa.
At some point, we were doing it to raise money and awareness. That’s now less important and the real value is the disciplined approach to understanding the region and opportunity. It can be a great launchpad into a new market.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and lessons with us! the Matchi team looks forward to seeing further developments at EasyEquities over the coming months.