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Taking Stock #2 | Interview with Geoffrey de Mowbray

Global trade and business are interconnected by a web of supply chains. These ensure factories in China and farmers in South America are able to get their orders and produce to markets around the world. What happens when a global pandemic shuts down supply, halts transport routes and disrupts demand?

In this week’s Taking Stock vodcast, I chat with Geoffrey de Mowbray, founder and CEO at Dints International. He talks about his journey to setting up a supply chain logistics company working with clients around the developing world and shares tips and tricks on working your way through a pandemic!

Follow Geoffrey on LinkedIn or Twitter.

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW

Anil Stocker:

So hello, and welcome to the MarketFinance vodcast series called Taking Stock. I’m Anil Stocker, I founded MarketFinance back in 2011, and we deliver seamless funding solutions for ambitious business leaders here in the UK, who work here domestically and also internationally. And one thing I really enjoy about my role is the variety of business owners and entrepreneurs that I meet and hearing their journey, hearing their stories. And a few years ago, we decided to bring a little of that to light by inviting entrepreneurs to our office in shortage on Friday evenings for fireside chat and beers. Now with COVID, we’ve taken to this podcast format to showcase business owners, the challenges they face, how they think, and the solutions they’re bringing to the market and much more. So, very happy to introduce today our guest, Geoffrey de Mowbray, who’s the founder and CEO of Dints International. Hi Geoffrey, welcome to the show.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

Hi. How are you?

Anil Stocker:

Good, good. We’ve known each other for a good number of years now. You were an early user of MarketFinance when we launched. So it’s great to catch up. So, why don’t you just quickly give a short background on yourself and what your business does?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

Okay, great. So I’ve been running Dints since 2007. Before that, I’ve been running my own businesses since I was 16, I think, and probably only properly since I was 18, back in 2000. And it all started off because I was an ex-pat kid, and my parents were living in Africa. I wasn’t very good at school, wasn’t really destined to go to university. So went out there to visit them and started seeing opportunities, first of all in tech and then into the business where I am now, which is very much supply chain, logistics and trading.

Anil Stocker:

Yes, I know. So you do business in some quite exotic locations. So why don’t you name a few of those African countries and what you’re helping with there, who your customers are?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

I will do. So I guess, we started off in Africa. We now work in South America and just started in Asia now. But there in Africa, some of the main countries we work in or, some of the more exciting countries, shall we say? So Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Ghana, parts of DRC, which is pretty challenging but it’s good fun. Mozambique, Madagascar, all over really. So there’s 17 countries in Africa where we do work or have worked. And although on the face of it, they seem like the challenging markets and they do have their challenges, in many ways I see where there’s the most opportunities because it’s more of a blank canvas in many respects.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

And what we really do is, or what we have done is focused on supplying international companies. Working in those territories, you really struggle with sourcing their goods. So we source from Europe, US and Asia and we supply into primarily mines and construction companies and other heavy industries in many subsequent Africa, South America and Asia. And I think the form to our model is very much product based. So while we focused on those industries of view, is that the way we operate can be replicated across industries and moving into other things in the future. So yeah, it’s quite exciting. You get to travel lots, well not right now, but in general you get to travel lots, and definitely keeps you on your toes.

Anil Stocker:

So what, how do you go about getting a customer in Burkina Faso? Just talk me through that. Do you email people and say, hey, I can help you. Or do you get intros from people you know, on the ground? How does that work?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

I mean, a lot of it, it all certainly all started with FaceTime. There’s nothing, is the same as if someone was trying to sell to you from China in England. You’re much more likely to buy off them if they’re in front of you rather than just emailing you from China or wherever. So FaceTime is important. I think when we started, when we and I started out, it was more important. I think as time goes on, word of mouth is obviously key. You do a good job, despite being a vast geographical area we work in, it’s quite a tight knit community. So you do things well and you get good referrals. We do do some… We do very little cold calling to be honest. There’s normally referrals or sort of strategic introductions, but we are blessed in that we kind of got 20 years of having built up the content base though. But strangely enough, when you do cold call people, if you get them at the right time and you know what you’re doing and they’ve got a problem, then they’re more than willing to try you out.

