🧨 Unlocking this 30M SA Market…

Plus: ANC’s big tech promises, R154m in funding, SA prepares for gas-shedding & how to take your product to masses.
February 27, 2024

Long and short of it? Check out the video of the world’s tallest and shortest people together. He’s 2.5 metres tall, and she’s just under 65cm — a bit taller than his shoe. Don’t feel too bad, though, they’re both globe-trotting Guinness World Record celebs.

In this Open Letter:

  • Go big: Unlocking 30M users in SA.
  • Big ANC tech promises, gas-shedding & no more spam.
  • Think scale: How to take your product to the masses.
  • How you like your grocery delivery: The results are in.
  • Free business tools: Share this and get cool gifts.

Tapping Into SA’s Sleeping 30M Market

WeChat is China’s super app. 

With 1.2bn monthly active users, it’s not only the go-to chat and communication app, but with several apps built into it, you almost can’t do anything in China if you don’t have WeChat.

Ordering food? Do it on WeChat. Make a payment? WeChat. 

It really is a powerhouse app powering 24%+ of Tencent’s $350 billion market cap.

Prolly make more money when you not playing Fortnite

So it's no surprise that both WeChat and others have tried to nail the super app in territories outside of China. 

WeChat’s efforts have mostly failed in SA, though. 

They just never could dethrone WhatsApp as SA’s go-to messaging app.

SA’s chat leader

But WhatsApp itself has been slow to go the super app route. 

With their API launching in 2018, 9 years after it was originally planned, they almost took an Apple-like approach, patiently building out the building blocks to get to a truly global super app – something quite unconventional for Meta, who, under Zuckerberg, is all about speed to market and breaking things. 

But a smart move. 

The biggest challenge, as Meta no doubt learned with Facebook, is likely complying with regulations in each territory, getting payments going etc. 

So instead of trying to be that in each territory, WhatsApp’s strategy seems to be making a robust API available and letting others do those things.

And WhatsApp definitely has the power to pull off the super app play in many territories. 

Whatsapp usage for selected countries.

We have already covered how slick payments by the likes of WigWag enable a host of business opportunities on WhatsApp with our look at selling on social media and our recent podcast on building a business on WhatsApp.

But what exactly is possible with the app that, reportedly, 30 million South Africans use regularly? 

4 innovative local WhatsApp API use cases

1. One of the OG use cases for WhatsApp’s business API was GovChat

After seeing the impact a government/citizen engagement platform could have via Mxit, Eldrid Jordaan set off to build the same on WhatsApp. 

Offering services like:

  • Skipping SASSA grant application queues 
  • Logging service delivery requests (water outage, potholes etc)
  • A hotline for reporting corruption
  • And getting info directly from the government.

But in 2020 Meta blocked the GovChat app, saying it violates their terms of use. The Competition Commission ruled that this was anti-competitive behaviour by Meta and referred the matter to the competition tribunal, but nothing has come of it as yet and now GovChat’s gone into business rescue and Eldrid left the company. Sad.

2. And then there’s FlySafair, whose WhatsApp experience is setting the bar high for how to engage customers on this channel. 

Flight reminders, boarding passes, check-ins via WhatsApp – it’s everything you need when travelling. 

You can even request additional luggage after check-in and pay for it, all using WhatsApp. Nice.

SA’s WhatsApp-powered future, says AI.

3. We touched on the overcrowdedness of our public schools recently, and Dacod Magagula was in one such school growing up. 

He recalls using old exam papers to help him study and managed to get to UCT and graduate as a software developer. 

A few years later he pioneered FoondaMate – a WhatsApp service that helps students by providing old papers and/or questions they can use to prepare for exams. 

After raising a cool $2M recently, they’re launching in other countries and building out their product.

4. Finally, getting real-time market data is something that many large organisations need to make quick, informed decisions. 

That’s where Yazi comes in. They use WhatsApp to survey large segments of the market and gain valuable insights almost instantly. Just look at this research they recently did in partnership with Stitch showcasing the adoption of various payment methods in the market. Powerful stuff.

WhatsApp and its API are slowly starting to get the traction that could soon see it become a super app. And with that, a whole host of opportunities will be there for those that are early. Builders, are you ready? We are watching this space…


☀️ Go Big or Go Hohm. South African startup Hohm Energy, which provides alternative energy solutions to battle load shedding, has raised over R154 million in funding — it looks like it may be the largest seed round for a tech startup in SA ever.

🥽 Big Tech Promises. The ANC launched its election manifesto and it’s full of high-tech stuff. They promised SA would become a “world player in green hydrogen, battery and electric vehicle production”, “universal access to broadband internet”, and “digital hubs in townships to produce digital content, including animation, gaming, VR & AR tools”.

