SA’s Motribe makes global play

Founders of Motribe, Vincent Maher and Nic Haralambous

Nic Haralambous and Vincent Maher plan to take on the global market with Motribe, an ambitious social networking offering for the mobile Web.

The product, which will go live on Tuesday, is a platform that enables “users, brands and agencies to build and manage their own social networks on their mobile phones.”

The pair of SA Web entrepreneurs have raised their first round of venture capital financing from 4D Innovative Capital (4Di Capital), an early-stage capital investment company based in Jersey.

This is the second SA start-up this month to gain a financial injection from 4Di Capital. Haralambous declines to reveal the size of the investment 4Di Capital has made into Motribe.

The growth of mobile Internet users in SA has exploded over the last few years. World Wide Worx reports that 4m local users are browsing the Web using a mobile device.

Motribe will not just be tackling this significant market, but the booming global mobile apps market. It will be launching in 150 countries from day one.

Many companies that provide online and mobile services have chosen to ignore the developing world, says Haralambous. Motribe, by contrast, aims to provide practical solutions to the social networking and communication needs of both developed and developing countries.

He says one major barrier local companies face as they try to launch mobile offerings to a global market is mobile payment options.

Motribe has implemented a payment system from Bango for mobile payments. It is also making use of Paypal for online payments and mobile payments.

The product allows users to create and manage their own social networks optimised for mobile. Users will be able to bolt on blog functionality, photo sharing and real-time chat rooms. Premium users will be able to add custom themes to their networks.

The idea is to allow brands, agencies, companies or simply community groups to build their own social networks and allow friends, business partners or people with common interests connect to them.

“Users who share in a common interest are able to create and join mobile social networks while maintaining independence and privacy within the Motribe network,” says Haralambous.

The offering comes in three flavours. The basic offering costs US$9.95/ month, is targeted at small communities. The advanced package will cost users $29.95/ month and allows them access to a wider range of bolt-on services. The pro package costs $49.95/ month. This offering gives users the ability to track and monitor their user bases, as well as earn advertising revenue from their social networks.

The mobile social network is not a new concept and Motribe faces competition from the mobile versions of services like Facebook and Twitter. It also faces competition from local services, like Vodacom’s The Grid, a system both Maher and Haralambous managed until recently.

However, Maher says Motribe is not directly competing with these platforms. “We offer features from both Facebook and Twitter, but the core principle of our network is niche. Motribe will provide specific mobile-only communities that users are able to build, manage and generate revenue from — without us.”

Anyone can use Motribe, from the man in the street to the most sophisticated advertising agency. “People want to take their social networks with them wherever they go and stay engaged all the time,” says Maher. — Candice Jones, TechCentral

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  • This is a really exciting product coming out of SA. Good luck to the guys, I’m sure they’ll do well locally and globally.

    Side note, isn’t 4DI based in Cape Town?

  • Great to see this business breaking cover. It will be interesting to see where it goes in the next few years.

  • David

    It’s great to see that South-Africa’s pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit is slowly starting to get global regconition – after all the list of world-renowned innovations that came from South-Africa is impressive – but for clarity, the guy behind 4DI, Justin, is a South-African from Cape Town.

  • This is just amazing

  • @David: Justin was pivotal in getting the fund up and running and is still the main driver, but the story is correct: the fund itself is domiciled in Jersey. Have a look at the Crunchbase background article for reference: http://www.crunchbase.com/financial-organization/4di-capital

  • (There are probably around 12 people involved, of which 9 are listed in in the Crunchbase entry. Of those 9, only 3 are located in ZA.)

  • Alette Schoon

    Well done guys!

  • Great to see tech innovation coming out of SA – mobi def. seems the key to the future – wishing Nic & Vincent best of luck – here & globally.

  • Barry Goldkorn

    Interesting idea. I don’t want to be a party pooper but a few things pop to mind here. One, it’s been done before. ShoutEm.com and Zerista.com are doing this for free, and of course there’s Ning which owns the ‘make your own social network’ space and could easily add mobile. Yet competition is always a good thing so that’s not the thing that stands out here, but more the fact that this is premised on the idea that phones and computers are going to always have very different interfaces. This might apply to the market as we are in right now but soon enough we will be building one site that will load on any device, whether web or mobile or ipad or the back of an aeroplane seat or your fridge for that matter. So is a mobile only concept a good idea for anyone really is my question. I’m not so sure it is in the long term.