Transforming the global call centre industry
Cape Town-based software development firm ZaiLab sets the universal benchmark when it comes to visualising the contact centre of the future. Situated in Cape Town’s tallest skyscraper, Portside Tower, the company opened its doors in April 2014 – one of the first tenants to occupy the landmark building.
Exit the lift on the 10th floor and you’ve entered a whole new world. The office resembles a spacecraft – futuristic, with the furniture and general layout reminiscent of TV series like Star Trek or Star Wars, together with doors that slide open and close with a swoosh.
ZaiLab CEO NourAddine Ayyoub says the design was inspired by his fascination with science fiction. “I love sci-fi, but I also wanted to create an office space that was completely different, that would attract the best and brightest talent,” says Ayyoub, who regards Silicon Valley giants Steve Jobs and Elon Musk as his greatest role models.
Before establishing ZaiLab, Ayyoub and three associates travelled the world. “We went to different countries, visiting various contact centres, businesses and software houses to see what’s out there,” he says. “We realised two things. One, technology has moved, and two, the world is backwards – from a contact centre perspective. That’s when we decided to transform the contact centre space by creating a contact centre of the future and designing cutting-edge software.”
Ayyoub arrived in South Africa with a backpack at the dawn of democracy in 1994. He worked as a consultant in Johannesburg for three years before landing a consultancy job at a financing firm in Cape Town. “Then, while working here, I realised there was a big gap in the financial services sector. All the software they were buying was from overseas. No one was playing in the contact centre software development space, and that’s when I decided to start my own business in 1998.”
Cash Bank, a financial institution in Cape Town at the time, was Ayyoub’s first client. Two years later, in 2000, Ayyoub packed up and moved the entire operation to Johannesburg. “Even though I loved Cape Town, Joburg was where the business was. I had no choice, but to move,” he says. But eight years later, in 2008, Ayyoub was back in Cape Town after being approached by Old Mutual to help start their financial institution, Old Mutual Finance.
“They didn’t want to buy my software, instead they asked for us to rather could go into a joint venture,” says Ayyoub. “We created a consortium, it was a 50/50 joint venture comprising of myself as an IT professional and four other people from different areas of the business. Over five years, we created a beautiful business. We went from zero staff to over 2 500 in that time. Ourselves and Old Mutual each invested R20 million in the business and within five years the business was worth about R4.4 billion. At the time, we sold half our shares – Old Mutual jumped to 75% shareholder and we kept 25%. And thereafter, in 2014, I went back to what we really love doing – writing software.”
Ayyoub believes there are many advantages to opening a business in Cape Town, one being the city’s international status. “Brand Cape Town is fantastic,” he says. “When international companies see you are based in Cape Town, they marvel. There’s some status attached to the destination. The facilities here are unbelievable, the city is well located, it’s accessible and everything is happening here. Why I operate from Cape Town? In a nutshell, because of its infrastructure and brand.”
ZaiLab creates innovative contact centre products that use learning algorithms to personalise a companies’ customer experience. Development is done using the latest technologies that enable scalable and secure cloud solutions that allow customers to focus on growing their business without worrying about being able to scale their systems to meet future needs. ZaiLab also offers the world’s first pay-per-use model, where businesses only pay for the services they use. The affordable payment model and cloud-based architecture are highly attractive to small and medium operators.
In 2016, Frost & Sullivan honoured ZaiLab with their Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) Frost & Sullivan Award for Visionary Innovation Leadership. The company employs 54 staff and plans grow this number to well over 100 within the next year.