Anil Stocker:

Yeah. And who’s been your kind of, a really good customer for you and what have you been delivering for them?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

So it’s primarily focused on parts for heavy machinery because that’s what a lot of our mines are operating in. And that’s all of the big yellow toys that you see on mega structures or by the side of the road in UK. But the ones in the UK are pretty small compared to those. To give you an idea, some of the trucks we work with are a six foot, so I’m six foot and I can stand inside the rim. So these are kind of like mega trucks. The tires each are 25 grand and, it’s all big for me is a kind of grew up near a farm. It’s big boys toys.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

And I think part of the spirit of also why we got into this, the reason I was in Africa is my mum was in the UN and I saw she was doing some great work in the development world. But equally I saw the challenges that the development world had. So our rationale is using business as a tool for development. And we’ve still got a long way to go on that. But that’s at our core, and there’s one of the reasons why we picked mining, because it’s the source of many of these countries wealth, but it’s not always distributed in the right way. So rather than sort of standing on the sidelines, we decided to embed ourselves in it, understand it and understand how we can change things from the inside out.

Anil Stocker:

Yeah, absolutely. It must be exciting to be helping to generate income in a poorer country. And seeing that flow through to the local markets. Albeit, you’re not in control exactly what gets done with the output, but you’re helping a developing country with their growth prospects on some levels. So, that must be quite motivating.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

I think, to be honest, that is very much what we’re aiming to do. The last 20 years pretty much has been our learning phase, has been a long one. But I really think the great things we’re going to do in that arena are going to, is what’s coming next. So yeah, the intent is there. We’re doing little bits and pieces, but I think really in the next three years, we’re going to start seeing some of that really come to life.

Anil Stocker:

Okay. And just give a sense of kind of the business pre-Covid, in the sense of how many people are you based in London and kind of what does everyone do roughly? Do you have more salespeople or how does that work?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

Sure. So we’re London headquartered, we’re not a big team. We’ve managed to drive huge efficiencies in terms of revenue per capita, which is great. So we’re a team of, I forget, but it’s not huge. It’s like 12 or something. And we’re primarily in London and UK based. We have one person in Belgium, one person based in Chile all the time. But the rest of us are UK based. And in broad terms, we have a small sales team. I still do a lot of the sales side because I love doing it. We’ve got our head of business development, Andy, who’s equally a fearless traveler and loves getting into some of the places that we operate in.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

Our COO, Damien, who’s based in Belgium, who’s worked for big corporates in the past and is now bringing his knowledge into our business. Jeanette, who’s head of our financial solutions is next banker and then the ops team who are mainly focused on doing all the quotations, doing all the shipping, et cetera. And then in Chile we have Fernando who is our country manager down in Chile on the back of us winning some fairly major contracts down there last year.

Anil Stocker:

Yeah. Yeah, so you have a local guy there just to make sure that that goes well. Okay, so you’re a global business, you’re on planes, they’re going to African countries, you’re going to Chile and then Covid hits in March. What happened then? What was the immediate reaction of your business when that happened?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

We actually took action a little earlier than a lot, because we’re set up to work quite well remotely. We shut our office in London a couple of weeks before the lockdown came and we all moved to remote working, which wasn’t too much of a stress, to be honest. I think one of the challenges was we were actually hiring someone new and it’s the first time we’ve ever trained anyone remotely, but the guys were saying, oh, it’s going to be tricky, but I actually think it’s driven a good discipline to get everything a little bit more structured. But from a business perspective, it’s interesting because we generally didn’t know what was going to happen because a lot of our suppliers are regarded as core industries in the US so they haven’t been locked down. So our supply chain has been quite lucky.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

From a client perspective, you look at mining, I think most of our clients are either gold, copper, there’s some cobalt, some diamond miners, but mainly gold and copper. And with gold, with the exception of a slight blip, the gold price has skyrocketed in the last couple of weeks. But the biggest challenge they’re finding is actually selling their gold, because some of the smelters have shut down. And the biggest overall challenge we’ve found is the huge strain on air freight capacity at the moment. Because of all of the protective PPE being flown around the world, because of the reduction in passenger numbers, there’s a huge pressures on that. And we’re lucky we had contract rates with our providers because the prices have just gone sky high, but we’ve had couple of shipments that have been lost that we’ve had to claim under insurance for. There’s just been nothing that’s… Everything’s recoverable from, but it’s just extra, extra work in that regard.

