SA social network Qooh.me takes flight - TechCentral

SA social network Qooh.me takes flight

Vincent Mabuza

Hazyview, Mpumalanga-based Vincent Mabuza, 23, is a candidate attorney with a passion for technology. He’s started a service called Qooh.me that allows users to ask one another questions anonymously. Launched in May, the service is enjoying explosive growth and already has more than 170 000 registered users.

Users can limit their replies to questions to Qooh.me, or share them on Facebook and Twitter. Mabuza says Qooh.me makes it easier for people to get to know more about each other, beyond the information they post on their social media profiles.

Mabuza got the idea for Qooh.me in 2009 after seeing similar services on offer in the US and Europe. He’d just finished studying law and says he thought the idea would work well in SA.

“I’m really interested in technology, but while I was studying I didn’t want to mix business with pleasure,” Mabuza says. “But I still wanted to start some sort of technology company because I have a strong entrepreneurial spirit. It became a matter of getting the right people and resources together.”

Mabuza says he realised early on that building and hosting in SA wasn’t feasible because of the costs involved. Instead, he outsourced the development and design to a team in India and employed a Romanian-based developer to provide quality assurance services.

Launched just four months ago, Qooh.me grew slowly at first, much to Mabuza’s dismay. He said his friends told him to be patient. They were right to say that. At the beginning of August, the site had only 2 000 users, but in the last four weeks usage has skyrocketed.

“When sign-ups hit 8 000, I started to get excited,” says Mabuza. “There are now more than 170 000 registered Qooh.me users”.

Mabuza says most of the growth has come from the mobile browser version of Qooh.me. “SA is dominated by mobile,” he says. “If you don’t have your approach to mobile right you’re doomed. So I told the designers that I wanted to see what it would look like on a mobile first, even on small screens.”

Rather than trying to make applications for each major platform, Mabuza says he decided to focus on support for BlackBerry devices and the mobile Web browser Opera Mini. “You reach the most people with a mobile Web browser.”

Qooh.me founder Vincent Mabuza hams it up (click image to enlarge)

The BlackBerry Curve 8520 is the most used device on Qooh.me, and also the one causing the most headaches for Mabuza.

He says it’s difficult to develop for BlackBerry devices and that during testing the BlackBerry Internet Service would often time out when trying to load the page. “I don’t even own a BlackBerry, but there are so many of them in SA that you simply can’t ignore them.”

Qooh.me conducts regular user surveys about the site and how easy users find it to navigate and makes changes accordingly.

Mabuza doesn’t have global ambitions for Qooh.me — at least not yet — and instead wants to “acquire users and build a local service that offers SA users new ways to interact with each other and consume information on the Internet”.

He does, however, hint that he plans to extend the functionality of the service once the user base is large enough. “Once there are, say, 500 000 users we’ll be adding more social networking-type functionality.”

For now, Mabuza pays the monthly hosting costs associated with Qooh.me himself and says he has had to postpone incorporating advertising or otherwise monetising the service because as a candidate attorney he isn’t allowed to have outside business interests.

Qooh.me Web screenshot (click to enlarge)

“If I start adding advertisers and focus on monetising the site, I might impact my standing with the law society. For now, it’s a hobby really.”

Mabuza has already had an offer of about R450 000 to buy the service. “I figure they just wanted the database. I thought about it, but I want to grow the site further before I consider selling it.”

For Mabuza, Qooh.me is primarily about allowing users to discover more about their friends, and that it’s with this end in mind that the service offers integration with Facebook and Twitter.

“If I’m your Facebook friend, I can ask and reply to questions openly or anonymously. Some people are using it more like a chat service.”

He says that because users can easily add their Facebook friends there are “enough early adopters to keep it growing” and that it was the move to Facebook integration “that really got the sign-ups to take off”.

“SA is a great place for technology start-ups,” says Mabuza. “In some ways, SA is like China without the firewall. It’s a place where rapid growth is possible because there’s an enormous number of people who are only just getting online.”  — Craig Wilson, TechCentral

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