November 27, 2015
Mark Roden always wanted to be an entrepreneur. To fast-track his learning, Mark left Ireland in 1987, gaining an MBA at IMD
in Switzerland. With 30 different nationalities in his class, Mark developed the international perspective he knew he would need to make his entrepreneurial vision a reality. After business school he joined PwC consulting in London, where he gained hands-on experience in a wide range of sectors. This led, in 1991, to a pivotal meeting with Irish entrepreneur Denis O’Brien, who wanted to break the state-backed Irish telecoms monopoly.
Energized by this mammoth challenge, Mark returned to Ireland and joined Esat Telecom as co-founder, with responsibility for its entire commercial operations. In 1997, Esat floated for $300m on NASDAQ and in 2000, it was sold to BT for $2.3 billion.
Before leaving Esat in 1998, Mark set up Torc Telecom, which grew rapidly for three years and in 2000 he then acquired the much larger UK company World Telecom, which was in receivership but which presented a big opportunity to achieve international scale. However, the integration of this acquisition failed and caused the combined group to get dragged into receivership. This business collapsed in 2001, just as Mark’s wife was expecting their first baby. Although the failure of Torc Telecom was a setback, Mark was able to move forward with greater resilience and a much clearer understanding of what it would take for him to succeed.
Having reflected on what he had learned, Mark began to focus on the next opportunity. While evaluating possible ventures, he noticed long queues of people waiting to withdraw cash on Dublin’s rainy streets. All cash ATMs in Ireland were then bank-owned; so, seeing an opportunity, Mark set up the first independent cash ATM group called easycash. To the astonishment of the ‘cartel’ banks, easycash developed partnerships with retail group SPAR and Exxon Mobil and installed 500 in-store cash ATMs in just 24 months. The business took off like a rocket, became significantly profitable and in 2004 Royal Bank of Scotland acquired the business for cash.
Following the successful sale of easycash, Mark took his young family to Dubai for a vacation, where he was surprised by the number of foreign nationals employed throughout the Gulf. A chance encounter with an Indian waiter in his hotel led to a demonstration of how the waiter would buy a prepaid top-up card locally for an Indian mobile operator, then text the PIN value to his wife in Bangalore, enabling her to top-up her Indian mobile phone. Intrigued, Mark asked the waiter why he did this. The waiter replied, “This is the only way to get small values home to my wife quickly – using Western Union is too expensive for sending anything less than $100".
Mark was astonished. He immediately knew that the waiter was disrupting the entire global money remittance industry by sending the value directly to his wife without a remittance company. Mark realized that if the need to get small values home quickly was true for every foreign national working abroad, this could be an entirely new global industry.
With a deep conviction that mobile phones can change peoples’ lives, Mark established Ding
in 2006 to simplify the top-up process, automate it and, most importantly, to reduce the cost to the sender. He hired a team of talented software engineers in Dublin to build the international top-up platform, and using proprietary technology he started to connect all of the developing world’s mobile operators.
Since Ding was established, $0.7 billion has been sent by workers abroad to 18 million mobile phones in 130 emerging market countries. After funding four very tough years with his own cash, the Ding mobile operator group is now unique, incorporating more than 350 directly connected mobile operators that can reach 4 billion people, half the world’s population. For his achievements, Mark was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Ireland in October 2014.
IMD's MBA program provides the skills to know, the confidence to act and the humility to lead.