Mark Roden is the founder of Ding, an Irish business that connects four billion phones around the world. He spoke to Stephen Conmy about mobile payments and the vast emerging global markets.
Mark Roden is in good form. We meet at MoneyConf, in Dublin’s RDS, an event dedicated to the rise of FinTech (financial technology); banking, mobile payments and the future of global finance.
Roden’s is a familiar story to many in Ireland’s business world. He was a dentistry student who left Trinity early and went to work for Denis O’Brien, helping to start Esat. He was also the EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014.
Today he is the majority shareholder of mobile payments company, Ding.
The Dublin-based Ding allows people – mainly from emerging markets – to send ‘value’ to each other in the form of phone credit.
He founded the company in 2006 and now works with over 400 operators worldwide, delivering top-ups to four billion phones.
Four billion people
“We deliver the ‘energy’ people need to use their phones,” he says. “This is hugely important in the vastly populated emerging economies. If you are in Ghana and I’m in Dublin, I can transfer five dollars in pre-paid credit to your phone. This brings life to your phone, allowing you to communicate and access the mobile web.”
The vast populations of emerging economies in Africa, India and South America are mobile first. They skipped the desktop age.
“This is where Ding offers real value,” says Roden. “Ding isn’t about a cheaper call it’s about empowering people to access their phones and allows them to use the web on their phones.
“The life for people around the world who are not connected is a grim life. What we do is offer a zero barrier way to enable people to get connected.”
What next for Ding?
Now that Ding has ‘laid the railway lines’ the infrastructure is there to add other services like mobile payments.
“This is where I see us going. Ding can act as a mobile distribution network for cash. Obviously, the global potential of this is enormous.”
Roden built his business without investment but says he is now open to investment with the right strategic partner.
“In the next twelve months or so we will look for the right partner. We need to grow much bigger but we don’t just need money, we need an investment partner that shares our vision and can help us bring it to reality.”
What businesses does Roden admire in the mobile payments space?
“Square’s Cash app, led by Jack Dorsey (the Twitter co-founder), is one I really admire,” he says. “Many of our customers share the same demographics.”
STARTUP TIPS FROM MARK RODEN
- If you are starting a business it is much better to be good at one thing or ‘deep in a vertical’ rather than try to be all things to all men. Don’t be shallow in a wide market.
- A business should only diversify when it has achieved critical mass. For us, that was when we started generating our own cash.
- If you are seeking investment, make sure your investor shares your strategic vision. You need a partner, not just a cheque.
- If your technology can be understood instinctively by anyone in the world, you are in a position to scale. If there are barriers in the way for people to use your service, you are doomed.
- The most important lesson Denis O’Brien taught me was to keep going. Never give up and to have great confidence in what you are about to do. If you put in the effort, what appears to be impossible becomes very possible.