Africa's insatiable thirst for social networking spurs the growth of local mobile brands in key markets

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Africa’s thirst for social networking seems insatiable and homegrown products to meet this thirst, like MXit and 2go, have really got traction. It’s a mixture of flirting, free messaging and meeting real people that draws people in. With the current numbers, advertisers will begin to use mobile as a media and support their development. Russell Southwood spoke to Marc Herson, 2go about how it will seek to expand.

2go is a mobile social network where people can use IM to chat with their friends for free and meet new friends in its chat-rooms. In total, it has over 20 million registered users, of which 3-3.5 million use it on a daily basis. Over the last 30 days there have been 8 million active users. Its biggest market is Nigeria (61% of total) which has 12.5 m users, followed by South Africa(31%) with 6.5 million users, followed by Kenya (4%) and Other (4%).

It’s continuing to grow at between 40,000-60,000 registered users a day. All this has been achieved with virtually no marketing and lots of word of mouth. When users sign up, they can send notifications to their friends to join.

The users are young: 74% are 15-24 year olds in South Africa and 60% in Nigeria. The gender balance is almost equal in South Africa with 49% women but slightly more male in Nigeria with 64% men:”In South Africa, it’s the women cleaning our office and the person trying to sell me a prepaid mobile at the corner-store. In Nigeria, users are more educated and sophisticated.”

It is a profitable start-up launched by two South Africans, Alan Wolff and Ashley Peter, while they were studying at Wits University several years ago. Currently it’s self-funded but it may look for VC funding in the future. As Herson (part of whose background is in VC funding at Softbank) told us:”I’ve only recently joined 2go and I’m their first non-technology executive hire. I’m also a minority, equity stakeholder in the business.”

It’s focused on giving users a light application that will work on low-end phones:”We are totally focused on creating the most nimble and lightweight technology. A great deal of users in Nigeria have feature phones so it’s easy to use Java-based applications. You simply download it, answer a few questions like your age and you’re ready to go.”

It supports around 1,000 different feature phones (J2ME), Blackberry (with BIS integration) and Android. Better still, its messaging integrates with Gtalk, Facebook and MXit Chat so users don’t have to choose between these applications.

The messaging is free but there are premium elements, primary paid chat rooms. The key source of income is Go Credits, which the user buys within the application and users use to get messages in chat rooms. 2go also offers three premium advertising formats: 1) A clickable full screen advert when the users logs in to the app; 2) goFriends; and 3)  sponsored chat rooms. 2go is pitching to advertisers that click-through and user engagement rates are between 5-35%. It is also offering market research through sending polls to its considerable user base. They have also had advertising from big brand names like McDonalds in South Africa. Herson doesn’t want 2go to overload the simplicity of what it does:”AOL and Yahoo tried to be everything to everybody. If you’re everything to everybody, you lose your focus. We need to make sure that users know why they’re there, chat and meet. It’s got to be simple and fun.” That said, it has also added on little pieces of content, things like text-based jokes.

In geographic terms, it wants to focus on those places where it’s already got a foothold rather than tearing off all over the globe. This means building its offer, market share and revenues in its two key markets.

The 2go team, has also soft-launched another company with an app called Friendura, ten days ago that offers private chat and instant sharing of photos and text up-dates. Unlike 2go, which enables anonymity in a public chat environment, Friendura conversations are limited to only people in the network. Herson says that sign-ups over the two weeks have been brisk and describes it as giving the user “instantaneous sharing of personal moments.”

Mobile Entertainment Africa returns to Cape Town on August 29th and 30th. Building on the success of the critically acclaimed and sold out inaugural event, MEA2012 will once again feature a superb format, top notch 5* venue and a best-in-class speaker faculty. Mobile Entertainment Africa is firmly established as Africa's leading event focussing on the mobile entertainment ecosystem and the 2012 edition is on track to exceed the achievements of last year's event. Key contributors include Marc Herson (2go), Peter Matthaei (MXit), Emma Kaye (Bozza), Mike Sharman (Retroviral), Lynne Gordon (Brandtone), Michael Ugwu (iROKING), Michelle Atagana (Memeburn), Lelany Sommers (Research in Motion), Russell Southwood (Balancing Act), Marie Lora-Mungai (Buni Media) and Eric Edelstein (evly.com). For more information on Mobile Entertainment Africa 2012 visit the websit here:

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A bumper crop of video clips this week on Balancing Act’s You Tube channel:

Envir Fraser, Convergence Partners
on investment opportunities in ICT

Tayo Oviosu, CEO, Paga on the mobile money market in Nigeria

Nigerian ICT blogger Loy Okezi
e on Nigeria's online successes

Victor Dibia, CEO, Denvycom.com
on his games portfolio and plans to monetize

Oluseye Soyode-Johnson, consultant to Maliyo Games
on the business model

A special for Balancing Act readers:

Kristine Pearson shows how the Lifeplayer, an MP3 player for rural education, works


Mobile learning Steve Vosloo on how m-learning can support teaching


Steve Vosloo on edutainment and interactivity in mobile learning, the Yoza mobile story project and other examples of m-learning in Africa

South African Niall Murphy, Marmalade on multi-platform software distribution for apps based on the ARM chipset