In­dex­ing Africa

Afriga­tor pro­vides view on African hap­pen­ings from a blog­ger’s view­point

Finweek English Edition - - Business Strategy - BENE­DICT KELLY

AFRIGA­TOR – the African-fo­cused so­cial me­dia ag­gre­ga­tor – is a busi­ness that al­most wasn’t. MD Justin Hartman says that just a few weeks into cre­at­ing the ser­vice 18 months ago, the Mail & Guardian launched Amatomu – which pro­vides a very sim­i­lar ser­vice – tak­ing blog en­tries from South African writ­ers and col­lat­ing them on a sin­gle site.

“At this point we needed to make a de­ci­sion whether to push for­ward or to give up,” Hartman says. “Af­ter con­sid­er­ing our op­tions we de­cided in­stead of sim­ply pro­vid­ing an ag­gre­ga­tion of South African con­tent

that would have had us com­pet­ing head-to-head with Amatomu, we would broaden our scope to in­clude all African blog­gers.”

That de­ci­sion proved to be the winning for­mula for Afriga­tor, which was then more of a side­line project by a few web en­thu­si­asts rather than a real com­pany. Hartman isn’t con­cerned the com­pany started life without any clear busi­ness plan, say­ing that if it had been looking to make money from day one, it would in all like­li­hood have failed. “For us it was more about fill­ing a need that we, as web users, had en­coun­tered in the SA mar­ket and not re­ally about build­ing a sus­tain­able busi­ness.”

Started by Hartman and Mike Stop­forth, CEO of con­sult­ing firm Cere­bra, the idea was to pro­vide a more fo­cused ver­sion of the in­ter­na­tional site called Tech­no­rati, de­liv­er­ing a place where peo­ple in­ter­ested in read­ing com­mu­ni­ty­gen­er­ated con­tent would be able to find blog en­tries that would oth­er­wise be al­most im­pos­si­ble to lo­cate.

The prob­lem was there are roughly 300m blogs on the In­ter­net and only be­tween 20 000 and 30 000 African blog­gers. That means on a global scale it’s next to im­pos­si­ble for an Africa blog­ger to ob­tain any kind of ex­po­sure.

Hartman notes there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween the kinds of con­tent gen­er­ated in SA as op­posed to that em­a­nat­ing from the rest of Africa. South African con­tent tends to be fo­cused on tech­nol­ogy, en­ter­tain­ment or per­sonal is­sues, while con­tent from the rest of the con­ti­nent is over­whelm­ingly po­lit­i­cal by na­ture.

Be­cause all con­trib­u­tors to the site were do­ing that in their spare time and fund­ing the op­er­at­ing costs them­selves, the ser­vice’s suc­cess came as a bit of a sur­prise to Hartman and Stop­forth and meant they had to re-eval­u­ate how to take it for­ward. “At that point we stopped think­ing of it as a hobby we were do­ing for the good of the com­mu­nity in our spare time and started work­ing out how to cre­ate a busi­ness model for the ser­vice,” Hartman says.

At year-end 2007 Hartman was ap­proached by MIH Print Africa, which pro­posed it should ac­quire Afriga­tor. The deal went through in Septem­ber this year, with MIH ac­quir­ing 75% of the com­pany. That al­lowed Hartman and other mem­bers of the team to quit their day jobs and move on to Afriga­tor full-time, in­clud­ing a move to Cape Town.

Hartman says there are two com­po­nents to the rev­enue model it’s fol­low­ing. First, the tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing model, which cur­rently forms a part of al­most ev­ery web busi­ness. How­ever, he says there’s an ad­di­tional op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate rev­enue from ex­tract­ing value from the data its ser­vice col­lects from those who use it.

While Hartman wouldn’t dis­close Afriga­tor’s rev­enue ex­pec­ta­tions, he says it’s set ag­gres­sive growth tar­gets for next year, in­clud­ing grow­ing its user base from around 10 000 to 60 000 – some­thing Hartman says is well within reach.

The key chal­lenge Afriga­tor faces is to trans­fer what’s pri­mar­ily an In­ter­net ser­vice to one eas­ily us­able from a mo­bile de­vice. Hartman says the prob­lem is that many cell­phones in use through­out Africa cur­rently have only the most ba­sic func­tion­al­ity, so us­ing them to ac­cess con­tent is next to im­pos­si­ble.

In­cor­po­rat­ing so­cial me­dia (such as video) is an­other chal­lenge Afriga­tor has yet to face. Hartman says the use of web­sites – such as YouTube and Zoopy – to share video is in­creas­ing at a mas­sive rate. “When we started cat­a­logu­ing video in Novem­ber last year, we had 35 videos. In Oc­to­ber this year there were 10 000 new videos added by users in Africa.”

More about fill­ing a need in mar­ket. Justin Hartman

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