Many of the world’s top tech companies have been able to maintain their lead by attracting and retaining development talent, perhaps none other than Google which is well known for its almost fanatical approach to recruiting only the very best people.
A local startup, Entersekt, has taken a leaf out of the tech giant’s book.
The Stellenbosch-based company was founded by Dewald Nolte, Schalk Nolte and Niel Müller (all electronic engineering graduates from Stellenbosch University).
Their push-based authentication and app security technology enables their clients to transact and exchange information securely over the internet by validating that users are actually who they say they are. Their solutions are used for online and mobile banking authentication, mobile app authentication and card-not-present authentication.
Entersekt’s patented security products already protect close to 100 million transactions monthly, and they recently had a client complete a $65 million transaction using their encryption technology.
While the focus is financial services, the products and solutions have wider application in industries such as healthcare and insurance which also face security and regulatory challenges.
Their 90 person team is made of various skilled professionals from automation engineers that create the software that executes testing and monitoring activities, quality assurance analysts who test and check that the software is up to required specifications, back-end developers who take care of security, cloud developers who design their virtual server systems and object-oriented (OO) programmers, who specialise in building software in Linux.
They have managed to assemble this team even with the shortage of skilled ICT professionals in the country, which according to JCSE’s ICT Skills Survey 2016 sees South Africa fall behind the likes of Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt.
“I think our cutting-edge technology, combined with a fast-growing (and well-funded) company that is making a real difference in people’s lives, ticks many of the boxes”
A rigorous recruitment process is what has enabled them to find some of the country’s best to build their globally competitive products, says CEO Nolte.
Beyond South Africa, their solutions are used in almost 40 countries including Kenya, Ghana, Switzerland, Germany and the US.
Their products are used by banks both locally and internationally including Absa, Nedbank, Capitec, Investec, Swisscard, Equity Bank, Ecobank, Pluscard and First Bank of Colorado, as well as beyond the banking sector with clients such as Old Mutual. They have also signed reseller agreements in Europe and in the US.
The company announced that they had raised a new round of funding in September 2017 with participation from Endeavor Catalyst. The investment marked Endeavor Catalyst’s first ever in South Africa.
Nolte adds that in their experience the better the team the better the chances of creating competitive products.
“I don’t think you can be successful as a company, much less a global one, without a high-impact team. People are at the very centre of our success,” he says.
Nolte shares some of the strategies that have taken their unassuming startup to becoming a potential global powerhouse.
Q: Has building a high-impact team been a deliberate strategy for the business?
Certainly. We have great ambitions, and we understand that the team is a fundamental building block in growing the business and being successful.
Q: Both Google and Facebook have a reputation for having innovative company cultures. How do you maintain a culture of excellence and innovation in the company?
We appoint people who are entrepreneurial, and we try to foster innovation throughout the organization. I don’t think you can make innovation the “job” of a specific team in the company – every division has to constantly try to do things better. We have, for example, structured the company in such a way as to ensure that the product team has a lot of exposure to customers and their needs, which allows them to solve real-world problems. Innovating for the sake of innovation could result in things we couldn’t necessarily use.
Q: South Africa has a severe shortage in highly skilled developers and other IT professionals. How did you make sure you were able to attract the best talent in the country?
I think anyone hiring developers will agree with that sentiment, and this is especially true in Cape Town and surrounds. If you look at the actual number of developers produced yearly in this province (from the four universities) versus the market requirement (with most large banks moving innovation hubs to CT, as well as ACI Worldwide, Amazon Web Services, Capitec, Sanlam/Santam, Old Mutual etc.), which far outstrips this supply, you can understand why.
One has to pay a premium for great talent and then do a lot to retain them. We made a decision that we only hire the best people: we would rather have a vacancy than compromise on quality. Recruitment is a continuous activity and spans wider than only HR to ensure that we find the best, and position ourselves to these candidates as a great place to work and get exposure to exiting technology and projects. Our global footprint also helps here in terms of travel opportunities.
Q: How do you make sure you are able to keep that talent?
Retention is a lot more than any one program – people want to work on exciting products, and they want to know that they are actually impacting the world with what they do. We have a share option scheme to address longer-term retention, but I think our cutting-edge technology, combined with a fast-growing and well-funded company, that is making a real difference in people’s lives, ticks many of the boxes. (Editor’s note: Entersekt recently secured a multi-million dollar transaction with investors Rand Merchant Investment Holdings and Nedbank Private Equity)
Q: How would you describe your leadership style as CEO?
Empowering. You cannot build a global business by being too involved at all levels – it is neither effective nor desirable. We have super smart people here – if we do not listen to them and allow them to do their jobs, I think we are missing the point!
Q: How does your leadership style compare with and complement your other co-founders and executive members?
We build teams around people’s strengths. Having a strong team with trust in each other’s abilities allows everyone on the team to focus on what they need to do. Active team empowerment and a consultative management style enable us to grow fast and implement many things concurrently in the business.
Q: What would you say contributes towards Entersekt’s team being so successful?
We have many centres of excellence, and a high degree of trust between executives and in the company in general. People know that there is ownership and that each will do their part. The fact that everyone knows what is expected of them also means that we can make decisions quickly if needed.