Message service Clickatell considers IPO to fund expansion: CEO

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Clickatell, which helps companies communicate with customers via mobile messaging platforms, is considering a public offering next year as it seeks to fund a rapid expansion of its services, founder and CEO Pieter de Villiers said on Tuesday.

Clickatell, which was founded in South Africa but is now based in California, could seek to list on a U.S. exchange, he said.

The company initially used mobile phone SMS messaging to enable its clients to communicate directly with their customers. It is now partnered with Facebook’s WhatsApp Business platform to provide services ranging from online customer service to distribution of real-time flight information to mobile banking.

“The markets around us are growing fast. It makes sense for us to do capital raising in 2019, maybe in (the first and second quarters),” de Villiers told Reuters in a telephone interview.

He said the company - which also has offices in South Africa, Canada and Nigeria - had not yet taken a final decision on whether to go public or fundraise via a private placement.

“We could certainly list in the U.S. provided we felt that the company would get enough attention given market cap and size,” he said. “I think private equity is also still very much an option for the business given the momentum we’ve got.”

As a private company, Clickatell does not publish financial results, but de Villiers said it has turned a profit every year since 2009 and is on track for year-on-year revenue growth of more than 30 percent this year.

“We’ve had double-digit growth for quite some time. This year in particular is a good year,” he said.

De Villiers said he saw growth opportunities in large emerging markets, including in Africa, where expanding mobile internet access has led to the rapid adoption of messaging services.

“There are billions of consumers on these channels and brands need to reach their customers on those channels where they operate and interact today,” he said.

WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in Africa, home to over a billion people. Clickatell is working with four of Africa’s biggest banks - Absa Bank, GTBank, First Bank of Nigeria and United Bank of Africa - to roll out mobile banking via WhatsApp across the continent.

The service is aimed at helping the banks expand mobile banking to customers who use WhatsApp but might be reluctant to download a separate banking app.

“Many brands that rely on mobile applications just cannot get beyond 15 to 20 percent penetration,” de Villiers said. “So if you can take technology that exists today and offer an app-like experience but on a WeChat or WhatsApp channel, then you open up the market.”

Reporting by Joe Bavier; Editing by Susan Fenton