Anil Stocker:

And that’s because when you deliver your products, do you put them on air freight, or on ships or how does that work? How do you distribute, or both?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

So it’s a combination. It’s a combination of both, but I guess the ports also have had a big backlog at the moment because a lot of the ports have been shut. And particularly when you’re dealing with landlocked countries, air freight’s really the only way to get it in a reasonable amount of time. Plus everything’s just become that bit more urgent. But there is a lot of air freight, but we’ve switched to using more DHL and more carriers where we do have pre agreed rates. But yeah, prices have gone up. Delivery times have gone down a little bit. So there have been some pressures there. But I think one of the most interesting changes we see, is we did… We weren’t sure, I’m still not I guess, what was going to happen in terms of demand from our customers. And we did see requests from our clients dropping off quite a bit, but they seem to be picking up again now.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

I think there’s that initial shock of everyone’s like, whoa, what do we do? But interestingly enough for the month of April, our customers all came to us and said, can you supply us with medical supplies? Mainly because if you think these guys are operating sometimes 3000 people on a site, if Covid gets into those sites and spreads, their whole operations will shut down, other than the health challenges. And in a lot of these countries there are definitely not sufficient ventilators. Definitely not sufficient hospitals. So it’s really challenging. Touch wood, the numbers in most of the countries we deal with are still quite low. But yeah, so a lot of them came on to us looking for all manner of things to assist them. And one of the most interesting areas was the antibody test kits, which have had a lot of press in the UK, both negative and positive.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

And from what I understand from a few, there’s some political agendas out there and that the UK would like to develop their own rather than buying from elsewhere. But there was a flood of them being supplied into Africa, and we found a really good partner in the UK who are doing great testing. They’ve got a good product and yeah, mines have been buying those. So that helped bolster some of our lost revenue for the first month. And help with some of the revenue. And what’s really interesting is we’ve actually had customers who we’ve been trying to get into for a while and haven’t managed to, who we’re now on their vendor list. They’re now buying these often, it’s going to give us a potential to bring it back to our core business later on, which is really exciting.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

And I think knowing, so we’ve delivered these and clients are very happy with them, they’re good quality, but normal business does seem to be picking up again now, and in some respects it’s easier to negotiate contracts because we’ve got a really good financing credit team and a lot of our work’s done on open account. And some of the requirements that we might’ve asked for before, clients might’ve gone, oh well we’re not being asked for that. But because there is a general credit crunch around at the moment, clients are more willing to give up what they wouldn’t do before. So we’re working on a big contract this week that hopefully we’re going to close this week. And the client is just like, yeah, yep, whatever you need. So in that way, it’s quite, quite interesting.

Anil Stocker:

Okay, so you’re getting better… You’re actually being able to negotiate better terms, in terms of payments upfront because they empathized a little bit with you?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

It’s partly that, and I think we are getting a little payment particularly on these tests kits. We got all advanced payments, which was great. Great for cash flow, really helpful. But I think a lot of business in general, they are even pushing for longer credit terms, but some of the risk mitigants that we have in place, whether it be our credit insurers or other finances we work with, they have some pretty strict requirements and some of the territories as you know, we operate in are a little more dicey. So we’ve managed to get some cross guarantees from countries to externalize the risk and gets more copra guarantees, which has showed it up. So we’ve, yeah, we’ve managed to get some risk mitigants that we wouldn’t have got otherwise, because they are desperate and they require credit to do it. They can’t pay everything upfront.

Anil Stocker:

Yeah. That’s really interesting, just to listen to what you’ve been saying around how you pivoted the business during Covid, and it sounds like that was quite opportunistic, right? This wasn’t part of your plan in 2020.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

It wasn’t part of our plan, but equally it’s something we’ve been procrastinating about doing for a while. So it’s been, we’ve wanted to broaden our base, et cetera, et cetera. But it’s just like, oh yeah, we’ll do some planning and we’ll get there. Whereas, this has forced us to do it. So it’s kind of broken that glass ceiling and that is one of the other key areas we’re using this time for. And that is, really looking at our business and going right, we talked about doing all of this stuff for a long time. Let’s actually plan it and get on with it because we’ve got a bit more time to do that now.

