The $15 million pebble that powers South African business

spc african start up payment pebble_00022810
spc african start up payment pebble_00022810

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Story highlights

  • South African device offers streamlined mobile payments for entrepreneurs
  • Low cost and secure unit will be rolling out internationally

(CNN)With one of the world's highest unemployment rates, South Africa is increasingly reliant on home-grown entrepreneurs to power a flagging economy.

While there is no shortage of eager young businesspeople ready to step up, they are often let down by inadequate infrastructure -- and handling payments is one major bugbear.
    Thumbzup Innovation believes it has solved this problem with its "Payment Pebble." The device functions as a credit card machine that can be attached to a smartphone, or as a stand-alone unit, that allows fast and convenient transactions.
    "You plug it in, you launch a mobile application and it just works," says Thumbzup founder and CEO Stafford Masie, the former head of Google South Africa who switched roles with the ambition of having a greater social impact.
    The pebble is pitched at smaller businesses, which is reflected in a price of $10 and monthly fee of $4 thereafter. Masie claims that over 30,000 merchants are already using it, with several thousand more joining each month.
    Car wash owner Peter Ndhlovu says the system has increased his revenue.
    Engineering has been the greatest challenge, says Masie. The design has gone through several iterations -- and design teams -- in the development of a unit that is secure, easy to use and physically robust.
    "We are now at a point where we can say that we can deliver on any scale requirement that any client, in any geography may throw at us," says the CEO.
    Thumbzup now have heavyweight backing through a partnership with Barclays, and Masie says he has raised over $15 million in venture capital.
    The units are already on sale in neighboring countries and Australia. The next step is to reach the U.S. and Europe, and beyond that, the company will be releasing more advanced products.
    "We're very, very excited about the new technologies that will imminently be coming out of our conveyor belt of innovation," says Masie.