SA-owned, managed Fourex scoops UK’s Entrepreneur of the Year award

Fourex, the world’s great retail foreign exchange market disruptor, this week scooped the 2016 New Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the UK’s “Oscars of Business.” This is the second major award for the South African created, managed and funded company which is hitting hyper-growth. Recently appointed Chief Operating Officer Simon Lincoln Reader has taken over the spokesman duties. The interview starts with Simon explaining the relevance of the most recent honour bestowed upon the company and insight into what comes next. – Alec Hogg

Simon Lincoln Reader, COO, Fourex
Simon Lincoln Reader, COO, Fourex

It is just as big, there is a huge component of marketability here. It’s recognition from peers, recognition from industry, with the Virgin Award it was Richard Branson, the Virgin brand being spread across but with this award it is an emphasised British Business Award.

It’s called the Lloyds Bank National business Awards. Give us some colour. What was it, how many people were there?

There were 1200 people and there were 16 categories of winners and this has been a process that has been filtered out over months. There were hundreds of entrants into every category and from those entrants ten finalists were announced, at which point the finalists were required to do one final presentation to a panel of judges who comprised of some of Britain’s most well-known business personalities.

What kinds of questions were you asked?

There were three main criteria upon which we were judged during the final presentation. The first was the innovation behind the concept, the second was the financing model associated, and the third, very importantly, which is where our emphasis is now, is the expansion scale, the strategy moving forward, how quickly the respective company intends to grow. To that we’re lucky because we’re going overseas, so for us it wasn’t just about local growth but simultaneous international growth too.

It’s been an extraordinary path already. When we saw each other last in July there were what, 11 people in the company and today?

Yes, we’ve grown to over 20 and are still growing and it keeps on growing week by week. It’s a wonderful thing. We’re manufacturing British, we are employing British, and we are a bunch of South African guys in London.

These kiosks, how many of them do you have installed now?

We have our existing sites that are King’s Cross, Black Friar’s, Westfield, London Bridge, and Fenchurch Street and we’re about to be operational in Angel, Oxford Circus, Paddington and Waterloo.

Sound like a lot of stations.

That’s right, we’re very lucky, we’ve gone into a five-year contract, a three to five-year contract with TFL, who have been our biggest supporters and from whom the success has ultimately –

Who are TFL?

Transport for London, which is the Underground. We have a great relationship with them and they have been absolutely instrumental in our success to date.

What was their incentive?

To give their footfall more options. For them, they deal with hundreds of millions of commuters every year. In our King’s Cross Station we have the footfall, 92-million people and as a manager, as a station manager, rather as a facilities manager you’ve got to ensure that there are options for people passing through. It’s a customer experience. The more value that they can add to the environment, the more people are going to use the underground and the more money they can reinvest in the underground.

Also read: Business masterclass: SA-bred “Unicorn” goes from London Pitch to Very Rich

The Fourex story so far has been an incredible invention that took a long time to put together and now building kiosks, so you have a manufacturing business and marketing, I guess, must be secondary given that you can only grow as fast as you can manufacture these ATM-like machines.

Absolutely, I think what is important to understand now is that we have passed that start-up phase and we are emphasising scale as a priority over everything else. Therefore, we’re soon going to be in a position where we have an assembly line and kiosks being rolled out both in London and in Great Britain, and Europe soon and that’s where our focus is, manufacturing to the point of meeting the exponential growth.

How many might you be producing in a month?

We will produce thirty.

So that’s the plan and you have how many installed at the moment?

We have seven, our existing sites with four coming online imminently and our intention is to have thirty by the end of January/February next year.

Simon, exponential growth is not easy to manage, how are you guys doing it?

We’re a bunch of South African guys who at some point in our lives all spent time on the streets of Joburg learning how to deal with situations that are challenging and there’s no ambiguity about it, it is incredibly demanding, it’s a very complex business, but I think that we have the right infrastructure and certainly of our funding partners, the right support.

The founders, they’re obviously still very instrumental in driving the business, what attracted you to joining them?

I saw two guys who had risked literally everything that they had and it had a profound affect upon me to the point where I have done exactly the same. This business requires 24 hours of concentration, of focus, seven days a week and that will continue until the point where we reach where we believe we are going.

You are being funded from South Africa.

Our financing partners are based in Johannesburg.

They are run by or led by Larry Lipschitz, who is pretty well-known as the founder of SuperGroup.

Indeed and Hugh Bauer at Genesis Capital Partners.

Getting back to the award, so you had these three categories, what exactly did you tell the judges?

During the presentation which was in September we simply gave a timeline as to where we were when the idea was conceived, which was in the late 2000’s in the Middle East and plotted a course of how we got to London. We were meeting with the Lord Mayor earlier who we told the same story about how this business came from an idea about travel money to a formidable challenger to the state of the financial services industry and it doesn’t need any flashing lights or animated pictures, it’s a story of extraordinary effort and enormous risk. The founders made a calculated move of coming to London, given the numbers of people, given human movement here and have never looked back. It is exactly the right place to be. London for all this negative talk of Brexit is still and will still be the financial capital of the world and we are absolutely delighted to be the poster children for the positive side of Brexit.

