Sea Monster, the animation and gaming company says it will use its recent $1m (+-R16m) funding from FirstRand’s Vumela Fund to enable its global growth, transitioning from being a service business and working on a project to project basis, to a product-based business which develops its own solutions to generate annuity revenue.

“We realised that if we were to unlock the potential in Sea Monster, we’d need to find investment to build off-the-shelf solutions that we can sell to multiple customers, and that will also aid us in our global expansion plans,”says Sea Monster CEO Glenn Gillis.

Taking relationships to next level

Gillis says that the expansion also encompasses the African continent. “ We have built trusted relationships with some of South Africa’s biggest corporates, most of whom have an African footprint.”

For nine years, Sea Monster was a business which sold digital solutions on a project basis that solve communication and change management challenges at scale. It employs 35 people - from designers to animators, developers and business analysts.

Their client base includes Lemonade Day (US), First National Bank, Capitec, Old Mutual, Shell and the SA Reserve Bank. The deal allows Sea Monster to tap into FirstRand’s supplier development strategy and Edge Growth’s post investment support, which will help it to do that, says Gillis.

“There can be real magic in moving beyond pure supplier / client relationships,” comments Gillis, “but these do require longer- term horizons, new business models and even greater levels of trust. For example if Sea Monster can build a product that is used across FirstRand, but is also free to sell this into other verticals, or globally, everyone will be better off.”

Gillis notes that while the solutions the company builds and stress test here in South Africa could be useful across the continent, they are always very respectful of the different needs of each country or region.

“Inherently animated content and games are very good at cutting across cultures and languages and can be very cost-effective at scale. Given the increasing rate of adoption of smartphones on the continent, anyone looking to engage users should be seriously considering mobile-first, bite-size and visual solutions,” he adds.

Three-pronged approach

In terms of their approach in expanding into the African continent, Gillis says the company has three elements that guide their thinking.

“Firstly we will follow our trusted customers and their plans to scale offerings across the continent. Second, we do get enquiries from either international companies that have Africa specific challenges, that are looking for solutions rooted in the continent, rather than imported from elsewhere. This also applies to large grant-making organisations who are looking for new approaches, that are much more data-driven and scalable.”

The third prong is that their own products which they are developing will be built for an Africa-first, yet fully global context. “We know that if we can make products that work here, because of all of our unique challenges, we will be well-positioned to deliver them anywhere.”

Gillis notes that as the 4th industrial revolution accelerates, we will all have a choice to make. “Will Africa largely be the source of wealth, rather than the beneficiary of wealth creation, as it has tragically been for all the previous revolutions?”

He adds that new ways of learning, that are bite-size, visual and sometimes delivered via gaming experiences, are one way for our creative and entrepreneurial talent to learn the core skills that they need to compete in the next wave of opportunities. If we remain fixated on old models of teaching, then with regret we will still be fighting the last war, rather than the next one, he says.

We work very hard to build the credibility of using animation, games, AR and VR as serious instruments for behaviour change. This isn’t technology for its own sake, or some cute animated content or how-to videos, these are massively scalable, data-driven solutions that can solve some of the most wicked challenges on the continent (and globally). Whether this is to scale business communication or deliver entirely digital products, or for social benefit organisation, we need to make sure that these instruments are part of the mix.”

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