The rise and fall of Mxit in South Africa

South Africa once had its own locally-built messaging app that was installed on millions of phones across the country. It was named Mxit.

Just a few years after its popularity skyrocketed, however, the service was dead; South Africans had moved to apps served from overseas providers.

Mxit certainly crashed in a big way, with the prevalence of smartphones and more advanced applications tearing millions of users away from the local messenger each year.

Many South Africans still have fond memories of Mxit, which included revolutionary (at the time) features like status messages, group chats, in-app games, interface customisation, and data-based communication.

The app is unfortunately no longer available for download, however, and the servers have long since been closed down.

We’ve summarised the important events which led to the rise and fall of Mxit in South Africa below.


2005 – 2007

Mxit app launched by Clockspeed Mobile, which was owned by Namibian-born Herman Heunis.

Clockspeed Mobile rebrands to Mxit Lifestyle.

Naspers acquires a 30% stake in the company for an undisclosed amount.


2008

Mxit reaches 7.5 million users, of which 6.5 million are from South Africa. The company plans to reach 50 million users by the end of the year.

On average, Mxit said its users logged on seven times a day and spent an hour on the service. Most (60%) users were 18-25 years old.


2009

Mxit exceeds 11 million users.

The company set its sights set on increasing its footprint in Africa and Asia and had by this point attracted more than 1.2 million Indonesian users.

Mxit began rolling out versions of its app for BlackBerry and iPhone, as well as adding synchronisation with other instant messaging apps.

In the Sunday Times Generation Next Survey, Mxit beat Facebook and Google in the “Coolest Website and Social Network” category.


2010

Mxit claims to have reached 26 million users in South Africa, or about half the population of the country at the time.

The application proved extremely popular among teenagers, with some young South Africans claiming they were “addicted” to the messaging app.

At this point, the company said its app was attracting between 25,000 to 28,000 new registrations every day.

“Its users send 10 times more messages per day, than the total global Tweets sent per day,” Mxit said.


2011

World of Avatar signs a binding agreement to acquire 90% of Mxit for an undisclosed amount, with 10% remaining in the hands of its staff via a trust, which was set up by founder Herman Heunis in 2005.

At the conclusion of the sale, Mxit was taken over by Alan Knott-Craig Junior, the founder of World of Avatar and former iBurst MD.

Shareholders MIH Holdings (a subsidiary of Naspers) and Herman Heunis both sell their entire shareholding in Mxit.

Mxit claimed at this point that it had a total of 43 million registered user accounts in over 120 countries.

Knott-Craig Junior, the new CEO, said Mxit aimed to consolidate and grow its position as the largest mobile social network in Africa.

MXit


2012

Mxit begins to face increased competition from BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and WhatsApp Messenger, but still reports impressive growth.

The company said in February 2012 that it had grown its total user base to 50 million, with 10 million active users in South Africa alone.

Despite this accelerated growth, Alan Knott-Craig Junior stepped down as Mxit CEO in October 2012 due to a “difference in strategy with the company’s shareholders”.

CFO Francois Swart assumed the role of interim CEO at the company.

Mxit also began to retrench a portion of its workers due to lacklustre financial performance in the face of increasing competition from other messaging apps.


2013

Francois Swart is officially appointed as CEO of Mxit.

From this point, Mxit began to shift the reporting of its active user numbers from a 90-day period and to 30 days.

Based on this new standard, Mxit had a user base of 7.4 million in September 2013. This was still almost double that of BBM, but the latter was catching up very quickly.

Former FNB CEO Michael Jordaan was appointed as chairman of the Mxit board in September 2013.

Mxit 7 was also launched this year, offering new features for both smartphone and feature phone users.


2014

Mxit is uncharacteristically quiet about its growth and user base, although it did set up offices in India this year to attempt to expand its global reach.

According to independent research, the number of active users on Mxit had declined from 7.4 million in September 2013 to 4.9 million in September 2014.

The app’s user base reportedly fell below 1 million active users on one of South Africa’s largest mobile networks, and some reports said the app’s user base was declining at around 10% per month.

Other messaging apps like WhatsApp and BBM continued to see impressive growth in South Africa.


2015

In 2015, independent research showed the number of monthly active users on Mxit had fallen to 2.7 million.

CEO Francois Swart argued that Mxit had 88 million registered users globally and that its monthly local active users in January 2015 alone were more than 2.7 million.

Despite this, Mxit announced in October 2015 that it was shutting down commercial operations and donating all of its intellectual property and technology assets to The Reach Trust.

Mxit said that its monthly active users had dropped to 1.2 million when it finally closed its doors. At this time, WhatsApp had 10 million users in South Africa, and Facebook had 13 million.

“The success of those cheap smartphones I believe put Mxit – sitting without a decent version for smartphones – on a downward spiral that was impossible to come back from, despite the massive effort of the team,” Mxit said at the time.

Mxit 7 other phones


Now read: Mxit could have been WhatsApp: Jordaan

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The rise and fall of Mxit in South Africa