South Africa’s tech scene is bursting with success stories of tech start-ups. Last month, a new enterprise accelerator programme dubbed the South African Business Link to Experts (SABLE) was launched in US tech hub, Silicon Valley to assist local entrepreneurs in South Africa grow their business and execute their ideas flawlessly. One of the seemingly underplayed successes is 2go, a mobile social network spreading across Africa. Growing rapidly with up to 50,000 sign ups daily, the company has more than 20 million active users in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya.
Ventures- Africa chats with the co-founders Alan Wolff and Ashley Peters, on the success of the mobile app, which is said to have over 9 million active users – several million more than Facebook in Nigeria.
VA: Let’s go to the very beginning. What prompted the creation of 2go? MXit had been doing impressively well in the South African market. Why another mobile app?
2go: We were Computer Science students who were hungry to use our software development knowledge to make something, which people would actually use. We thought we could offer something fresh with a few compelling features (text colour changing, profile pictures, a good user interface). It sounded like a fun idea and we thought it had potential, so we began working hard on it.
VA: How much was the initial investment to set up 2go in the beginning?
2go: We spent hardly anything on getting the project off the ground. We worked out of our (parents’) houses and we did all the programming ourselves. We hosted our server on our friend’s Internet line.
VA: And it began with how many staff?
2go: There were four of us in total initially. Two of the other team members decided to focus on academics and left the company in 2008. Ashley and Alan continued working aggressively on it while studying at the same time.
VA: What is the company’s current workforce strength?
2go: The company has less than 10 people in total but we are trying hard to expand our technical team. We are proud of having a small team supporting one of the largest networks in Africa with over 20 million users.
VA: One of the major challenges stifling the emergence of innovative tech start-ups has been undercapitalization, but 2go has grown without sourcing for a penny from venture capital funds. How was this achieved?
2go: In 2008/2009 we spoke to venture capitalists and potential investors but they were unresponsive. We planned on spending the capital we wanted on building a good technical team. Since we couldn’t raise capital we had to learn how to rapidly develop the product, make the company profitable and scale the technical infrastructure ourselves.
VA: It is interesting that 2go, a South African product, really took off in Nigeria. Your team strategically targeted the market, carrying out surveys, research and tailoring the App to feedbacks from Nigeria. Why the Nigerian market?
2go: We had Nigeria as a viable market in our minds since 2009. The telecommunications market in Nigeria was growing massively and it was obvious to us that if we could provide them with a cheap and effective way to communicate and socialise online, we would succeed. Feature phones are also very popular in Nigeria and we had gained expertise at developing a great user experience on such handsets. We therefore decided to try and grow the product in Nigeria.
VA: 2go solicits feedbacks from users and applies some of the resulting suggestions. Which idea or suggestion from the 2go community would you say has helped the platform most?
2go: Users giving feedback on technical issues that they experience have been invaluable. There hasn’t been one single idea which has helped the platform the most. We’ve implemented many ideas and collectively they have contributed to the application’s user experience.
VA: Looking into the future, what is the expansion plan for 2go?
2go: Our user experience can be improved even further and we are starting to look towards offering extra features for smartphones. We will continue to grow the network rapidly and to new heights.
VA: So has any Tech giant stepped forward with an acquisition proposal?
2go: No. We have been approached by investors but getting acquired is not something we think about at the moment. We are experiencing rapid growth so I don’t believe the timing for an acquisition would be right, although we may look at expansion capital in the future.
VA: What advice or success tip do you have for the aspiring young African tech entrepreneurs out there?
2go: Work hard, learn from your mistakes, do not give up and remain positive – let your passion drive you to continue when things get tough!