Mobinomics is the story of how Alan Knott-Craig acquired Mxit, the mobile network that allows users to communicate at low cost, and how this company is contributing to the mobile revolution that is sweeping Africa. Written as a personal account, the opening chapters mostly discuss the development of the Mxit network and how Knott-Craig became involved and finally acquired the company in late 2011. The latter chapters offer short case studies of the different characters that make up this social network, from gamers and teachers, to chat room officers and entrepreneurs.
In many ways, Mobinomics, written by Knott-Craig and collaborator Gus Silber, is not only a book about Mxit but also a book that symbolizes the company that owns Mxit, World of Avatar: for good or bad, the book is an eclectic combination of autobiography, business strategy, fantasy, sociology and sales pitch.
The book reads easy. Knott-Craig certainly shares my passion for Stellenbosch (“To live in Stellenbosch is to take the long view” (p. 66)), and his insights (on topics like human resources management) and anecdotes about colleagues and collaborators are certainly interesting. But the book doesn’t quit live up to what I’d hoped for.
While most of the book is about Mxit, very little in the book is about “Africa’s mobile revolution” or the economics of mobiles, as the title implies. I had hoped Knott-Craig would explain why African countries are such lucrative markets (which African countries in particular?), how Mxit is infiltrating these markets (and who is the competition?), and what this will do to Africa’s economies and the living standards of its inhabitants (and possibly some evidence for this). Instead, the story is mostly a South African one, with only a few references to the economics of mobile technology, and then only the standard “leapfrogging” story.
Moreover, if it’s business strategy you’re interested in, you might like to know why is Mxit a better medium/network/technology than the others out there? What about the shift to smart phones and apps like What’s App? Facebook, for example, doesn’t get more than a handful of mentions in the book. Surely if Mxit is to survive (and profit) for the next five years, these are the questions the author needs to address.
And potential entrepreneurs might like to know how it’s possible to convince an investor to deposit more than a few million into a project that is still making a monthly loss of R4 million (p. 182).
Surprisingly, Knott-Craig also favours colourful language to concrete data. Here’s one example from page 166:
The map of Africa is glowing. Soft pulses of light, radiating from the subcontinent, spreading like ripples in a pond. Some are as faint as watermarks; others burn with a fiery intensity. From afar they look like clusters, hot zones of thermal activity. Zoom in to the streets of the cities, the townships, the suburbs, and the clusters explode and subdivide, spawning discrete cells, pulsing and fading, pulsing and fading.
Cool, but why not just show the map?
I am sure Mxit and, more broadly, mobile technology has the ability to revolutionize African communication, commerce and competitiveness. And while this is a worthwhile read for those interested in how Mxit came about and how it works, it is not a treatise on the use and usefulness of mobile technology in Africa. It also lacks in crucial details for any prospective entrepreneur in search of business blueprint. A more appropriate title would have been: y i bght mxit by aln nt crg.