Snapt is a special kind of company: a South African-born, venture capitalist funded startup whose services are being used all over the world.

But what is Snapt and who made it? In short: the company offers a range of web-focused products, based on open source software, that do everything from making your website load faster to keeping it behind a highly secure firewall.

CEO Dave Blakey tells us the story of the company as they set their sights on the world with the recent opening of a Snapt office in the USA.

htxt.africa: Can you give us some history behind Snapt and how it started in South Africa?  

Dave Blakey: So Snapt is originally a South African business started in 2012 with us raising venture capital from a Cape Town company called 4Di Capital. That was to get products out of the door, all based on the idea of bridging the gap between open source and enterprise at the time. Around that time open source was really starting to take off and government tenders were really starting to favour open source solutions, and things were looking up for open source. People were the switching over to it and discovering that it wasn’t the same as their old Microsoft solution or whatever they were previously using – they were missing support and management and reporting and all the things that makes an enterprise solution.

So we thought that we could add those features and sell it as an add-on product which small and medium [sized] business would love.

We went to 4Di to raise money off of that idea and we were successful. Quite quickly we had to change our plans because it turns out that more and more enterprise clients like MTV and Intel started buying our products. Even small and medium [sized] businesses started buying our product as a load balancer. So we started competing as a full solution instead of just a load balancer which was a great move for us. That catapulted Snapt to where it is now and we kept developing the products with the idea that we’d provide full services at a fraction of the cost by leveraging open source software. The market adapted and changed and we added more functionality, and it turned out that people like ourselves were sitting in front of servers with tons of traffic and we thought: “what value can we add here?”.

This is where the ideas behind the accelerator and the firewall to make the site load faster and protect it respectively. We became an ‘Application Delivery Controller’, and that’s really just a concept that we put a device in front of a site or service because you need them to be online reliably, as well as being safe and fast. Places like ecommerce shops, big websites, new media… All the way down to small guys and startups that are starting to grow their business.

I think we’ve done well because of two reasons. One is that our product is very intuitive and easy to use, easy to deploy, flexible, it’s software only so you just need to download it. Secondly, the pricing is extremely disruptive. We often come in at one tenth or even one hundredth of the price of [our] big competitors, and we compete with them on a feature-by-feature basis.

That’s the play: to disrupt the ADC market. And that’s where we are today, basically. We’ve been doing really well. We’ve been having good year-on-year growth and at the end of this month we’re going to RISE in Hong Kong. We have a stall and I think we’ll be the only South African company there.

Last year the company opened a US sales office. Was the intention always to offer the company’s products globally (that is, starting in South Africa and then spreading) or has the company always been focused on an international market?

Because of the nature of the business and what it does, our clients have critical and high load services and, even if they are South African, they will be hosting overseas. So from day one we were territory neutral but with the expectation that we wouldn’t do a lot of business in South Africa. We just naturally grew and, because of the way the market is, 70% of our clients are in the US. Having an office there now allows us to do more enterprise sales.

When we started our pricing was just far too cheap and it didn’t account for factors such as very high support [that] customers would want. So, as we adapted to that, we became more attractive for bigger enterprises. For that you need staff on the ground, a proper sales forces and so forth. America was the first choice just because the bulk of our clients are based there.

Are any South Africans now working in America thanks to employment at your company?

No. Right now in the US office there’s only American staff, but we are looking at sending some [local] employees over. Right now it’s primarily a sales office, but we’re hoping to change that, maybe get some technical resources there, some leadership roles, things like that. This may see some South Africans going over.

Something that makes Snapt unique is the free trial and the fact that a company can choose to cancel their subscription and keep the software. What are the drawbacks to using an “unlicensed” copy and does it remain active indefinitely?

It was a weird decision we made, but I think it was ultimately a marketing win because we put so much confidence behind our product. We actually have 109% renewal rate, I know that sounds crazy but we count it in dollars . In terms of actual clients we have around a 91% renewal rate. It comes back to the old DRM argument where you don’t want to treat your good customers badly to protect yourself from the few bad ones. So we just provide the best service we can and people will stay with us. The downsides of cutting licences is that people forget to renew, or have credit card problems, or internet troubles so they can’t update… and then they get cut off. We see this as a negative attitude, so we take the positive road.

If your licence does expire, you just keep what you have. You don’t get updates to new versions or back end support or anything like that but the version you had continues to run.

We’ve heard the software suite works with Amazon Web services, but does it also work well on top of sites working with creation tools such as WordPress and Squarespace?

To us we can barely tell the difference. To us a backend is a backend. A lot of our clients are using CMS services, but to us it’s almost irrelevant. Whether they’re using that or a regular website, it doesn’t matter to us.

Snapt.net offers a site analyser tool which rates it out of a 100. In that scoring range, what does the average site score and what can sites reasonably expect in terms of an increase once using your products?

It varies a lot. It’s not a case of deploying Snapt and suddenly getting a 100. It depends on your site content and on what you do with it. The worse your score, the more Snapt will help.

I would say the average score is probably between 40 and 55. Once Snapt is deployed with the default configuration, you could see it go to probably between 75 and 85. You can then improve that a lot with the advanced configurations.

What we’re really looking at, for the most part in terms of client performance, is the number of times they need to request objects and download them. For a website you think “maybe it’s just the images I need to download” but it’s also the Javascripts and style sheets and everything that includes. When you have 100 or 150 objects that need to be downloaded one after the other, you get a latency effect. On the other side, this also wastes bandwidth.

With Snapt, the number of objects will often come down to 20 or 30. We’ve also seen webpages that have gone from being 5 megs to half a meg, and that makes a significant difference.

You now have extensive experience with both local and international companies. Is there anything uniquely local which makes South African companies special in the international space?

When we started there was a concern that, being a South African company selling a solution like ours, especially like ours, that there would be a negative opinion of the business or we would have trouble selling to the US… but we really didn’t, at all. I couldn’t name one instance where a client went with one of our competitors just because of where we were.

I also think South Africa is a kind of uncapped market. Compared to somewhere like Silicon Valley where employees get poached by Apple or Stripe, there’s good opportunity for business here [in comparison]. I think we’ve proven that you can hire local guys, make something cool, and then sell it all over the world. It was something I was concerned about, but it’s never been a problem.

Especially with the rise of the ability to sell online, it allows South African companies to be global businesses while leveraging the talent and lower prices in the country.

I want to end off by saying that we have a free trial that doesn’t require credit card information or anything like that, so jump on and try it yourself. Also; we’re going to be at RISE at the end of the month, pop by our stall and say hi!

Thanks for your time, Dave! All the best with the business.