Riddle – what comes from Stellenbosch and has millions of users on mobile phones? Many South Africans would reflexively answer “Mxit” to that question, but another social messaging network has sprung up out of the Western Cape and is exploding with new users. Developed by two students at the university of Stellenbosch, 2go is somewhat of a phenomenon on the continent.
The network claims to currently have more than 20 million registered users, half of which are active and collectively send more than 6 billion messages per month. Most of 2go’s users are in Nigeria and South Africa and interact with the network on cheap feature phones – the simple devices that generally cost less that R500 and continue to dominate cellular in emerging economies
Alan Wolff and Ashley Peter are the brains behind 2go who left university to run the venture full time. They say that starting at university without funding and massive resources at their disposal forced them to be nimble and build an efficient network.
Wolff says that by 2015 there will still be 5.6 feature phones in the African market for every one smartphone, according to research firm Informa. So while 2go is currently working on extending its service to iOS, Blackberry and Android platforms, its focus remains firmly on lower-end devices.
2go owns and operates all of its infrastructure with some 50 servers currently powering the network – an impressively small number considering the amount of traffic it carries.
Wolff says that having abundant resources can make companies lazy, while 2go has had to do more with less.
“[We] recruit passionate developers who want to make an impact on the world while solving complex problems,” he says.
“The most interesting challenges in software development are not necessarily the most glamorous. We’re solving problems at the level of millions of users, which makes for a stimulating technical challenge. We’re also enriching lives by providing affordable, entertaining communication.”
2go is also making money thanks to its business model. Sending messages and sharing photographs on the network is free, but users can also purchase GoCredits with which they can buy content, play games and message each other in chat rooms. The company also recently launched its advertising platform.