When brothers Brett and Mark Levy, the joint CEOs of Blue Label Telecoms, started a technology company that provides telecommunications, technical support, data and analytics services, prepaid products, and transactional services to markets in South Africa and abroad in 2007, after years of dabbling in other successful entrepreneurial endeavours, people thought that they were mad.
“When we started out, we said that every single person on earth deserves to have all the products that everyone in the urban areas have,” says Brett Levy. The company provided secure electronic tokens of value to the unbanked and poorly-banked people of the world at the time, and still does.
Since the 2000s, the Levys had rightly predicted that all business in the predominantly rural market will eventually go the prepaid route and have been offering affordable, convenient and secure payment for services such as water, electricity, cell phones, bus tickets, funerals, insurance and money transfers.
Two decades later, everyone can now understand what we were trying to achieve, says Brett. “It is about giving products to all people; in whatever format they need to buy it in – it may be R1 or R100. It may be daily or monthly, cash or EFT, insurance, banking, or electricity. It is really about giving everyone in the world the opportunity of being banked and having every product that is available out there.”
Listing the company on the JSE still remains one of the Levys’ highlights since the start of the brothers’ entrepreneurial journey with R35 000 in 1997 and growing it into a R280m-a-year business by 1999, importing electronics from Singapore.
“You grow up seeing all these listed companies and believing that one day you can build a business that can go on the market,” Brett tells finweek.
The company was listed on the JSE on 14 November 2007 with an offer price of between R5.75 and R6.75 apiece, and reported a capital raising of R1.3bn. In its first financial year as a listed entity, the company posted R12.9bn revenue, R371m in core net profit, 48.4c in core earnings per share and continued to show growth for the next couple of years.
The ability to travel the world and set up companies across Africa, India and Mexico, experiencing the world’s cultures and different ways of doing business is another highlight for the Levys, though Brett admits that some turned out good, and some not so good.
Mexico, for instance, was a relatively new frontier for Blue Label, and in 2011 the Levys were optimistic about the country, saying that there were some very interesting things on the horizon in Mexico, that boiled down to products and partnerships; and that “there were exciting things happening there, which if they come off would lead to ramped-up growth”.
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