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Mxit buys mobile social network builder Motribe, CEO steps down

Sources close to Ventureburn have been speculating for a while that Mxit was on the verge of buying Motribe. Now we have confirmation that Africa’s largest social network is in the final stages of inking a deal to acquire the mobile social network builder. Big surprise.

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Motribe has been working closely with Mxit over the last few months building photo-based apps for the platform. The most successful apps include MxPix (an Instagram-style photo sharing and filtering app that hit a million users in just over a month) and JudgeMe, an app that allows people to meet each other by uploading, browsing and judging their photos.

The company was founded by Vincent Maher and Nic Haralambous in 2010 and currently employs a staff of about 10 people. The deal will see Mxit absorb all of Motribe including its staff, effectively making it a division of Mxit. It will also see Haralambous, Motribe’s current CEO, leave the company while CTO Vincent Maher will become co-Head of Community at Mxit with Peter Matthaei.

“We started the company two years ago and it has grown to something very successful. I need to take a breath and look for new motivation and find innovative opportunities,” says Haralambous. “The team that’s headed to Mxit is great and they will no doubt continue to grow.”

According to Mxit CEO Alan Knott-Craig Jnr, the mobile social network is “very excited” about the acquisition and he feels that it’s “great news for both companies”.

“The Motribe crew are rockstars. In two years they’ve done an incredible job of building mobile communities in Africa. Mxit has spent seven years engaging communities, mostly in South Africa. We could not resist the combination of great people, Africa success and B2B experience… it feels to me like a marriage made in heaven.”

According to Haralambous, the deal is a progression of the “mutual collaboration” that both Motribe and Mxit have enjoyed in the last few months. Although the official amount that Mxit paid for the company cannot be disclosed at the moment, Haralambous says it was a “profitable exit for everyone involved”.

Prior to the Mxit deal, 30% of Motribe was owned by 4Di Capital, an investment firm that invests in early stage tech startups. The firm’s portfolio currently includes Personera, Skyrove, Snapt-UI, BetTech and SMEasy.

4Di’s investment is rumoured to be around 4-million. “We do not disclose investment amounts, however as an indication it was in the millions of Rands,” says 4Di Capital’s spokesperson Justin Standford.

Stanford also notes that the sale was profitable and that the company is happy with it.

Both Maher and Haralambous have been in the South African mobile space for some time now. Prior to founding Motribe, Maher was the director of the New Media Lab at the Rhodes University School of Journalism & Media Studies. He also worked at Vodacom, one of South Africa’s mobile operators, as the commercial manager for mobile advertising.

Haralambous was previously the head of the mobile division at Mail & Guardian, the general manager of and product manager of Vodacom South Africa’s mobile social networking division.

The company has worked with organisations such as the Praekelt Foundation, African Health Placements and the US Diplomatic Mission to South Africa.

Last year the social network builder launched a mobile payments and promotion platform for users in India which is in line with Mxit’s intense focus on mobile money.

Maher prior to the acquisition was already working three days out of the week in Mxit’s Stellenbosch offices. According to Mxit’s CEO the Motribe Cape Town offices will most likely turn into Mxit’s Cape Town base.

Mxit has been working hard to create a platform that developers can build products on. In the last few months the mobile social network has launched a set of new developer APIs as well as a redesigned developer centre, and Motribe has been at the top of this new ecosystem.

The company reckons that by using open web standards, it is opening Mxit up for anyone who wants to develop apps for it.

For now though, it will be business as usual at Motribe and all current contracts with clients will be fulfilled, says Haralambous.

Mxit, which was acquired by Knott-Craig Jnr late last year, is available in 128 countries. It is represented in international markets that include Malaysia, Kenya, India, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, United States, Nigeria, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain, where users have access to Mxit’s chat function.

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