Anil Stocker:

Yes, I was talking to another entrepreneur last week and she said, nothing like a pandemic to change your business strategy or to accelerate your business strategy. And I’ve also seen it here in our company, MarketFinance, as things that would have taken us months, suddenly are being done in weeks because there’s such a imperative to get it done fast. So, that’s pretty interesting, right, that you can kind of make your business really agile and fast, almost like a startup again.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

No, it’s great. And it’s exciting as well. It kind of puts the beat back and things as well.

Anil Stocker:

And how were the team doing, did you keep everyone on board? Did you do the furlough scheme for your staff members or not?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

No, we’re lucky we haven’t had to furlough anyone. And I think equally, we couldn’t really have furloughed anyone, because we’re such a small team, everyone’s so integral. And as I mentioned earlier, we’ve taken on another full time employee and a couple of part timers. Not because we’re so busy, but it just is the best time to train people and bring them up to speed and we feel sufficiently confident that, yeah, we have the funds to do that. So it’s good, we don’t want to make any knee jerk reactions. Some of our suppliers, for example, bigger companies here have furloughed a lot of people and they’re like, actually business hasn’t dropped off. There was some guys just looking at ticking boxes.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

So I think that I really… My girlfriend is employment or runs an HR business. So she’s, for all the wrong reasons, incredibly busy right now. And when you look at the leisure and tourism businesses, it is horrible what’s going on there. But equally, if you can take a step past that, I do almost believe, whether it’s existing businesses revisiting their business plans or people looking at what industry to go in, those industries will change. And in some ways it’s a great opportunity to now, to look at what those opportunities will be going forward when we reach the new normal.

Anil Stocker:

Absolutely. I think we’re not going to go back to the old world. We’re going to land in a different place. So, there’s a lot of opportunity, things that haven’t been done before, for sure. And in terms of running your business with cash flow and stuff like that, I mean, you’re a profitable business, right?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

We are a profitable business. We’ve never taken any external equity funding. We have used debt and have used invoice finance. Look, as with all businesses, we’ve had some pretty tough years and some years where everything’s gone wrong and it feels like the world’s falling in around you a little bit, but you just keep on fighting. And the last year particularly, we’ve had a… Put it this way, if this crisis hit a year ago we would probably be in a really, really tricky spot right now.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

But at the last year we’ve made some really good profits, really cut our cost base right back. And as a result, have a few resources. We are putting in contingency plans if funding for, if people don’t pay us on time or if our business does drop off, because that’s still a risk. We don’t know, it’s looking good, but we don’t know. So we are planning for that. But equally we’re planning on getting the finance in place if we do see a huge surge in orders, because that’s almost as much of a challenge as not having any business, for a business like ours. So yeah, we are profitable which is helpful. And yeah, we’ve actually applied for some of the innovation grants that are coming out at the moment, through Innovate UK, which I highly recommend anyone should look at because it is a great time to innovate.

Anil Stocker:

Yeah, absolutely. What about the CBILS loan from your bank? Have you thought about that?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

The CBILS, we have put in an application for that, mainly as a precautionary measure. We’re not sort of desperate on that. I think the rules are kind of changing all the time. In my other guys as co-chair, British export and his associates, and we wrote to the chancellor in the last week or so and it’s really great news to hear that particularly on the micro societies doing a hundred percent guarantees. And let’s see what happens. But yeah, we are putting in an application because our worst case scenario, we are going to have cashflow problems in July, in our worst case scenario. In our best case scenario, we’ll be absolutely fine. So it’s just planning for the eventualities.

Anil Stocker:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s worth looking into these schemes because as you say, many people don’t know. And I think the innovation ones, that’s interesting. That’s on Innovate UK website and that’s for R&D and research and new projects, isn’t it?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

Exactly, exactly. And I think it’s a great town to be looking at that stuff. And I think also, where you do have furloughed workers as well, is a great time for them to do training because as I understand it, fellow workers aren’t allowed to work, but they’re still allowed to train. So it’s a good time to look at these kinds of things.

