WeChat throws hat in African ring

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

Instant messaging platform WeChat has risen to prominence over the last year, and with the dominance of WhatsApp and BBM on the continent, the company is well aware of the hurdles ahead of them.

Representatives from WeChat were recently in Johannesburg, and told a media delegation that although they don’t disclose specific user numbers, Africa is a major focus for them.

“We have a big job ahead of us, especially looking at Africa. We are very pleased with the growth rate in South Africa, but we don’t disclose user numbers. But, in terms of Africa, the growth is different per country,” said Brett Loubser, Managing Director of WeChat Africa.

“We have a very strong market in South Africa, as well as others. Some markets are growing organically, while some countries are on the roadmap for future marketing,” he added.

The social and instant messaging application is available for free on virtually all mobile platforms, so in order to generate revenue, the company sells sticker packs to be used in chat messages.

“The app will always be free. Items that are being sold are like the sticker sets, and we believe that those will become more popular. And then there is the social gaming aspects, which is a primary source of cash. But there is no active drive to monetize the app,” Loubser said.

Dennis Hau, Head of Product for International Business Group and WeChat parent company Tencent in China, said that globally, the application has over 100-million users outside of China, and that their focus will always be mobile.

“There aren’t many apps that surpass the amount of downloads like that of WeChat. We are not focusing on desktop right now, and our focus will be on mobile first. As for why we have Mac functionality, our inventor uses a Mac, so that is why. But there are a lot of discussion from the development team on how hard do we want to go on desktop, but for now, we are focusing on mobile,” he explained.

Loubser concluded by saying that WeChat is a completely different product to what people perceive it to be. “We had 379% growth between Q2 and Q4 in 2013, which is a measure of monthly active users. As one of pur four pillars, WeChat is a powerful tool for promotion, as brands can access a large audience quickly, without having the need to develop a mobi site or app for all the different platforms. It is a powerful tool to get feet in doors, and we are building a framework to connect the offline world with the online world.”