And so to the next 300 million top-ups...

Ding CEO David Shackleton at the Ding head office

As he marks one year in the role we talk to Ding CEO David Shackleton about exploring bitcoin and sharing a joke with Jimmy Carr! 

In 2006, Mark Roden, and co-founder and CEO – David Shackleton set about revolutionising how the world’s billions of prepaid phone users were accessing top-up for their mobile phones, and the phones of their loved ones back home. In so doing, they were instrumental in creating an industry, which today sees more than $5 billion in international top-up sent annually, with foreign workers abroad using top-up as a viable and simple way to transfer value to loved ones. 

The foresight of Ding’s founders to tap into this global need, has led to the impressive growth trajectory that Ding is on today. In fact, in just a few weeks, Ding will hit the incredible milestone of 300 million top-ups completed since the first top-up was sent, back in 2006. As the business goes from strength to strength, with double digit revenue growth expected this year, who better to speak to for our first Ding Dispatch than Ding CEO, David Shackleton and ask -- one year done, what's to come?

The interview

Tells us about your Ding journey so far, and the inspiration for the company?

In 2005, Mark and I set about researching investment opportunities in telecoms and financial services. At the same time, Mark met an Indian man in Dubai who was informally selling international top-up scratch cards, and hearing how difficult the process was – we started looking at creating the technology to automate top-up and make it easier for the user. We had been researching two other projects but it became clear very quickly, that top-up was the one that had legs – and in 2006 Ding was born. 

Appetite was there from day one when the first top-up was sent from Sheffield in the UK to Jamaica, and today we facilitate on average 200,000 top-ups daily.

We tapped into a user need, and set out with a simple idea that the global diaspora needed an easy, fast and secure way to send international mobile top-up home to family and friends. Today this idea still drives us and keeping the user at the centre of our business has been in our thinking since day one, and still is today. 

What are the benefits of your service for your customers?

One of the things I truly appreciate about our business is that it makes an immediate impact on the lives of our users. The benefits are instant - well, within three seconds! Our platform enables foreign workers abroad to send instant top-up by going online, from their phones, or in-store – it's easy, accessible and secure.

Internet for all is a much-touted ambition for governments and companies - projects like Google’s Project Loon are trying to further the possibility of extending internet connectivity to emerging nations – what can Ding add to this ambition?

At the heart of our business is the ambition to get the world connected online, and to accelerate mobile access for people in emerging markets who are currently finding it difficult to connect – either because the infrastructure is not there, or because they are one of the reported 25% of users whose prepaid phones are out of credit at any one time, therefore they have no access to phone, data, or SMS. 

The majority of the $5 billion in mobile top-up sent annually is done in the emerging markets - these are our users. We are communicating with them daily to get them topped-up and connected. We continue to develop our own in-house, cutting edge technology which will hopefully help us connect better with them in the years to come.

Have you always been interested in e-commerce and the internet?

I was lucky that there was a basic computer at home from when I was very young and we were in the first few thousand households with an internet connection and so I have always been dabbling in the internet. 

I have also always been interested in the potential it offers to do business and engage with customers around the world. As a teen I got involved with what I believe is one of the first affiliate schemes and was an early developer on Amazon Affiliates where I ran a website with book recommendations and made 20% on all books sold back then. 

What changes are the internet and digital e-commerce bringing to Ding?

Digital e-commerce is what Ding is all about. We enable our users – who often operate in cash – to go online or walk into a shop and use our platform to turn their cash into an online value which they can send to family and friends in the form of top-up. We are providing a platform for them to digitise their cash. Once the top-up is delivered, that recipient is then connected to the internet which there is obviously massive demand for, in fact some would say having internet access on your phone is a basic human need now. 

iPhone or Android?

iPhone most of the time. Android every few weekends to stay up to date with what’s going on in those interfaces. 

What’s the last book you have read? 

Hacking Growth by Morgan Brown, Sean Ellis.

Last concert you attended?

Jools Holland 

What would you say is the best part of your day?

Helping get my young kids ready in the morning and hearing about what they will get up to for the day.

What’s your favourite saying?

I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to write you a short email. 

What do you wish you had invented?

I wish I had invented an airport x-ray scanner that works by just walking through with your bags.

To Bitcoin, or not to Bitcoin?

I bought somewhat early ($17!) as I was fascinated, like many developers, by the technology and potential implications. I then left all the BTC on an early exchange called Mt. Gox, which subsequently blew up. This has abated my interest somewhat – but who knows, I await to see real world scale solutions!

What is the biggest lesson you have learned during your career so far?

Anything is possible with teams that trust each other.

Give us one example of success in your career so far, and one failure!

Every time I think of the hundreds of thousands of people each day that the Ding platform helps get online, I’m very proud of what the team has created and I see that as a great success, with more to come. In terms of failure - I spent time developing an encryption technology for cloud documents which had huge market potential but the tech was too hard and it failed badly. Not one I'll be telling the grandkids about! 

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?

Some find it interesting that I am related to the Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton. 

What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?

Sitting beside the comedian Jimmy Carr on a flight recently, and listening to him laugh at his own jokes as he wrote them on his laptop was pretty funny.

With one year in - how big is the market opportunity you are pursuing with Ding?

In the next few weeks we are going to hit 300 million top-ups sent since we began, which is fantastic. But while our origins are over a decade old, we still feel Ding is just beginning to attract large numbers of users. Our business has grown significantly year on year – with $500 million in revenues in 2016 – and we are on target for double digit growth this year. We feel what we are seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg. 

In terms of the opportunity - the telecoms industry estimates that there are approximately four to five billion prepaid phones in the world, or 90% of mobiles in emerging markets are prepaid. And this number is growing – industry reports suggest prepaid phones grew by 12% last year. These phones need top-up, so this gives some sense of the opportunity which exists in our market, and also the scale of the challenge at hand for Ding. 

And finally – what would you like to be when you grow-up?

A farmer!


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