Dreaming teens become SMS moguls

2016-10-23 06:00

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Just like any teenager, they dreamt of making it big in the world.

To them, their age of 19 was just a number as they pursued their dreams.

Today, James Pearce and Charles Stretch can laugh about their humble beginnings – a garage in Port Elizabeth that used to be their office.

The two met at Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan University and their first project was a website called BlueWorld, which focused on taking photos of people at night clubs and bars.

In turn, patrons at the establishments would register their details so that they could access their photos from the website.

This was in an era before smartphones and being able to get hold of photos of yourself was a big deal, says Ryan Louw, brand marketing manager of SMSPortal, which is owned by Pearce and Stretch.

Pearce and Stretch had built up a database of these people, which was a valuable asset to club and bar owners.

When the club and bar owners showed interest in the database, that was the beginning of their bulk SMS idea.

The bars and clubs, says Louw, needed a way to market their weekly specials and events and that saw the birth of SMSPortal in 2002.

“Charles and James saw this opportunity and began their journey as SMS gurus. They started small, focusing on the bar scene and slowly expanded into the Port Elizabeth area,” Louw says.

All took place in a small garage at the back of the Pearce’s house.

“That was SMSPortal’s headquarters in the early years. Many big deals would be done over the phone ... with massive companies unaware of their humble beginnings,” Louw says.

Today, the pair runs a company with a turnover of R700 million and with growth of 50% year on year.

Among their 38 000 clients are Anglo American, Sanlam, Eskom and schools. SMSPortal has connectivity in 150 countries and currently focuses on Africa, Europe and Australia.

Stretch says many people own mobile phones, but do not necessary have postal addresses.

So, the aim is to help their clients, for instance big retail shops, to SMS statements to clients when they cannot use mail.

Stretch says his company’s recent acquisition of Ireland’s biggest bulk SMS company, Bulk Text, was a huge move in their quest to grow their brand, continentally and globally.

He says though SMS traffic between people and friends has decreased with the popularity of social networks, SMSing between businesses was still on the increase worldwide.

Stretch says they were still humbled by where they started and try to keep their business in touch with their roots.

Pearce is based in their office in Cape Town handling the technological part of things, while Stretch runs the day-to-day affairs from Port Elizabeth.

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