IN­TER­VIEW

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

AHugedig­i­talmap­dom­i­nates the fancy cof­fee hub at the nexus of Ding’s swanky L-shaped quasi-google head of­fice in Balls­bridge. Guests are served their cof­fee choice for free. Staff pay a euro. “It is good for peo­ple to know the value of things,” says Ding founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Ro­den. He points proudly at the an­i­mated map, where an­i­mated ar­rows like mis­siles fly from one coun­try to an­other, shoot­ing in dra­matic loops across the screen ev­ery few sec­onds. But each ar­row ac­tu­ally rep­re­sents a cross-border act of giv­ing be­tween two far dis­tant peo­ple — the ful­fil­ment of a de­cid­edly 21st cen­tury need: phone credit.

Four riyals worth of phone credit bought through Ding’s mo­bile app — about a euro’s worth — flies from some­one’s phone in Saudi Ara­bia to some­one else’s phone in Pak­istan. Five dol­lars worth goes from the US to Mex­ico. A few dirhams fly across from Dubai to In­dia. It’s all small amounts, but enough to keep the re­cip­i­ent’s phone con­nected to the in­ter­net and in con­tact with the world for a time.

As work­ers and mi­grants — and many oth­ers too — buy phone credit on the Ding app and send it to a fam­ily mem­ber or friend else­where in the world — usu­ally in the Mid­dle East, the Caribbean or Cen­tral Amer­ica — sec­onds later an ar­row lights up the map in the com­pany’s Dublin head­quar­ters.

“The screen re­minds us that we might have lovely of­fices with Star­bucks and But­lers down the street. But the pur­pose of what we are do­ing is some­thing re­ally worth­while,“says Ro­den.

Last year, Ding trans­ferred half-a-bil­lion dol­lars worth of phone credit from senders to re­ceivers. It has deals with 500 dif­fer­ent mo­bile phone op­er­a­tors and in over 140 coun­tries. Cus­tomers can buy credit to send to a friend through Ding’s web­site or app or at 600,000 dif­fer­ent re­tail out­lets around the globe. With ev­ery sale — on av­er­age ev­ery three sec­onds — an ar­row flies across the screen in Balls­bridge and Ding earns a com­mis­sion of be­tween 3pc and 10pc of the phone credit pur­chased.

With mo­bile data traf­fic ex­pected to grow by 12 times glob­ally by 2022, Ro­den ex­pects Ding to also see ma­jor growth in the com­ing years.

“We have an am­bi­tion to hit 500,000 monthly ac­tive users by 2020,” he says. He and his now 227-strong team have built a $500m-a-year rev­enue busi­ness. Ro­den, who started the com­pany based on a con­ver­sa­tion he had with an In­dian waiter in Dubai 13 years ago, be­lieves he can now lead the busi­ness to a whole new level.

“The stage we are at now re­ally is the most in­ter­est­ing of our en­tire his­tory, hence why I am back here in the com­pany,” he says.

Back in June 2017 Ro­den had stepped away from man­ag­ing the com­pany, hand­ing the reins to co-founder David Shack­le­ton.

Step­ping away is not al­ways easy. Ro­den did the rec­om­mended things. He took fam­ily hol­i­days and set­tled down to en­joy a lot more free time. But re­ally what he did was spend the whole year think­ing about Ding. And he was not think­ing about what it had al­ready achieved but about what could make it re­ally big.

So in July when Shack­le­ton de­parted as CEO af­ter a year in the job it was an easy de­ci­sion for Ro­den to step back into his old role. Per­haps even a re­lief. Ini­tially he an­nounced that his role was an in­terim one and he be­gan an ex­ten­sive CEO re­cruit­ment search. As it turned out, he did not have to look very far.

“I spent a lot of time think­ing about what was needed for the busi­ness to be re­ally suc­cess­ful and my own ap­proach to mak­ing that hap­pen,” he says. “I’d be very am­bi­tious about what we could do and now I’m putting it up to my­self to prove that.”

He had met some “ex­traor­di­nar­ily in­ter­est­ing peo­ple” on the CEO search in Lon­don and New York.

“But I be­gan to think to my­self about what would hap­pen if any of them were to come into the busi­ness. It would be six months be­fore they could get a han­dle on the cul­ture, on the peo­ple in the busi­ness and on what we should do next. Well, the thing is, I know the peo­ple, I know the cul­ture and I know what we need to do.”

Over the pre­vi­ous year a plan had been for­mu­lat­ing around where Ding could go next and dur­ing his year-long sab­bat­i­cal Ro­den be­gan to see what he saw was “a very, very big scal­ing-up of the op­por­tu­nity”. It would re­quire some­one with a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence to lead the com­pany, he be­lieved, and, ul­ti­mately, he de­cided that per­son was him.

Back in the 1980s be­fore the in­ter­net had turned the world on its head, it would have been im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine Ro­den lead­ing a team of young, highly tech-savvy staff from 28 dif­fer­ent coun­tries based in a trendy of­fice in Dublin 4.

Col­lege was like pulling teeth. Lit­er­ally. Af­ter the Leav­ing Cer­tifi­cate he fell into den­tistry in Trin­ity with­out hav­ing much in­ter­est in be­ing a den­tist. “My dad was a doc­tor. I wanted to be a doc­tor. I thought. I was the youngest of 11. If one of your par­ents is a doc­tor then that is what is talked about around the kitchen ta­ble, not busi­ness. So I wanted to get into medicine, but didn’t get the points.”

Den­tistry lasted a year be­fore he quit and joined the Col­lege of Mar­ket­ing. From that he got a job in Mc­connells ad­ver­tis­ing agency.

“I loved it in Mc­connells, but af­ter do­ing mar­ket re­search for a cou­ple of years I had this nag­ging feel­ing that there must be more to it than this. I had a sense of what the next 10 to 15 years were go­ing to be like if I kept go­ing: con­sumer goods mar­ket­ing, ju­nior brand man­ager, brand man­ager,

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