'Now I'm learning to walk again' - Fourex's Jeff Paterson

HOW I BEAT THE ODDS: The co-founder of Fourex on building his currency exchange machines business while battling cancer.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 24 Jun 2016

I was born and bred in Johannesburg. Around the age of 40, I split from my first wife and decided I needed a complete change. I went to Abu Dhabi to work for Etihad Airways, where my current business partner Oliver Du Toit was my boss. We got on like a house on fire.

The airline gave us free tickets so we travelled a lot. I had a drawer-load of currencies and I thought that if we could develop a machine to recognise all this money and change it, we'd be onto something huge. So we started Fourex, which provides self-service foreign exchange machines that accept more than 150 currencies. The customer comes to the machine, chooses the currency he'd like to be paid out in - pounds, euros or dollars. They put their coins and notes in and it pays out in cash.

The first step was to figure out if we could do the coin recognition, because there was nothing on the market that could do that for so many currencies. Then we had to collect around 50,000 coins and 5,000 notes to scan. People said to us, 'That's just a stupid idea. There's no money in that.' We probably pitched the concept to several hundred investors, but we got rejected every time.

Before March 2015, we literally had nothing left. We sold our houses and put in over £1m between us. But then we crowdfunded £675,000. Now we get people phoning us. After we went on the radio in South Africa last year, an entrepreneur who was listening phoned up. Two months later, he invested several million pounds in us. We had an offer of £25m from a guy in Saudi, but said no.

Last year, my leg started getting painful at night and swollen. I went for a scan and they found a 12-inch tumour below my knee. The day before I pitched in the final of the Virgin Media Business VOOM competition (which we won, in the New Things category), they told me I was probably going to lose my leg. They took it off on 12 October and now I'm learning to walk again. I'm about to lose the crutch and I've just finished chemo, which is the most awful thing I've ever been through.

I was in hospital with guys who had it in their lungs. I had the option to take my leg off and they didn't, so I guess it's all about perspective. Oliver doesn't allow it to interfere with the business. He said, 'Come to work, just don't bleed on the machine.' I took about a week off but apart from that I've worked straight through.

In four months with four machines, we've done 20,000 transactions. We have plans for another 100 this year, and we're talking to two supermarkets at the moment about rolling out across their stores. We believe we can have up to 2,000 machines in the UK and we're talking to five international partners about franchising.

Everybody thinks we're moving to plastic money but it's not true at all. The Royal Mint is minting more money than ever. Even if we only have cash for another 30 years, by the time I'm long dead we'll still be changing currency. Hard cash is going to be around for a long, long time.

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