Cape Town - An internet connection, two computers, and a
thirst for knowledge! That's all that 25-year old co-owners Alan Wolff and
Ashley Peters needed to make their start-up 2go a formidable player in the mobile
social networking space.
In just four years the Cape Town based company has grown to
20 million registered users across South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.
Of their active users, 1.5 million are in South Africa and 9
million in Nigeria where it has come to dominate the market – with several
million more users from Facebook.
Wolff and Peters met each other in 2006 while studying
computer science at Wits University and started working on the business
full-time in 2009.
Fin24 had a brief chat with the guys behind a seven-person business that’s gone from start-up to profitability in just four years – without ever marketing itself or taking a cent of outside financing.
2go co-owners Alan Wolff and
Ashley Peters (Supplied)
What exactly is 2go?
2go is a mobile social network (similar to Mxit) focused on
emerging markets, particularly Africa, where users can chat, share photos with
friends, meet new people and play games in chat rooms.
Users can buy GoCredits within the 2go app. The users are
billed via premium rated SMS and the revenues are shared between 2go and the
mobile network operators.
How do you make money?
Direct messaging between friends is free. 2go’s mobile
currency, GoCredits, enable users to buy content, play games and message each
other in chat rooms.
2go also sells advertising and text based content. Users can
buy GoCredits by sending an SMS to premium shortcodes with the revenues of
these shortcodes shared between 2go and the network operators.
What did you use as start-up capital if you never used
We designed and programmed the first version of 2go without
any help, so very little money was required to launch the first version of the
application. In fact, it already started generating revenue from its launch.
As it seems to be your first jobs, how have you sustained
your business and how did you remunerate yourselves?
2go’s success, in part, is due to a very lean team with Alan
and I working incredibly hard before we started hiring extra developers and
maintaining a very conservative ratio of engineers to users.
As were students at the time, our living expenses were very low.
Where did you start the business?
The business was started at a spare desk and piggybacking on
the internet connection in the home office run by Ashley’s father.
What did you need to start your business?
An internet connection, two computers, and a thirst for
If you never marketed yourselves, how did you gain 20m
2go has grown completely organically. From the launch of our
first mobile messaging platform at Wits University, Alan and I kept innovating
and releasing new app versions to a loyal, core group of users.
It’s only been in the last 18 months, with the release of
Version 3 of 2go in July 2010, that the app really started taking off.
Users have helped market the application by inviting their
friends to join.
Who is your target market?
2go is aimed at emerging market customers, typically using
feature phones that range from low-end Nokias to Blackberries.
Who are your role models?
We don’t have specific role models, but we're definitely inspired by other entrepreneurs and people who are working on changing the world.
What is your recipe for success?
Every step of action that you take towards building your
business should be done with having your customers in mind and with a vision
towards improving your services or products for them.
Any learnings you'd like to share with fellow-entrepreneurs?
Definitely. Firstly you have to have a passion for the
product and the willingness to make sacrifices.
We started developing 2go while still studying. Needless to say, balancing a full time hobby with full time classes was a challenge. We often thought about dropping out of university to focus on 2go full-time, but we persisted.
Never give up, even when the going gets tough.
Secondly, find a strong partner with a shared vision and
Getting 2go to over 20 million users was a team effort. We
shared a strong vision and a passion to develop technology that would have a
real impact on people’s lives.
Because we managed to keep that goal in mind, we kept
pushing towards it. It definitely helps when you have someone who’s always got
Thirdly, understand that it will take hard work, patience and stamina.
We went through many iterations of the product. The
perception is that 2go is an overnight success, but in fact we’ve been working
hard at it for several years.
Fourthly, be flexible, fail quickly and learn from your
We tried various things until we found a formula that
worked, which means that we often made mistakes along the way.
We’ve learnt that it is okay to fail, but it’s also
important that you learn from them and move on quickly. Never adopt a defeatist
attitude, keep persisting.
Last, but not least, understand your market and listen to
This is an essential component for any entrepreneur. We
spent significant amount of time engaging with our users and incorporating
their feedback into the product.
Customers are becoming more fickle, and less brand loyal.
The quickest way to keep them interested, particularly on
social media-related sites, is to provide them with content they actually want.
Never assume that you know what the customer wants, do your