3 impressive SA startups riding on the growth of others

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In the vastness of the internet, many companies grow on the back of one another — a phenomenon that’s not unique to web-based or technology firms. In the past few months I have observed three South African startups that have done just that, and with stunning success. These are Nifty250 (formerly 250Gram), M4JAM, and WooCommerce.


Nifty printer
Nifty has grown significantly in popularity since it was forced to change its name from 250Gram. Essentially, the service is riding on the growing popularity of Instagram in South Africa. Inferring Nifty250 and Instagram’s actual popularity is beyond the scope of this blog post, but a simple comparison of the two’s growth on Google Trends, shows similar growth patterns.

This, as with the others below, suggests that if its distribution channel grows, it should follow that same pattern if its founders continue doing the right things.

Read more: Nifty250: the photo printing startup making a name (and profit) on social media

However, because the aim of every profit-seeking company ought to be long-term sustainability, how would a company like Nifty250 grow if Instagram’s popularity started taking a downward turn?


The question posed on the above last sentence is exactly what I think M4JAM could face, well at least in the South African market — how will it continue to grow if its distribution channel, WeChat, stopped growing in both users and engagement? After a successful launch, the company gained serious traction — I’ve also collected a few hundred rand from using it — which was great for buying ostrich meat burgers.

Read more: M4JAM: the new startup that uses micro-jobbing to solve SA’s biggest problem

WeChat itself continues to grow in South Africa and the other markets Naspers has launched the product in the past 12 months, but its growth pales in comparison to WhatsApp. For example, WeChat was not even in the top 10 most popular networks in South Africa in the last quarter of 2014.

The question could be best answered by someone who’s helped startups and even bigger companies pivot. Would it be too far-fetched to see a standalone M4JAM on Android or iOS? I don’t think so, and my experience suggests that given the type of service the company provides, it wouldn’t be too hard to get people like you and me to download it as a native app.


Of my point on successful pivots, one operation that has really gained superstar success by doing just that is WooThemes through WooCommerce.

Woo is no longer just South African product, but because it was founded by Stellenbosch-based Adii Pienaar, it’s worth noting. Anyway, WooCommerce was created by the guys behind WooThemes, whose popularity was gained through the growth of WordPress being the most popular CMS on the web. But by now anyone can build great WordPress themes, so its growth was stunted by the perfectly competitive market.

Read more: WooCommerce democratises ecommerce — a true WordPress child

However, by focusing its resources on building a tool for the trillion-dollar ecommerce market, they’ve been able to monetise more, and stay relevant; so much so that WooCommerce is today the most popular ecommerce plug-in in the world.

Recently, with the company’s investment in Graphflow, it’s easy to deduce that Woo’s ability to pivot into new business has been taken up by the guys at Graphflow which, with its integration with WooCommerce, has transformed into a more powerful machine learning tool, and guarantees success for the start-up.

Read more: Meet the WooCommerce plug-in improving the way thousands of people shop online

To conclude, we are often advised to solve existing problems when we start businesses, and this is very true. This is basically leveraging on what’s existing and expanding on it and the solutions we provide. In my three examples, one startup saw an opportunity to extend the service offered by Instagram beyond the world wide web. The other leveraged a need to offer anyone a little extra income by delivering paid surveys differently. The last simply offered a better built tool that anyone who wants an online store can use. So with that, how are you going to take from these examples and found and/or grow your business?

Image by Mike Bailey-Gates via Flickr

Siphiwo Ntuntshe


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