Anil Stocker:

Okay, cool. Tell us a little bit to finish off, tell us a little bit about the British Exports Association and your involvement there, you’re co-chair of this association. So what do you do, and what kind of businesses do you have in the association?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

Okay, so BEXA, as it’s known, has been around for 80 years. It’s a relatively small member base in terms of numbers of companies. But, in terms of UK export, it’s fairly large. So we have the multinationals down to SMEs and their service providers to the banks and others. And historically, it’s main role has been to work with UK export finance, department for international trade, to ensure exporters’ get what they need in terms of funding to win export contracts. Most recently, and not least because of Brexit, has widened it’s focus to cover DIT as a whole and other areas of government.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

But in summary, it’s purpose is to lobby government on the behalf of the exporting community to get British export is what they need to do more business abroad. And there’s been a lot of talk about this for a long time now. The first driver to get everyone doing more stuff with Brexit, whether you like it or hate it or the idea of it hasn’t been much in the news recently for obvious reasons. But one thing, one positive that definitely has come out of it is a renewed focus on international trade.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

And, my belief is for the UK to come out of what we’re doing now, of the current challenges we face now, is we are going to make some great innovations and we are going to be driven to export again and engage around the world. So exporting is key and BExA is something, it’s a voluntary position. We’re all volunteers with the exception of a couple and the secretariat. And we all work in either exporting businesses or secretariats and the spirit is, do something of value that furthers our businesses. But in doing so, furthers the opportunities for everyone else in the export in community.

Anil Stocker:

You have exporters this from lots of different secretaries? It’s not just…

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

Yeah, I’d say there’s… I mean, aerospace, construction, healthcare. We do need to broaden our depth into some of the other sectors, particularly the service sectors. So a lot of banking, a lot of finance, not enough FinTech, not enough tech, not enough creatives, but yeah, sort of what would typically have been the old school exporting. So my role is co-chairman for SMEs and micro exporters is my co-chair and Marcus is from Rolls-Royce, and he looks after large exporters. Part of my drive here, and it’s a slowly burn, it doesn’t happen overnight, is to bring a more diversification of industries and more fresh thinking and new blood in and energy into it.

Anil Stocker:

Yeah. Excellent. So I guess there’s a website people go and you can join…?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

It is bexa.co.uk.

Anil Stocker:

Excellent, great. Look, really interesting. So I guess on a more personal level, when you finish, well when this lock down ends, we hope quite soon, let’s say. What’s the first country you’re going to go and visit then, for work? Is there a country that you have to go and visit?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

For work, the only thing I’ve got booked at the moment is Chile, which I moved from last week until November. I’m sure I’ll be going somewhere sooner. But my biggest fear is a lot of the world’s still going to be on lockdown. I mean, I was meant to be in holiday in Argentina, and I see that in August, I see they’re going to shut down until September. So, I generally don’t know. And I do think I will… Look, let’s face it, my carbon footprint wasn’t the smallest. And I do think that this is going to make me think twice about whether you need to jump on a plane for a meeting for a couple of days. But, I’d love to go, personally, I’d love to go somewhere sunny with a beach. And we’ve had lovely weather, but yeah, I just, I’ve actually been working harder, I think, than normally. And I’m lucky I live in the countryside, so we’ve got a garden, but yeah, I think somewhere sunny with a beach. And if it was for work, probably, I’d say probably Ghana.

Anil Stocker:

Okay. Okay. And finally, your vision for the company. So are you going to continue to do healthcare products as well, or what’s your next five year plan, roughly?

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

So, we’re spending a lot of time on it at the moment. But, the vision has always been how to democratize and digitize trade. Yeah. And that’s cross sector, make it accessible to all, give transparency, be able to track the environmental impact of your whole supply chain. And the great news is, compared to 20 years ago, there’s so many companies that are looking at parts of this because it’s entirely unrealistic to try and solve that yourself, it’s huge.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

And, MarketFinances is a fantastic example of one of those, in your finance space. So I think our vision going forward is how to leverage our experience and partner with multiple companies to be able to create that ecosystem to enable Fred in Burkina Faso to trade with John or Jane in Manchester seamlessly. And that’s from finding the transaction, executing it, everyone getting paid when they want to get paid, giving relevant risk profiles to financiers, and there’s so much stuff out there now. It just kind of needs stitching together a little bit. So, how we get the is still a work in progress, but that’s where we’re aiming to get at.

Anil Stocker:

Excellent. Thank you. Great. That’s a really… Was really interesting to talk to you, Jeff, and good luck with it all and see you on the other side of Covid, in reality, I hope.

Geoffrey de Mowbray:

Thanks Anil, always a pleasure. Thank you very much.

Anil Stocker View All

Co-Founder of MarketFinance

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