“We looked at ways of automating our day-to-day operations so as much of the business as possible is focused on R&D and creating new features & products.”
– David Shackleton, CEO, Ding
Case Study: Ding
Irish SME Ding offers consumers an easy way to deliver mobile top-ups to friends and family in over 130 countries. People can add data or minutes using the Ding app or website, or by walking into one of 600,000 stores worldwide.
The company allows users to deliver credit to phones from over 400 different operators, with a reach of four billion phones.
“It’s a simple idea, but the complexity becomes a huge challenge when you do it at scale,” explains Ding CEO, David Shackleton.
The company started selling phone top-ups in 2006, but with just a little marketing new customers quickly came on board.
“Back then we had a pretty clunky technology platform, but as people realised they could use this service to provide a gift in another country, word quickly spread,” recalls Shackleton. Ding is especially popular among expats with links to Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
Ding received RD&I grants from Enterprise Ireland that were particularly crucial in its early days. “We were able to invest and build up proprietary technologies and push the envelope in terms of the platform’s scale, which has given us a massive competitive advantage,” says Shackleton.
The three major corridors for Ding’s business are currently North America to Latin and Central America, Europe to Africa, and the Middle East to Asia. With 190 employees, 130 of them in Ireland, the company had gross revenues last year of half a billion dollars. It continues to enhance the user experience by improving its technology. Shackleton believes that: “every pre-paid phone in the world – which is 85 per cent of phones – should have an app that’s able to do top-ups. That’s a huge opportunity.”
One project supported by an Enterprise Ireland grant illustrates how solving a complex problem can simplify life for consumers. A customer can walk into a shop, ask to put €5 onto a mobile phone number elsewhere in the world, and Ding handles the rest. “We developed a piece of technology that allows us to predict from somebody’s phone number which mobile operator they use,” says Shackleton.
“It’s a really nice, seamless experience for the user, but behind the scenes there’s a lot of complexity involved in doing it.”
The Enterprise Ireland funding pushed the company to think about what represented business as usual and what was innovative. “Recently, we looked a lot at ways of automating our day-to-day operations so as much of the business as possible is focused on R&D and creating new features,” explains Shackleton. Ding often releases over 20 updates in a single week, such as support for new mobile operators, improved user flow on Ding’s website, or improved content on the app. “You could develop an app for €10,000 but to be truly world-class and operate at scale, the backend system needs to be sophisticated, which takes millions of euros and years upon years of learning and development.”
The core platform runs hundreds of transactions every second, with a surge at peak times on Friday nights and Saturdays. The company also runs deep learning algorithms and machine learning to manage and monitor fraud, and underpin digital marketing initiatives. According to Shackleton: “We can do a reasonably accurate prediction of what a customer might be worth to us over time, which enables us to spend confidently in terms of digital marketing.”
Headquartered in Dublin, the company has regional offices in Miami, Dubai, Barcelona, San Salvador, Bucharest and Dhaka. Shackleton credits Enterprise Ireland offices abroad with allowing the company to expand to markets as diverse as Russia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia: “we couldn’t have done business in all those countries without their help.”