Executive Insights

This is what the CEO of a SA tech giant wants to see on your CV: brave life decisions

Business Insider SA
Clickatell CEO Pieter de Villiers
Clickatell CEO Pieter de Villiers
  • South African company Clickatell sparked a global revolution in 2000 when it became a pioneer in sending internet messages to cellphones.
  • It has since helped WhatsApp to create a sign-up solution, and has large clients across the world.
  • In all of its offices, you'll find posters of leaders who represent different Clickatell values: being a champion (Nelson Mandela), courage (Joan of Arc), a collaborative attitude (Mahatma Gandhi), curiosity (Albert Einstein) and creativity (Steve Jobs).
  • When interviewing prospective employees, Clickatell CEO Pieter de Villiers looks for people who have demonstrated these values.
  • For more articles, go to Business Insider SA.

When he interviews job candidates, Clickatell CEO Pieter de Villiers looks for someone who has demonstrated courage in their personal and professional lives.

“I want a person who has made brave life decisions.”

Courage is one of the company’s five core values – along with collaboration, curiosity, creativity and being a champion - and De Villiers believes that appointing people who have a clear track-record in all of these areas has been key to Clickatell’s success.

The company exploded on the global tech scene 19 years ago, when it was the first in the world to enable computer systems to send a text message from the internet to a cellphone.

Read: The incredible story of how a South African company sparked a global tech revolution – with four lines of code

This technology instantly enabled companies to communicate with millions of clients, and Clickatell’s solutions were in hot demand across the world. 

Read: This SA company helped WhatsApp conquer the world - and it believes your business should start a ‘chat’ service right now

After many years of break-neck growth – its revenue doubled every year for more than a decade – the company secured a Series A investment from the American venture capital giant Sequoia Capital. (A Series A investment is when a company offers shareholding to investors for the first time.) Sequoia was also an early investor in Facebook, PayPal and others. 

Soon afterwards, Clickatell was instrumental in helping WhatsApp to create a sign-up solution that didn’t require email: you only need a four-digit code sent by SMS. From SMS, the company started offering business solutions on other channels, including WhatsApp. 

Clickatell now has offices in Silicon Valley, Nigeria, Canada and Cape Town, and you will find posters of Nelson Mandela, Joan of Arc, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs on its office walls across the world.

Artwork depicting Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs and others on display at a Clickatell office.

Each represents a different value of Clickatell:  being a champion (Mandela), courage (Joan of Arc), a collaborative attitude (Gandhi), curiosity (Einstein) and creativity (Steve Jobs).

steve jobs
Steve Jobs is the archetype of creativity for Clickatell employees.
Clickatell's five company values.

Colleagues award each other badges for demonstrating these values, for example, a Gandhi badge will be given to someone who has contributed good team work.

Albert Einstein represents curiosity in the company, while Nelson Mandela signifies being a champion.

“The most important thing I’ve learned in business is that you need to have the right people around you,” says De Villiers. “Successful tech companies are built on people. But you need to make sure there is a good cultural fit.”

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