It takes creativity, courage and an eye for the gap to be the first to market, but the true innovators are the ones who manage to retain their position as market leaders – even when competitors join the fray after getting wind that a new opportunity is in the offing. Staying ahead of the curve requires ongoing innovation, creativity and a pioneering spirit that constantly seeks out new opportunities in a changing landscape.
Turning great ideas into a great business
Not many businesses possess such a winning combination, but XLink is one of the few. It was started in 2004 with a simple mission – to link up electronic point of sale (EPOS) debit and credit card devices to the banks via the cellular networks. “At the time, these machines were linked to the banks via dial-up or radio – we knew that linking them via the cellular networks would provide retailers with a faster, more reliable and cost-effective payment connection,” says Anton Leal, managing director. The solution they devised became known as POSLink.
Sounds simple and sensible enough. But as Leal will tell you, having a great idea and executing it are two very different things. XLink was forging into unchartered waters and to be successful it would have to convince other stakeholders that the voyage upon which it was embarking was a trip worth taking.
“Although the retailers are our customers, we first needed to get the cellular networks on board, as well as the banks,” says Leal. Before buying into the idea of POSLink, banks wanted to be assured of a robust, national support infrastructure. Backed by two angel investors, XLink grew from five people to 30 in just seven months to establish a nation-wide field force. The first year turned out to be a busy one – the company deployed its first 1 000 POSLink devices, obtained ICASA approval and received the endorsement from four of the major banks.
Today it’s the market leader in machine-to-machine telemetry, both in market share and innovation, it has approval from all five major banks as well as MTN and Vodacom, and it employs over 100 people and has 27 000 units and 3 000 SIMs installed in the field.
Diversifying the offering
But while early innovation proved critical to establishing XLink’s foothold in the market, the year-on-year growth and success that has followed has been due in large part to the company’s ability to move with the technology curve and diversify its offering.
It started offering value-added services to its core product – XPlan and MaintenanceLink provided customers with protection against stolen and damaged devices and a fixed monthly support package with priority response and no call-out fees. “As technology advanced, we included connectivity via HSDPA router and built in greater reliability by allowing for dual network connections to both MTN and Vodacom. This ensures continuous uptime which is vitally important for such business-critical devices,” says Leal.
Other product innovations followed, expanding the company’s focus beyond simple EFT and growing from increased understanding of customer challenges and needs. PowerLink provides an uninterrupted power supply; VersaLink connects up to six POS devices; and SMSLink allows companies to send customers SMSs from a PC. Then there’s CashLink, an automated in-store cash management system which deposits bank notes on a daily basis into a SMARTSafe and then credits the client’s bank account. ATMLink connects ATMs to a proprietary host. “We’ve leveraged our existing knowledge and infrastructure to get more market share in the telemetry sector,” says Leal, although he adds that it’s been important to keep their eye on the main prize during such diversification. “We created the Priority Club to provide priority support, maintenance, service and coverage to our key clients,” he explains.
All eyes on Africa
XLink’s next frontier is Africa, which the company initially started investigating in 2007. “We were a little bit early then as there weren’t enough credit card machines on the ground, but by 2010 things have changed somewhat,” says Leal.
XLink in a Box is the solution currently being deployed in Uganda, where one of South Africa’s largest banks has a presence. “We sell the technology and equipment to the customer, provide training on the method and collect an annuity income. This means we don’t need to have a large local infrastructure established wherever we want to go next,” he explains.
It’s a solution that’s nimble, flexible, responsive to a direct need and above all, forward-thinking – which is what got XLink to where it is today and what will no doubt keep it ahead of the curve into the future.
Player: Anton Leal
Contact: +27 11 438 3019