Use technology to solve real problems

Driver Kobus Ehlers

South Africa may not strike as a prime location for developing new technologies including FinTech (Financial Technology), but Kobus Ehlers, co-founder of Firepay that offers payment services, was keen on solving people’s real problems - that is access to formal payment technology, and so he made the dive into the startup scene.

His is now arguably the only successful startup to have made mobile payments relevant in South Africa, according to VentureBurn.

In an interview with Armin Reinartz, Head of FNF Global Innovation Hub, Ehlers shares that he always looks at unique opportunities in emerging markets. “In South Africa, people are familiar with bank card machines, and almost everyone is carrying around a cell phone in their pocket. We saw this as an opening to offer mobile payments through technology, which how we came up with SnapScan,” says Ehlers.

“Mainly, what we wanted was to give people access to the formal economy, change how people live their lives,” he adds.

SnapScan now has over 25,000 merchants, and a vast user network across South Africa. “There is no secret recipe to success. Just make sure that you solve real problems, and be out there,” advises Ehlers.

Ehlers, who was a lecturer of Philosophy at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town before he put up his own startup, also stressed that societal structure is changing. According to him “access to information and technology makes a very big difference in the development of any country. If the world can be more interconnected, allowing people to collaborate and work together, then a lot of amazing things can happen.”

He points out that governments should ensure that there is a conducive environment for innovation and entrepreneurship. “There should be discussions about attracting foreign direct investments, intellectual property laws, movement of currencies, and mobility of people in context of supporting startups,” suggests Ehlers.

Ehlers was in Hong Kong for a short visit. “Hong Kong is definitely my favorite city in the world. It’s the pace of change, and the dynamic energy that you get here that is extremely exciting for me,” he comments.

The interview is part of Drivers of Innovation series. The video podcast can be viewed here.

Driver of Innovation Kobus Ehlers advises startups to solve people's real problems.