Mark has always been interested in problem-solving – using technology as a solution.
When Mark Ridgway, CTO at getWorth, finished his military service, he pursued a building sciences degree at Durban University. He recalls that when he began his degree, the construction industry required at least 200 graduates, but in 1986, only two university graduates were needed and as a result Mark never finished his first degree
“It was a discipline and industry that was in a lot of trouble at the time,” he explains. “I had to move on, so I relocated to Johannesburg and began my entrepreneurial journey. And, while I mostly held the CEO title in those businesses, my role has always been in the operations IT side of the company. He later completed his MBA at GIMT in Johannesburg.
“I was always the one who put together the solutions to grow the business, designing those systems and putting them in place. My goal was to reduce the resources required to achieve the desired result.”
Mark, along with some of his business partners, started the first portfolio management companies in the late 1980s, trading in unit trusts, and this required an entire system to be built – to underpin it, and to interface with the banks and unit trust companies. He describes this as his first step into a formalised IT-focused role in terms of designing a bespoke system.
He continued in that vein with several other companies, including TransUnion in the mid-1990s, where he reorganised their systems, elevating production process and operations by using tech. “I’ve always been interested in finding the solution, and the solution for me has always been within a tech-based outcome,” he says.
Mark used a similar approach for his most recent business, getWorth, which was founded in 2016 along with two other business partners.
He is also the company’s CTO and says that although they may be trading vehicles, the formula is still the same. “We buy and sell cars, and this is a market all three of us had very little experience in. Although we could figure out and eventually reach an agreement on how a car should be priced, we needed to keep in mind that we would need to build artificial intelligence to help us price cars,” he explains.
“None of us had the necessary experience in the motor trading industry. Even though we viewed it as a traditional, fragmented and broken industry at the time – which we wanted to change and have done so fairly well in the past five years or so – we needed technology in order for us to achieve what we have in such little time,” he says.
“The process has been so successful that getWorth has been providing TransUnion – owners of the Mead and Mcgrouther trade and retail values – a retail price alternative for three years. The first addition to the industry in 60 years.”
Mark believes that his background in problem-solving, operations and using technology aided the discussion around Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a tool to help them reach their goal. “Our main focus was on the customers, looking after their needs and affording them an experience that was far superior to anything else in the market, but we would’ve been unable to attract these customers without sophisticated technology and AI to help us accurately price these cars,” he explains.
Mark says that even before getWorth’s website was built, he and his team began tracking data from the market to build their very first pricing engine, which is the foundation of the business. “This is not a technology company in the traditional sense, but without technology, there wouldn’t be a business,” he says. “We trade in the metal and engage with customers, but the business itself was built on a technology initiative.”
Mark says the business has proved its worth during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, where most people travelled or at least visited dealerships less, during the KwaZulu-Natal floods, which halted production of vehicles, and during the vehicle chip shortage, which affected the manufacture of new cars.
“I think we were hit hard by the pandemic, like many other businesses. However, the fact that we were an e-commerce business and traded online gave us an advantage over traditional dealerships,” he explains. “When other businesses had to move to an “online presence” to trade, we were already playing in that space and gave our customers access to the product from the comfort of their own homes.”
Mark anticipates a move away from predictive modelling as far as data analytics is concerned. “The next big thing in AI is ensemble models,”' he says. “This is where you have multiple models running together, overlaid by machine learning, and it works with those multiple models to produce an outcome. That’s what we are starting to see with our latest pricing engine efforts.”
He points out that the process is all about using AI to partly automate a large percentage of their pricing operation. “As it stands, someone still reviews the information produced by the engine, especially if there isn’t enough data on that particular vehicle,” Mark explains.
Mark isn’t only a problem-solver – he’s also an adrenaline junkie. He’s flown several planes in the past and has a microlight aircraft licence, a fixed wing aircraft licence, and a helicopter licence: he’s even built his own helicopter. Mark now also enjoys time on the racetrack as a member of a V8 masters racing car association.