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SA’s ‘amazing’ talent pool attracts UK-based start-up

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Dan Marcus, Ramp co-founder and chief growth officer.
Dan Marcus, Ramp co-founder and chief growth officer.

UK-based predictive analytics start-up Ramp is looking to tap into the local talent pool, as it charts a future into the next wave of analytics.

Ramp recently announced it is opening a South African operation in Cape Town, inviting local developers, more especially data scientists, to be part of a “fast-paced” global business.

Founding members Dan Marcus and Jan Pickard – based in Cape Town – tell ITWeb thatSA is blessed with “amazing” talent. “We always planned to be in South Africa; there’s a very big talent pool here, very entrepreneurial and hardworking people,” says Pickard.

Ramp is registered in the UK, with its founding team mainly based there as well. However, given that some founding members are in Cape Town, it made sense to set up a local presence, according to Marcus.

The SA office will be for staff to service the UK firm and global business. It will mainly include data scientists – all the people that don’t need to be client-facing, explains Pickard, noting a large contingent (more than 70%) will probably be based here as well.

Ramping up business

Co-founded by Angus Lovitt, one of the pioneers of the Candy Crushmobile game, Ramp is a predictive analytics platform, offering companies a software-based model to forecast their business accurately.

With Ramp, companies are able to run scenario planning and decide on the optimal investment and business strategy, states Pickard.

Marcus explains: “By plugging the consumer’s data directly into Ramp, we are able to look under the hood, justify the investment they are looking at and also help them understand how big that investment can actually grow.”

The client base, according to the co-founder, is made up of business-to-consumer (B2C) companies in sectors such as gaming, e-commerce and fintech. He adds these are organisations with a high volume of monthly new users with repeat transactions throughout the year, operating with a non-subscription revenue model.

Says Marcus: “We like to focus on non-subscription, with varying spend. This is mobile games, sports betting, online gaming, e-commerce and fintech, where there is a high volume of consumers out there. It’s very difficult to do as the quantity of transactions that are happening is in the tens if not hundreds of thousands on a monthly basis.

“Doing that forecasting manually – like most sophisticated businesses do − is very difficult, and that is where our team come into solve that challenge.”

The Ramp team has built a software-as-a-service platform that is currently being used in pilot stages, with some paying clients. The plan is to scale the platform, and get it into the hands of thousands of B2C companies.

“We’ve built it out alongside a couple of enterprise customers over the last few years, but it will be fully open to the public from next year,” says Pickard.

Ramp’s vision is to move into what’s being described as the new multibillion-dollar opportunity of analytics – prescriptive analytics. However, given that this is a very new space, it remains a work in progress for the start-up, Pickard points out.

“Ramp will evolve as we go,” notes Marcus. “The platform is working; we can plug people’s data in, run multiple scenarios, predict how customers are going to behave and where they are going to end up, as well as determine what marketing investment they need to make.

“Our future plan will obviously be to very much get into that prescriptive space, to really tell companies not just what will happen but what needs to be done to make that happen.”

Data science revolution

As the country with the world’s highest unemployment rate, strong emphasis has been placed on South Africans pursuing occupations in ICT-related fields, as these are the most sought-after.

Among the occupations in demand is the field of data science and related skills, with government and industry commentators alike stressing SA’s need for data science skills to harness the power of data and come up with predictive models.

For its Cape Town business, Ramp is looking for senior data scientists, reveals Pickard. “Our model is quite complex, so we’re looking for people who really want to get stuck into difficult problems. We’re working with really big data sets, so there are a lot of challenges. First, the model is complicated, and secondly, there are a lot of challenges in working with such a vast amount of data.”

It’s been previously reported that the global shortfall for data scientists is projected to be about 10 million.

While some projections showed there’ll be over three million new job openings in data science worldwide in 2021, access to people with these skills remains constrained, especially in markets such as SA.

Pickard agrees there is a shortage of data scientists in SA, noting the company is speaking to local data science academies to source the talent it is looking for.

“The lack of senior data scientists is a struggle,” he says. “At the moment, we are taking more mid-level data scientists and training them up to build the ecosystem here. We are trying our best, but hope that over the next year or two, as more start getting trained up, the market will grow a bit and the talent grows a bit.”

Similarly, Marcus says the high volume of “great” start-ups in the region poses another big challenge. “Everyone is fighting for the same talent, and everyone wants to go to Amazon, Takealot, etc. It’s scary for us because everyone sees security in these bigger firms. We want to build that recognition to say: you’re not taking a gamble on us − we’re a solid team with a solid foundation.

“We’ve got big ambitions; we want to build a UK-based unicorn and we’re excited to give people in South Africa the opportunity to work with a fast-paced global business.”

Pickard concludes: “We want to give all businesses a very accurate view of their future, so they have the confidence to take more risks and invest more for growth.”

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