Alan Knott-Craig jnr on Mxit

2012-11-12 13:02
Former Mxit CEO Alan Knott-Craig jnr has advice for start-ups. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Former Mxit CEO Alan Knott-Craig jnr has advice for start-ups. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Serial tech entrepreneur Alan Knott-Craig jnr shares some of his thoughts on surviving in the high-paced world of a start-up culture.

Knott-Craig, who recently left chat platform Mxit after a brief spell, and says that the platform remains relevant, despite strong competition from other platforms.

In his book Mobinomics, Knott-Craig discusses the Mxit platform as more than a messaging service and the way that the platform has contributed to a mobile economy.

He also talks about the importance of coffee. Knott-Craig had several meetings at coffee shops with the former Mxit CEO Herman Heunis as the two discussed a takeover.

Knott-Craig chatted to News24 briefly about his experience and had some advice for entrepreneurs.

News24: Former Mxit CEO Herman Heunis said running a social network is "not for sussies". What was your most challenging experience at Mxit?

Alan Knott-Craig jnr: He's right! Luckily I had a good idea of the challenge upfront. The biggest issue was not so much running a social network, but changing the culture.

Mxit had survived until 2011 because of an innate paranoia that served it well when everyone was trying to smash them. But to go forward it needed to innovate and move faster, and that can only happen in a culture of trust.

News24: Is there a growth future for Mxit platform in the face of other applications like Facebook, Wayn and WhatsApp?

Knott-Craig: Absolutely. As an instant messaging client Mxit has several competitors. As a platform it only has one competitor: Facebook.

Mxit is starting at the bottom of the pyramid, dumb phones, micro payments, content-based revenue streams. Facebook is coming from the polar opposite direction. Who will win? I put my money on Mxit!

News24: In your book you talk about your start-up experience. What are the major missteps that tech start-ups make?

Knott-Craig: There are too many to list. This most recent setback in my career has given me the following lessons:     

I'm no good at taking money off the table. "You first." "No, you." "No, really, you go ahead."… It's just not in me, so I've historically shunned it. But that's no good. In future I'll pay more attention to generating short term revenues. Whilst it's über-important to keep your eye on the big picture, it’s also über -important to pay the bills today.
Process is different to detail. I've had detail people in my life, but I've always lacked people with a knack for implementing processes. Repeatability is the key to efficiency, and process is the key to ensuring repeatability. In future I need to pay more attention to process.
If you can't effectively transmit the picture in your head into the head of the person you're communicating with, you're dead. This is the key to getting people swimming in the same direction, and it applies to customers, staff, partners, suppliers and shareholders.

News24: How can tech start-ups leverage local innovation to grow their businesses?

Knott-Craig: Simple. Keep your eyes open, and ignore the noise of the USA media.

News24: How large of a role does personality play in the success of a tech firm?

Knott-Craig: In the beginning, a big part. In the end, a small part.

News24: You drank a lot of coffee in the run-up to buying Mxit. Are you off that kind of coffee? Is there a new target in SA?

Knott-Craig: I can't imagine a fate worse than life without coffee :-) I'm still an Origins addict, although Bean There is giving them a run for their money.

No new targets, this recent event was a bit of a surprise, and I've never had Plan Bs in any case. For now, looking forward to making the most of a short break.

Knott-Craig is speaking at the Africa Com technology conference in Cape Town and will be presenting An entrepreneur's experience: lessons to learn & pitfalls to avoid.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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