Herman Heunis admits he made “a serious mistake”.
The founder of mobile messaging platform Mxit says that he should have shifted the group to California’s Silicon Valley when he had the chance.
Mxit, which was eventually sold to a consortium led by Alan Knott- Craig Jr and f i nanced by former banker Paul Harris for an amount said to be as high as R4 0 0 m i n 2 0 1 1 , h a d b e c o me a phenomenal success. At the time it had over 40m users and was in 120 countries.
Looking back, however, Heunis thinks that if he moved the group to the US in 2008, it would have worked out better as this would have given it access to better technology and got a better selling price.
Heunis has a point. WhatsApp, a US-based rival messaging service which was formed six years after Mxit, was sold to Facebook for $19bn last year.
Moving a SA tech company to the US is not an unprecedented move. Bulk SMS provider Clickatell moved there in 2008 and has since had Sequoia Capital, an early i nvestor i n Google, Apple and YouTube take a holding in it.
Mxit opted not to move because it feared it would be a distraction at a busy time. Back then the group was growing at a phenomenal rate and Naspers had just taken a 30% holding, which saw it coming under pressure to put in place more corporate structures.
The move might not have panned out but the Knott-Craig takeover had worked out well f or Heunis’s health as the pressure that came with running Mxit had taken its toll on him. “The stress levels were severe. It took me the best part of a year to get my health sorted out.”
Now t hat he i s f ul l y r ecovered, Heunis’s appetite for f l edgling tech companies has returned.
“I’m keen to get involved in start-ups again. And there is a good chance that I will become involved.”
For now, he i s only acting as an adviser, but does not rule out a possible investment.