Meet Jan Kotze – The Director of ChatFin

South Africans can now renew their car licences through WhatsApp, thanks to a service called ChatBack.

ChatBack is part of the ChatFin group, and is headed up by Jan Kotze.

While ChatBack only launched in South African in late 2019, Kotze has been involved in the innovation of businesses and services since the 90s.

“From the start of the dot-com era in the late 90s, I was interested in the new emerging business models where technology, client experience, and product and services converged,” said Kotze.

First job

Kotze’s first job, however, was less technology-focused: giving swimming lessons to kids in his neighbourhood when he was 10 years old.

“I charged R20 per lesson per child,” he said.

Following his secondary education, Kotze went to university to study economics.

“I received a bursary and was asked to complete my PhD while lecturing. I was paid R3,500 per month while lecturing at what is now the University of Johannesburg. This was in the early 90s,” he said.

His movement into the technology space was then driven by his time at Deloitte – where he started and led the innovation business, and was a partner from 1999 to 2007.

“We started various new businesses for Deloitte in SA and Europe, and for clients of Deloitte.”

“We did a large project for one of the leading direct insurers, where it became clear how powerful the fintech trend is,” said Kotze.

Kotze took this experience and started a venture capital business focussed on fintech called VentureCapitalWorks.

“We sold one of these businesses to a major bank in 2016. At that point I mentioned to my business partners that I need to start my own business or I will always wonder what it would be like. “

Kotze said it was clear to him at the time that third-party chat applications – such as WhatsApp – as the front-end for client services was the next big trend.

“We started ChatFin as a result of this realisation.”

Looking specifically at ChatBack, Kotze said the service is aimed at making “unpleasant necessities” simple by using WhatsApp.

“Licence renewals fit this bill perfectly, hence this being our first service. I personally can’t stand it to wait in a queue.”

Success in tech

Kotze said that his successful career in the technology space was thanks to hard work and the support of many people around him.

There were also contributing factors which were out of his control, he added.

“I subscribe to Warren Buffet’s view that we live in a world where there is a bit of an ovarian lottery. We get opportunities because of where we come from. What we do with it is really what it is all about.”

Using these opportunities to run a business then presents its own rewards and risks.

“For me, it is all about getting the sequence right while building out something new like ChatBack. It’s very tough and quite personal to make a mistake, but then you need to take it on the chin, correct it, and move on,” he said.

For South Africans just starting their careers in the technology space, Kotze provides two pieces of advice:

  • Send us your CVs, we need people who are go-getters.
  • You need to get something you are really passionate about and focus on that – or else you will never master it.

Jan Kotze’s technology choices

Kotze’s personal tech choices are detailed below.

MacBook Air

Which smartphone do you use?

  • iPhone

Which laptop do you use?

  • MacBook Air

What is the best gadget you have ever bought?

  • Bluetooth speaker you can take everywhere. We have four daughters and we really enjoy sharing our music tastes using this gadget.

What is the worst gadget you have ever bought?

  • Solar charger for a phone. It never seems to work.

What is the best investment you have ever made?

  • Getting married. My wife is not only my best friend, but constantly provides moral support which you need when starting businesses like I do.

What is the worst investment you have ever made?

  • Didata warrants when they just came out. Liquidity killed me on that one.

What is the best business book you have ever read?

  • It’s between The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life and Freakonomics

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Meet Jan Kotze – The Director of ChatFin