Mobile social networks are alive and well in South Africa. MXit, a mobile service, offers instant messaging, online chat rooms, mobile media and other mobile services primarily to South African youth.
Herman Heunis, founder and CEO, is the driving force behind the company’s growth as he faces the challenges of growing wireless communications in a developing country.
Located in Stellenbosch, South Africa and Port Louis, Mauritius, MXit, described as a lifestyle company with a disruptive technology, offers a range of services, including instant messaging, mobile voice clips, community-based applications and entertainment.
The name of the company stands for message exchange, provides a free instant messaging application for both computers and mobile phones, music, social networking, fashion, banking access and more.
Mobile Social Networks Expanding Rapidly Worldwide
Since its launch in 2005, mobile social networks have attracted more than 15 million users across the developing world, including six million alone in the country and 500,000 in Indonesia, its second largest market. The service grows by 25,000 users a day and operates in 120 countries as it creates communities across the globe.
Although it has swiftly achieved a youth cult status with its user base, the company targets all age groups.
Biography – Herman Heunis
Herman Heunis, Founder and CEO, was born and grew up in Namibia, formerly South-West Africa.
After graduating with a degree in communications from Stellenbosch University, Herman began his career as a computer programmer, then a technical specialist & consultant. In 1990, Herman started his own information communications technology consulting company.
In 1998 he launched Swist Group Technologies, an information and communication technology company specializing in software development and telecommunications operations. SGT then created MXit.
In this podcast interview, Herman Heunis talks with Brian Prows about “disruptive technology”—using innovative approaches to build new mobile social networks that confront the status quo.
Speaking at the NetProphet 2009 conference, Heunis commented: “The mobile phone is the remote control of the Universe, “ in recognition of the mobile phone’s importance to youth, where mobile phones are the main communication channel.
BusinessWeek’s recent article proclaimed MXit as a vehicle for change—a social network with a social conscience—in countries where many people remain unconnected to the traditional Web.
Heunis firmly believes that he and the company have a social responsibility for education and supported a drug counseling program in 2007 to help poor communities on the Cape Flats, a suburb of Cape Town.
“Rocking the boat” is ingrained in Herman. According to him: “For a true entrepreneur, the satisfaction of creating outweighs the money rewards.”
Like FaceBook leaders and other progressive social media company visionaries, he believes success is only possible by creating new business models. He says: “We do not compete; we create….”
Delighting Your Customers
The main challenge, he says, is to measure and closely monitor customer satisfaction and desired services to keep pace with your target markets. Offering value is the only way to success in the new world of mobile social networks.
Many IM companies are competing today by testing new approaches to monetize their businesses, while launching innovative and profitable mobile services in great demand by consumers of all age groups. The service offers free text services but charges for chat rooms and other content.
Telcos have been ineffective in the IM market, according to Herman, because operators are used to selling voice and data but don’t understand the text messaging market. With only 100 employees, a company like MXit can also move more quickly than operators and implement new services demanded by its customers.
A strong believer in viral marketing, Heunis grew subscribers to 500,000 in Indonesia through strong social networking. Mobile age demographics are, typically, young people, who rebel against traditional media models but are willing to accept mobile advertising if it’s not overtly intrusive. Heunis ensures that mobile ads are relevant to its users of different channels and services.
The company is reaching beyond the youth market to attract older consumers who are more willing to accept classified advertising than the youth crowd. Time will tell how successfully MXit can capture and maintain loyalty to its mobile content and communication services.
A growing segment of the business’ profitability is micro transactions, where mobile users pay, like on FaceBook, for specialized services. The company is also experimenting with a dating service.
Broadband in Africa
In some parts of Africa, in-home high-speed Internet access can cost as much as eight times more than Web connections over wireless networks. Texting is reasonable, but voice clips and other data services are high. These factors challenge the growth of mobile social networks.
Fortunately, Herman Heunis convinced one country operator to drop data charges for its customers. According to Heunis, South Africa, unlike Japan, Korea and other countries, needs to expand and charge less for both mobile and non-mobile broadband connectivity.
Funding and Promoting a Vision
To maintain and expand the mobile social network’s services, he alligned with Naspers Limited, a multinational media company, engaged in the electronic and print media businesses. Naspers now owns 30% of MXit. The partnership, per Heunis, has worked out well for the company.
President Obama’s visit in July, when he promoted the service over FaceBook and Twitter as an example of social media, drew worldwide attention to the company and its services.