Q&A: Vinny Lingham on Gyft, the festive season and living in Silicon Valley

South African technology entrepreneur Vinny Lingham is not resting on his laurels despite the success of Yola and it having raised US$25 million from Johan Rupert’s Reinet Investments.

His latest venture, Gyft, seeks to “disrupt” the multi-billion dollar gift card industry.

Gyft is a “Mobile Gift Card Platform” that aims to enable customers to “upload, buy and redeem gift cards conveniently from their mobile device”.

Gift cards are a US$100 billion industry in the USA alone, which is partially the reason why Google Ventures, Founder Collective and 500 Startups have funded this private company.

The other reason could be Lingham’s track record as a technology entrepreneur. He had his first “public” success with Clicks2Customers, a company that provided search engine marketing software and services, in the early to mid 2000s.

Robert Scoble, an acclaimed author and tech blogger, said of Gyft when he saw Lingham’s pitch and presentation at TechCrunch’s Disrupt as a finalist in 2012: “I think Gyft will win it all. Michael Arrington tends to ask judges to pick the one that will make the best business and I don’t see a two-wheeled all-electric vehicle being all that profitable.

“I personally would pick Mind Meld, but Gyft makes a better business and the UI is very nice, I got a demo yesterday at Techcrunch Disrupt.”

Gyft was also featured on the popular TV talk show, The Ellen Show, in December, where the host Ellen DeGeneres gave each member of the studio audience a US$200 GAP gift card pre-loaded on their Gyft App account.

HumanIPO caught up with Lingham, who is also a University of Cape Town alumni and co-founder of The Silicon Cape Initiative.

HumanIPO: Before talking about Gyft, how has it been living in Silicon Valley with a young family?

Vinny Lingham: It’s a really amazing environment – everyone speaks tech, literally! The great thing is that there are tons of things to do with kids and lots of other young families.

How did the idea for Gyft come about?

Starbucks’ mobile app inspired Gyft.  

We saw what they were doing in mobile payments and thought – couldn’t we offer this for anyone to use at any store! We took a design first, mobile first approach to the problem of plastic gift cards.

The gift card industry is huge as you are aware, what differentiates Gyft?

Gift cards are a US$100 billion plus industry in the USA. Gyft focuses on aggregating users gift cards into a single mobile application, with a gorgeous and easy to user interface.  

Design and usability is our differentiation and we have filed some patents to support this approach.

Was funding a hurdle for Gyft? Are you mostly “bootstrapped”? Any VC funding?

I think funding is a hurdle for almost any business out there in today’s market. We have raised US$1.25m from various investors, including Google Ventures. Even then, we still maintain a bootstrap mentality.

Have you seen a boom in business for Gyft during the festive season?

Yes – Q4 is the peak season for gift cards, but we’ve seen continual growth already in the new year – we’re a young company so there is plenty of room to grow.

Will Gyft be confined to the USA or are you looking for expansion to Europe? Asia? Africa?

We will expand outside the USA when it makes sense for us – right now, we’re seeing a lot of growth here and this is our key market.

Lastly, what are your views on the South African Technology startup scene? Outside Cape Town?

I think in order for the SA Technology scene to evolve and mature, there needs to be a geographic hub. I strongly believe in geographic clusters to drive progress and innovation as dispersed technology teams leads to people making the same mistakes and not learning from each other. It also inhibits the movements of individuals from one company to another if there is geographic distance.

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