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Kobus Ehlers, FirePay Founder and CEO

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This week, CNN African Start-Up features SnapScan, an award-winning free mobile app developed in South Africa which makes spending money as easy as snapping a photo.

Kobus Ehlers is one of the Chief Executive Officers of FirePay, the company responsible for SnapScan, which has already been adopted by around 25 000 business across South Africa.

Ehlers was one of the founders of SnapScan, which launched from Stellenbosch in 2013 as a tool to help local businesses in South Africa which had limited access to formal payment facilities.

Ehlers tells African Start-Up, “The basic idea is that you install an application, you link a payment card to it and complete that payment.”

“I have always been involved in information systems and I really like that interaction between systems or computers and human beings. That for me is the most interesting junction. For many years, people have tried to solve the problem of giving people access to banking. That includes a lot of the large banks that have done work in that space and third parties. What we thought was that really technology changes that in specific ways due to mobile phones becoming more powerful. Today you already use your phone to do a majority of other things than making a phone call, and it seemed inevitable that payments was going to be part of that. So the real question was can you do something as simple as paying for a cup of coffee using just your phone,” explains Ehler.

SnapScan started small, but the company tested their product it slowly rolled out into local coffee shops and then into retail spaces.

The company then adapted the app to its users as Ehlers tells African Start-Up, “The product that we built initially really wasn’t what people wanted. So speaking to our customers, understanding what their requirement was really key to building this product.”

In 2013, SnapScan won an award for the best application in South Africa. With some of the prize money, SnapScan collaborated with non-profit organisation Big Issue to help improve magazine sales across the country.

“We had an opportunity to get involved with them and also we used some of the prize money we won in that competition to sponsor them. One of the really good fits there is that those merchants who sell magazines at street corners or at traffic lights could only accept cash,” says Ehlers.

SnapScan also works with private companies, providing ways to pay for everyday expenses, like prepaid parking.

“Street parking for us is one of the really interesting and good use cases of SnapScan where it solves a problem for both the parking attendant and for the motorist. All the marshals accept parking payments using your phone and that is expanding throughout South Africa as well.”

SnapScan is part of the growing network of mobile payments that have taken off in Southern Africa.

“We started off being four people in Stellenbosch in Techno Park, and as the team grew, we moved to Cape Town as most of our merchants are here. Today we are almost 30 people distributed between Cape Town and Johannesburg and we really try to set up a bit more of an informal work environment. Generally our culture is a pretty relaxed one, which is interesting considering financial services are a super regulated space. It’s really about that balance of being comfortable where you work, trusting the people around you and as a place that you look forward going to ever day, but still being responsible as far as the product is concerned,” concludes Ehlers.

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