From a coffee in Dubai to 300million top-ups – this quarter we talk to Ding’s founder and CEO, Mark Roden
Since its inception in 2006, Ding has been instrumental in driving the International top-up market and today it remains the largest mobile top-up platform in the world. The company, which is driven by the desire to change billions of lives by accelerating mobile access, is on an aggressive growth strategy. As Ding hits the extraordinary milestone of 300 million top-ups sent to users around the world, and the share of prepaid mobiles continues to grow – currently 76% – we ask Mark what the future holds for Ding and the prepaid user.
Mark, you set up Ding in 2006, can you tell us about when the lightbulb moment was for the company?
After a recent sale of my previous business easycash in 2005, I took my family for a holiday in Dubai – one morning I went in search of a coffee and got chatting to an Indian waiter. He told me that he was working there to support his family back home in India by sending remittances every month. He told me that if he wanted to get value home quickly he would text his wife in Bangalore a PIN from BSNL – an Indian mobile operator – then he whipped out a top-up card that he used, which he had bought from a local shop in Dubai.
It was a cumbersome, expensive process – after sourcing the card, he would scratch it, text the PIN code to his wife who would then manually add minutes to her mobile phone in India. I immediately saw that this was inefficient and began to think of a way to automate this clunky, manual, and expensive process and make it easier, more cost effective for users in emerging market countries – Ding was born. We launched in 2006, and we haven’t looked back since and are particularly excited about the future because some really interesting opportunities are opening up.
Was there one thing you would say was a ‘game changer’ or turning point for Ding?
One afternoon in 2010, I was in the office looking at our top-up transaction screen which shows live transactions being sent from senders to receivers. A few minutes later, the screen just ‘lit up’ with thousands of top-ups flying endlessly from New York and Florida to Haiti. At first, I thought it was a software blip but in fact it was the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti as relatives in the US could not get through to their families back home. With Ding.com they were able to send top-up through to mobile phones to be able to speak to them and see if they were okay. Overnight our volumes exploded and I realised the power of transferring top-up.
Talk to us about the prepaid market and its evolution?
Now, more than ever demand for the Ding platform is growing as the number of prepaid mobiles in the world stretches past five billion, or 76% of the world’s phones.
Contrary to the assumption that the prepaid market share might be shrinking it is in fact growing year on year, by 12% in fact in 2017. As mobile phone penetration continues to grow – 8.8 billion and growing daily according to the GSMA – and more and more people are looking to avail of all the digital economy has to offer, the need for mobile phones with value is growing.
What are the benefits of the Ding platform for your customers?
“Access to data is life changing… people are deeply reliant on their mobile phones.”
Ding was set up to change billions of lives by accelerating mobile access – for people in developing nations our top-up helps to give instant access to data and the internet – something which is fast becoming a right and an imperative in this data driven society. Whether it’s to make calls, send a text, or finish some homework – access to data is life changing. People are deeply reliant on their mobile phones.
Through our platform, a foreign worker can go online, or walk into a local shop, hand over their cash and top-up their own phone, or send instant top-up to the phone of a family member back home in Pakistan, Cuba, Jamaica, the Philippines etc. It is instant, flexible, and secure.
There’s a lot of talk of the Fintech revolution – what’s your view on the potential of Fintech companies to disrupt the traditional banking system?
Undoubtedly the trend toward digitalisation and technological innovation will likely reshape the global financial sector, but so far the level of disruption to the traditional system is fairly low, perhaps because existing banks have such an established position. In one sense, Fintech, is providing an alternative source of financing, and lending, for those borrowers previously underserved by traditional banks, which is clearly a positive outcome.
This is bringing change to a large proportion of the population which are unbanked – in fact globally some 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked i.e. without an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider – and virtually all of these adults live in the developing world, according to the 2017 Global Findex survey.
How is Ding serving the billions of unbanked or underbanked customers around the world?
“The majority of our users are in emerging markets and our service is changing how they can use their phones and communicate with loved ones.”
Our platform enables underbanked customers around the world to digitise their cash and send value to loved ones in the form of instant top-up. They can simply walk into a retail store, hand over their cash and provide instant access to data, SMS, and calls, to mobiles in their home country.
The majority of our users are in emerging markets and our service is changing how they can use their phones and communicate with loved ones.
Ten plus years in, what’s next for Ding and what are you most proud of?
In short, we are in the middle of an aggressive growth strategy. We expanded in the US earlier this year, with a new office in New Jersey, we’re making a push online, and launched a cutting edge new App in June. We believe the market opportunity for Ding is really significant in the coming years. All options are on the table to stimulate growth be that organic or by strategic investment.
What I am most proud of is seeing how Ding’s service empowers people by giving them access to data and other services – thereby allowing them to join the digital economy and make more informed decisions. This in turn can economically improve their situation, and that of their communities. Ding has built a digital highway connecting family overseas with family back home.
What are the experiences or lessons learned, that have shaped your leadership approach at Ding?
Since returning as Chief Executive I have been so impressed by the level of experience and commitment of everyone at Ding to really build outstanding services.
I can see it’s more than a job for our people because what we do every day makes an immediate impact on the lives of millions of people who are often underserved or last to receive important services.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?
I think my resume reflects a chronological set of decisions over many years that have brought me to where I am today. What it doesn’t show is the huge commitment my wife Nicola, and my family have made by supporting me while I built up Ding.
iPhone or Android?
What’s the last book you have read?
Jim Collins – ‘Good to great’
What’s the last concert you have been to?
What would you say is the best part of your day?
Each day is different but sometimes it’s meeting with people that I find interesting – either in Ding or outside. Other days it’s a long run in Straffan.
What’s your favourite saying?
It’s not mine, but it resonates with me. Stuart Lancaster said: ‘people don’t rise to the occasion, they perform according to the level of their best training.’
What political – contemporary or historic – figure do you most admire?
Martin Luther King
What do you wish you had invented?
YouTube – my kids live on it!
To Bitcoin, or not to Bitcoin?
And finally, our favorite question – what would you like to be when you grow-up?
Doing what I am doing, but much bigger.