Bridging the Gap with World Mobile Advisors, Divij and Vinay Ruparelia
Jessica: It’s time to bridge the gap of information. Joining me to discuss this and more, I have Divij and Vinay Ruparelia. Thank you so much for joining me today; how are you both?
Vinay: Doing very well, thanks Jess, nice to meet you.
Jessica: I would love to jump straight in because many of our viewers are watching World Mobile very closely, and now we’re taking a closer look at the core teams. Both of you have experience working in Africa and I would love to hear about some of the work you’ve done there and what’s led you to World Mobile today.
Vinay: So my background has actually been in investment banking for the last 20 years. I spent a lot of time building equity businesses in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, we built the first equity businesses in Zimbabwe, in Ghana, in Nigeria, and East Africa. As well as that fact, we have a family connection—both our family is from East Africa, from Kenya—so we have a strong affiliation with the region.
Divij: Yeah, like Vinay, I started life in banking as well, as a telco banker in London. I spent the last 13 or 14 years working in Africa as a venture investor and then more recently as an entrepreneur where I was one of the founding execs of a company called Afrimax, which was the continent’s largest 4G operator. So really, trying to fulfil a similar mission to World Mobile, but perhaps as a predecessor to what World Mobile could be.
Jessica: And it’s fascinating that you started in banking there, that then evolved. That most recent venture has probably led you to where you are today with World Mobile. So how did you both come into contact with Micky, CEO of World Mobile, and decide to work together?
Vinay: So actually, I met Charles three years ago at a crypto conference. During that time, he mentioned the project to me, and he came up with some interesting buzzwords that really struck a chord like “Africa” and “crypto”.
“After that we decided to meet up a couple of weeks later, I said: “You have to meet my brother, he’s probably one of the only ten guys in the world who has worked on a project similar to this”. And we met with Micky, we met with the team, and I think there was an instant connection with the whole team, and we haven’t looked back since.”
Divij: I remember that first conversation with Charles, Micky, Alan, and there was a real lightbulb moment probably 10 minutes into that discussion where I said “Hey, I’ve seen this playbook, and I can really see what you’re trying to do here, and I’ve lived this journey and I know exactly what we need to do to make this happen”. So from that point onwards, I think we never looked back. It was a sort of an instant lightbulb moment for us all to make it happen. Vinay: And I think within two weeks we were probably involved with the business and have been ever since!
Jessica: They clearly saw the potential from the get-go! You both had quite different work experiences across sub-Saharan Africa; what was it about World Mobile that really struck a chord with each of you?
Vinay: Honestly, I think the first thing that resonated with me was the team. They had a vision that we shared. They are a super-passionate, super-focused, super-dedicated team.
“And I think the other USP that really stayed with me was the shared economy. We’d seen some telecoms businesses but really nothing which involves the local people, creating wealth at a local level and involving the local population. So on my part, they were the two things that really stayed with me.”
Divij: I would definitely echo that sentiment around the team. I think working in some of these more challenging markets, execution is the key, and you’ve got to have the right team and the right balance of skill set. I think that’s what we have here. The other thing was the vision about connecting the unconnected, those that have no service today. It really struck a chord with me because the traditional telcos, understandably, have legacy technologies, and they’re responsible to their stakeholders, so they have to go for the most profitable segments of society and the economy, which is natural. And actually, what is really cool about this is, who are the stakeholders? And the stakeholders are the community and the users of the service, so that creates a real alignment between what the company is trying to do and what the people want to see.
“That makes it a completely different sort of proposition with a completely different set of KPIs and expectations that you’re trying to hit because you’re actually completely aligned with your customer, which is very, very unique.”
Jessica: And you said the word “expectations”, it seems like between you two brothers, you’ve got experience when it comes to banking, investments and also technology. Looking ahead to the medium and the long-term with World Mobile, what are your expectations of this?
Vinay: Well, medium-term, there’s no doubt in my mind that there’s going to be rapid expansion across sub-Saharan Africa. I think the combination of the team, the combination of the ability to scale at a rapid pace, but as well, with lower CapEx, I think that combination of things is going to be crucial to expanding this business really quickly, really rapidly. There’s no doubt in my mind that this business will grow at a fast pace with this team in place.
Divij: Exactly, I think scale is a keyword there, because, you know, if I’m coming from a traditional telco world and I say: “Hey, I want to I really want to provide service for this village”, it would cost me $70,000 to $80,000 to go to that village. I can’t get that payback; it doesn’t make sense for me to do it. So what’s really cool here, is we say okay, we want to connect that village, but we can do it with off-the-shelf tech. Tech companies have spent years and millions of dollars developing these standardised solutions, we don’t have a legacy business and tech base to support; we can buy off-the-shelf tech. With $5000 you can go and cover a village.
“Suddenly, you can make it affordable; you can make it accessible for those users, and make it more sustainable with renewable energy. And suddenly, you are opening up a whole new possibility that traditional operators can’t.”
So from that perspective, I think this has the potential to scale across the three billion-plus people that really need it. Connectivity’s just the beginning because if you think about how you use connectivity today, say I lose my phone today; I’m lost, I can’t do anything. I can’t do banking, I can’t even get on the Tube because I use my phone to pay for it. I think you’re just reliant on your connected device. So this opens up a whole world of opportunities for people from smallholder farmers who want to use IoT (the Internet of things) to improve their efficiency or be able to sell their cocoa remotely on the markets through internet access. A whole world of opportunity opens up for people.
Vinay: And basic identity!
Divij: Yes, identity, access to services, insurance etc., connectivity is at the beginning of all of that, and that then opens it all up. Hopefully, you can tell we’re hugely excited about this!
Jessica: I really feel the excitement, actually! I think what’s amazing is that in ten years’ time, if we sit back and watch this interview, I’m sure we’ll see impacts that we didn’t even fathom at this point.
I’d like to ask both of you, if you had to explain this to a family member or someone that wasn’t as aware of telecoms or blockchain, how would you explain World Mobile and the potential in just a few words or sentences?
Vinay: I would say, a mobile service for the people and shared by the people. To keep it really short!
Divij: I mean, that is a great summary!
“It really is; it’s providing access for people who don’t have access today, in a really simple, accessible and affordable way that enables them to use all the services that we’re used to and take for granted.”
Jessica: Thank you so much for your time today, I’m really excited to follow up this conversation and see how things progress! And I’m sure that our viewers have learnt a lot, as well.
Vinay: Jess, lovely to meet you, you’re the best, see you soon.
Jessica: We’d love to hear how you found this conversation. You can also watch this episode of Bridging the Gap on YouTube.
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