South African based mobile social networking startup, 2go has reached 1.5 million local active users and 10 million in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya combined.
The network claims to have more than 21 million users in total, and is growing at approximately 50,000 new registrations a day.
The seven-person business has gone from startup to profitability in just four years – without external funding, it says.
The secret to its success, according to director Peter Lockhart, has been balancing a tight focus on what 2go’s users really want – a cheap, easy way to chat and socialise using their mobile phones – with the deep technical expertise needed to deliver that experience across thousands of different devices.
“Building mobile technology for an African market is tough,” said Lockhart. “Data and SMS are expensive, and our users are price sensitive and savvy. That means we have to deliver an application that uses the absolute minimum of system resources and bandwidth.”
“Our response has been to develop proprietary communications protocols and compression algorithms that minimise the app’s data usage.”
The company has also produced an app that works equally well on all of the myriad feature phones that still dominate the African market.
“It’s much, much harder to develop for feature phones than for smartphones,” said Lockhart, “partly because there is such a variety of platforms and operating systems. You need deep technical knowledge. This technical knowledge also extends to our ability to scale the back-end in a very resource efficient manner.”
The fact that 2go works well on many handsets has been critical to the viral spread of the app, the director said, adding: “feature phones aren’t going away any time soon. Projections from Informa indicate that non-smart phones will still comprise 85% of the African handset market in 2015.”
“Our target market is not some kind of generic ‘Africa’,” said Lockhart. “We ask what country are they in, what region, what city? 2go really took off in Nigeria when we noticed that our users wanted to be able to chat within their university communities. So we did the research and created a chat room for each university in the country.”
The insights gained in Nigeria have fed back into the South African market, where 2go has 1.5 million active users and counting. The app also provides gateways to other popular social networks such as GTalk, Mxit and Facebook.
“I use 2go to chat with friends on Facebook and they have no idea,” said Lockhart. “Our whole mission is to make chat easy, cheap and painless, no matter what device you’re using.”