Isn’t that interesting, South Africans being poster children for the British departure from the European Union. Maybe you’re going to be bringing a lot more South Africans here on the strength of that.

Well, we do have a very strong work ethic and that is very evident in the founders, Oliver and Jeff. This business is only going to succeed on the amount of effort that is put in. Ideas are one thing, but executing something like this requires enormous amounts of concentration, focus, and rolling your sleeves up, but we’re like that, we’re from Joburg, it’s a good thing.

Fourex founders Jeff Paterson and Oliver du Toit.
Fourex founders Jeff Paterson and Oliver du Toit scoop the UK’s 2016 New Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Why do you enter these awards in the first place, what’s the purpose?

Well, we never entered, we were advised, we were encouraged to do so because people had seen the potential of Fourex and were eager to assist us in positioning ourselves as finalists and then last night, winners. There is a tremendous marketing value that winning the Duke of York New Entrepreneur of the Year brings. That is potentially millions of Pounds in publicity, it’s a wonderful thing for a company that, as I said, our emphasis is upon rollout and manufacture and if we can find someone to do our marketing for us by virtue of the publicity that this generates then it’s a great thing for us.

Also read: Building an exponential business: Fourex, growing at 20% a month, gets kudos

So the more people who know about you, the more people who walk past, those 92-million at King’s Cross walk past the Fourex machine, they might actually start using it, is that the strategy?

That is one of the strategies. The machine, the kiosks, and the concept speak for itself and it has been designed, the very user-friendly interface, but we want people to understand that what we’ve created is not just a currency exchange, it is a means of recognising value from what they previously thought was valueless. You take a pocket full of coins from overseas, you come to London, you think that they’re obsolete, but in fact, they have a value finder in us and when you do that in an expensive city like London you are really catching people’s attention.

How does it compare, the cost of doing the exchange with you to say, going to a traditional bank in South Africa? Are you competitive in that?

Very much so, in fact, we are at the very top. It removes the need of human capital and great rental spaces, so we’re able to provide these rates on the basis of our efficiency structure.

So it’s artificial intelligence, it’s forced industrial revolution, all of those words that we’re hearing a lot about?

At the forefront of it, absolutely, yes.

Is that part of the reason why they’ve embraced you here in London, because that is a thrust, the whole FinTech area for the City of London going forward.

I think this has been a long time coming for London. As early back as 2008, places like Shoreditch were bristling with studios that were designing apps and that they really wanted London to compete and FinTech in this environment is absolutely extraordinary. There is a huge emphasis on it there. If you look at the awards last night, nearly every single company that was nominated as a finalist has a tech feature to it, which is probably the shape of business to come here.

Is this new industrial policy of Britain looking ahead perhaps rather than looking at old industry, looking at new ones?

Yes, I think if you look at the rise of tech, is an option for Theresa May to emphasise something as positive against the negative sentiments of Brexit. There is huge support in the British government for it, there was, even in David Cameron’s time and this is something that is not exclusive to Britain. In Europe, if you look at what Estonia is doing and has done, if you look at what France is doing, if you look at what Germany is doing, there is a very evident theme across the European States that FinTech is going to be competing with traditional industries right at the top going forward, absolutely.

Is there somebody out there who might be competing with you soon?

Not that I am aware of. The amount of research and development that has gone into our terminals is quite astonishing. So it will take considerable effort, but I’m sure that there will, you know Uber had a ride calling app and now that there are a few, there’s a London cab one called Get You Off. You know as soon as something is done, James Dyson invents a hand blade warmer or heater in the bathrooms and now there are four or five different brands. So you know we are absolutely conscious of there being competitors, but we’re more worried about how we can grow as quickly as we want to.

I guess that also puts the pressure on you to grow quickly because you never know who might be around the corner.

Exactly and if this FinTech phenomenon spreads across the world then it’ll be sooner than we anticipate. No cocktail ceremony or bank holiday, or spare weekend is going to impede the rate at which we want to grow.

Simon, okay so you’ve now won the Virgin Award, you’ve now won the British National Business Awards, have you got any more in the pipeline, or are you still entering award opportunities?

As I said, we’re getting nominated by and more encouraged to do so by our associates. We do, the answer to your question is we’ve got one on Friday night, which is a wonderful recognition of our factory in Kent, the Medway City Council. We are being nominated as the top business from there and then on the 30th of November we have a very important one which is the Amazon Growing Business Awards which is also going to be hugely publicised and is high profile.

This was the big one?

This was the big one, this was a terrific opportunity to articulate what gains we have made since the Virgin Pitch to Rich last year, which set us up and now we’re going to set ourselves up even further and then hopefully on November the 30th we’ve got even better news.

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