🧛‍♂️ Pricey Data Breaches. Companies in SA are having to fork over nearly R50 million on average should they experience a data breach. According to the 2023 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the frequency and costs associated with data breaches are increasing around the world.

💨 Running Out of Gas. Looks like SA is set to experience gas-shedding after Sasol announced it will stop natural gas production in June 2026 — leading to a “day zero” for gas users. While it can still be imported in the future, the high import costs could put pressure on manufacturers.

 🛑 Reddit IPO. Popular social community Reddit filed to list on the New York Stock Exchange. It will be the first social media company to IPO since Pinterest in 2019 and with a $1.3bn raise thus far, it’s valued north of $10bn.

✋ Spam Calls Failed. South Africa’s Information Regulator has ruled that telemarketing amounts to electronic communication and must be regulated in terms of the POPI Act and that companies making spam calls face fines of up to R10 million or jail time. Thank goodness.


How to Unlock Your Growth Market

We’ve all been there; You get good prototype/MVP feedback, start iterating the product and attract some early adopters. But now, how do you take this mainstream? 

Because your product (and sanity) literally depends on it.

He’s not the first, definitely won’t be the last.

This weekend, I was reminded about the whole early-adopter-to-mainstream market dilemma by this LinkedIn post from US product marketing specialist Anthony Pierri.

“Crossing the Chasm”, a term coined by Geoffrey Moore in his book of the same title, refers to the intentional niching down on a specific customer, getting it done well for them and then going horizontal to others. 

It works well, but sometimes the niche is just not big enough. And when you are building in SA, that is more often the case than not.

So there is another way to do this – skipping the niche altogether and going after the end user trusting that their love for the product would eventually force their bosses to buy it. 

The first to do this was probably Apple as far back as the 80s – IBM and Microsoft were going after companies and corporates, and Apple went after the end consumer. And it's not uncommon today that a Mac is on the wishlist of many an employee who joins a company.

Modern examples? Slack, Airtable and Notion.

Let’s dive in on a product-led approach to building a startup.

Community-powered PLG

Your product needs to be useful on an individual level. i.e. Notion helps you keep track of personal projects and tasks and they do so without charging you.

When it does this well, you fall in love with it and then start searching how to do specific things and this is where you find the community – in Notion’s case, they used Reddit.

Notion’s team hung around here and helped those that asked, to solve niche problems publicly. This helped them gain a big following and affiliation for the product.

These users loved Notion so much, they literally took the product into their work environment and did all the selling work.

11 years in and Notion is valued at $10bn.

To mimic it you need:

1. Super fast Time to Value (TTV)

Whatever your product does, it should do it for users as soon as possible (with as few as possible steps). That means easy setup, intuitive user interfaces, or the ability to achieve a specific goal with minimal effort. The faster users see value, the more likely they are to stick with the product and recommend it to others.

2. Intuitive onboarding

You essentially want entirely self-service adoption, so new users can just start using the product without any assistance from a sales or customer support team. Usually, that means highly intuitive design, clear documentation, and fully automated onboarding processes. But you can just imagine it as making your product plug-and-play.

3. A viral distribution mechanism

Next, you need to build features that encourage them to get more users. I.e I invite my wife to join me on my family holiday planning Notion board and just like that, they have another user. It works alone, but it works better with others.

4. A community ready to die for you

Easier said than done, but you start by finding your core community and offering them a place to engage and realise value, with your product at the centre stage – Notion started by posting on dev subreddits, then eventually expanded to their own subreddit, which eventually became their customer support.

Then, you need to engage the community in iterating the product – “Hey guys, we just put together this new feature idea, play around with it…”.

The aim is to use your community to construct a highly effective and efficient product, while simultaneously gaining enough users to make your mainstream sale pitch super easy – “Look, 60% of your colleagues are already using it to do X, Y, Z easier, better, faster…”

Got a startup growth hack? Hit reply and let us know (and maybe you get featured here, too).

Today’s Builder’s Corner was written by Renier Kriel who is an expert in startup strategy & growth specifically for South African startups.

Connect with him on Linkedin right here.


We asked how you like to receive your food/parcels, and scooters look like the way to go…

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🛵 Scooter, it’s fast and affordable. (58%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🚗 Car, I like to know my stuff is safe and sound in the boot. (10%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🚚 Delivery truck, I don’t mind waiting around all day (or maybe till tomorrow). (3%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🪦 The Post Office, I like living dangerously not knowing if I’ll ever receive my stuff. (6%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 📦 Collection, I trust only myself (and saving that R35 delivery). (13%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🛒 Never, I only go to the shop in person. (10%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🧐 By gold-plated helicopter, of course, thank you, Charles. (0)

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