With his love of math and science at school, Bradley Wattrus had the makings of a successful actuary right from the start. Yet, the promise of corporate success paled in comparison to the potential impact he could have as an entrepreneur. This is why he applied to the Allan Gray Fellowship – the notion of high-impact entrepreneurship resonated with him. “I remember feeling that this was a vision for the future of RSA that I wanted to be a part of.”
It has been a mere four years since Bradley co-founded Yoco Technologies, where he is now Chief Financial Officer, and a few more since he started his journey as an Allan Gray Fellow, yet there’s already evidence that he’s impacting the financial technology industry in a significant way. The firm is focused on helping SMEs grow by providing integrated payments, point-of-sale software and access to financial services. They now have 5 000 merchants using Yoco, with 300 000 traditional card terminals in the market and 70% of their merchants accepting card payments for the first time.
SMEs are underserved on many levels as traditional organisations tend to focus on larger corporate clients. This means that less than 5% of SMEs and sole-proprietors in the country have access to card acceptance services, while over 70% of the population has at least a debit card. Yoco provides small merchants with a convenient point-of-sale experience, and they’re able to do this under a profitable business model without imposing any fixed fees on the merchant.
It may only have been a few years since Bradley co-founded Yoco, but he’s been flexing his business muscles since primary school. He made his first foray into entrepreneurship as his school’s Coca-Cola vendor and won an award for entrepreneurship. Later on, he was appointed to the school’s newspaper committee and, armed with advice from his dad, generated more money through the newspaper than the school’s fundraising committee. Bradley’s father made a point of teaching his children to think in terms of capital and not pocket money. It is no wonder then that Bradley and his brother “were regularly exploring different side projects.”
At the end of his school career, Bradley applied to the Allan Gray Fellowship and found the challenges it posed enlivening. Though he excelled at school, he seldom felt challenged enough. After school, however, the combination of his BSc (Hons) in Actuarial Science at the University of the Witwatersrand and the Foundation’s entrepreneurship programme more than made up for that lack. When Bradley was a Candidate Fellow (2007–2011) the Foundation required them to run two small businesses over a six-week period each. Bradley’s first business was a coffee stall at Rosebank Market, which ran on Saturdays, while the second was a service involving crying infants and clowning manoeuvres, i.e. preschool photography.
When asked how he managed to juggle both his degree course and his Foundation commitments, he concedes that it was indeed tough, but the experience trained him in the mechanics of starting a business. And it’s an experience he’d greatly encourage others to explore. Though the Foundation’s focus has shifted away from the intensive six-week-small-business approach, it still challenges Candidate Fellows to cultivate the kind of thinking associated with such an approach. As Bradly puts it: “If you are interested in going beyond a profession and making a significant impact on the region I would encourage you to apply [to the Fellowship]. The value is really in the opportunity to expand your mindset and leave university with a much broader perspective than you may otherwise have had.”