Mxit eyes Indian riches

Home-grown instant messaging app Mxit is launching in India this week, hoping to tap into the vast potential offered by the country’s more than 1,2bn people. By Nafisa Akabor.

Michael Jordaan outside Mxit India's new offices

Michael Jordaan outside Mxit India’s new offices

Stellenbosch-based mobile messaging platform and social network Mxit is taking aim at the vast Indian market, launching the service in the south Asian powerhouse this week in the hope of dramatically expanding its reach.

The South African team, consisting of Mxit chairman and former First National Bank CEO Michael Jordaan, CEO Francois Swart and chief product officer Vincent Maher, is in India for the launch.

Though more details are only expected to be released later on Wednesday, the company has already revealed that it has appointed Sam Rufus as head of its newly established operation in India.

At a launch event in the southern city of Hyderabad, Mxit said 900m people in India have cellphones, of which 550m are using feature phones. “We can connect these two worlds with Mxit,” said Rufus.

The company said Mxit offers an “app within an app” concept, opening up a world of smartphone-like apps to feature phones. Mxit works seamlessly across smartphones as well as feature phones, and runs on more than 8 000 different devices, from phones to tablets.

Arthur Goldstuck, MD of research firm World Wide Worx, said Mxit is the second largest social network in South Africa with 6,4m active users. Its total user base is 7,4m.

Mxit’s launch into India is “long overdue” because the country is a market with a high proportion of feature phones to smartphones. It’s in feature phones where Mxit’s real strength lies. “The market in India is an optimal one for Mxit because of its strong feature phone environment.”

The country has a high portion of users who want and need a cheap form of communication, says Goldstuck. The market in India is similar to Indonesia, where Mxit already has a strong user base because of the predominance of low-end phones, he adds.

Mxit’s entry into India means it’s going up against Facebook, which already has significant market share. WhatsApp and WeChat will also prove to be strong competitors, says Goldstuck. Ironically, South Africa’s media giant Naspers, which previously owned a controlling stake in Mxit, is now a shareholder in WeChat through Chinese company Tencent.

Head of business development for WhatsApp Neeraj Arora last month said that the US company has more than 30m users in India, while Facebook’s data reveals that it has 92m users, the second highest after the US.

Mxit has hired South African cricketer Gary Kirsten and former coach of the Indian cricket team as the face of Mxit India for a three-year period.

Kirsten is a legend in India, says Goldstuck. “India has a deep love for Nelson Mandela and Gary Kirsten. Kirsten led them to victory in the 2011 cricket World Cup.”  — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media

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