Pieter de Villiers operates and innovates at the intersection between communications and commerce. Where he has been creating a world in which we never have to suffer with being left on hold by a brand again.
During his appearance on the Dealmakers Podcast this entrepreneur shared his vision of commerce through chat at scale, what has and hasn’t changed in fundraising, and how fund life cycles and impact on technology adoption, and how it relates to economic cycles.
Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.
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The Magic Of Technology
Pieter de Villiers was born and grew up in South Africa, which he describes as a sunny carefree childhood by the beach.
His father traveled internationally, which meant they got early access to an Apple computer. When it came to college Pieter began studying for a science degree in ophthalmology. Then transitioned to technology in ophthalmology.
He told the Dealmakers Show audience that his passion for technology really bloomed when he recognized the scale it was able to achieve. For example, as an eye doctor, you might spend an hour consulting each patient. There are only so many hours in a day, which is a significant restraint.
He says that “whenever your constraint is time, technology is going to have to be brought into the mix in order to amplify and scale all your outcomes.”
Inspired by the dot com boom, Pieter and some friends and family members chose to band together to start a business journey of their own.
He says that similar to Web 3 today, the internet was fresh and new. It seemed that previous experience was not required, and there was a lot of opportunity.
At the time, gaming, adult content, and travel appeared to be the best options in commerce. Adult content wasn’t something they could tell their parents they were doing, so they picked travel.
They quickly ran into the problem of trying to notify people of last minute travel deals in other countries in enough time before the deals expired.
See How I Can Help You With Your Fundraising Efforts
See How I Can Help You With Your Fundraising Efforts
This was 22 years ago. Well before SaaS, the cloud, product led growth, or APIs were a thing. Bulk beeping everyone’s pager at scale around the world just wasn’t an option. So, they struck on the idea of mobile phone texts.
They were just crazy enough to spend three months building this solution that did not exist. In the process they happened to create the world’s fastest growing commerce platform.
In an incredible feat of product market fit, they published four lines of code on the web, and allowed anyone who wanted it to add it to their website as a messaging widget. In just 90 days they had over 76,000 websites adopt their code.
After that, the next logical step was to add payment capabilities, so that users could request and receive payments from their customers with a simple SMS or WhatsApp message, creating chat commerce.
Pieter de Villiers has now led his company through a Series C round, for a total of $109M in capital raised.
They started out with a modest amount of capital from angel investors. Then saw their business grow in the US, and how what was possible just seemed bigger here. So, instead of taking the route many others in Africa have done with their startups in going to London or Amsterdam for the money, they came to California.
Sequoia gave them a $6M Series A, and led their Series B round. They more recently raised a $91M Series C.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Pieter de Villiers was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
Needless to say, Pieter has certainly learned a lot about funding over the past two decades. Including seeing the big picture of how the funding ecosystem rotates in cycles over time.
Some things haven’t changed. Like needing access and warm introductions to get through to investors.
You also need a real value proposition. In boom times he says that you may get away with selling a dream. Though in times like we are in today, investors are looking much harder at the fundamentals.
He says that these corrections are the market’s way of purging itself. If you are a solid entrepreneur, with a solid business you can still raise money. It may be much harder if you are just working a get rich scheme.
That difference will also determine how long you stick with your startup. If you are just trying to hit unicorn status for the sake of it, the shortcuts you take may end up being such a stressor and burden that it is easier to quit. Whereas if you build it right, are financially responsible, and keep on finding challenges and interesting ways to grow your business, you may still be just as passionate about it in twenty years from now.
Another part of this is the life cycles of individual funds that VCs and other investment firms are running. Depending on when you are creating a new market, there may or not be a lot of liquidity out there, or backing in the space you are trying to build in.
In fact, Pieter notes that it often isn’t the first mover that has the advantage. Myspace lost out to Facebook. Altavista has been replaced by Google. There can be many factors involved, but often funding comes more easily after new markets have already been created.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Pieter de Villiers’ top advice when launching a business
- How to chat commerce is changing the world, and brand experiences
- How big Clickatell is today