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Interview: Herman Heunis, the mind that made MXit

It’s been seven years since a little known games company in Stellenbosch, South Africa, was looking for a cheap alternative to SMS and invented the country’s first mobile instant messenger service. MXit is now a legend with more than 20-million users in 120 countries which send an average of some 250-million messages a day.

According to CEO Herman Heunis, what started out as a small team of eight people has mushroomed into well over a hundred staff after global expansion to new territories like Mexico.

“We want to conquer the world — at least the mobile world — and we are on track,” he said.

Here’s an opportunity for Memeburn readers to meet Heunis, find out a little more about how he thinks, who he follows, what he reads and how entrepreneurs can use MXit to make moola.

Memeburn: Who do you revere?
Herman Heunis: Trustworthy and loyal people. Positive and energetic people.

MB: Who are the top ten people you follow on Twitter and why?
HH: I don’t use Twitter (or Facebook) that often. I mainly started using it to see what it was all about and as an social experiment, something I want to work out for myself, please don’t ask me what it is! I find humans fascinating and maybe I should have become an anthropologist. Having said that, I do enjoy the postings of commentators like Alistair Fairweather, Mike Stopforth, Arthur Goldstuck, Toby Shapshak, Ivo Vegter, Simon Dingle and others.

MB: What books do you read?
HH: Books I think are interesting, such as “Purple Cow”, “Tipping Point” and so on, and photography books. I very seldom read novels.

MB: How do you think – can you describe the way you think?
HH: A combination of pure analytical deliberation and, often, gut-feel. In the space we play, many things don’t have answers yet and you have to trust your instinct.

MB: What are your favourite gadgets?
HH: Polar heart-rate monitor, iPhone, iPod, Garmin GPS, Sony laptop, Canon Camera.

MB: What keeps you awake at night?
HH: I seldom think about work or other stressful things at night. You need to give your body/brain time to recover and sleep is like refuelling for the next day.

MB: I believe you were in the navy? What did you learn from the navy that is useful today?
HH: This was during my two year compulsory national service period. I was given the opportunity to do software development, something I was most grateful for. I learned how to design and develop systems in unreasonable timeframes. It is difficult to tell an admiral a system will only be ready in a month if he wanted it yesterday. I worked ungodly hours but enjoyed every moment of it.

MB: What’s your favourite slogan or saying?
HH: “You are the captain of your ship”. For me it means that if you want to be successful, you are in charge of that. If you are unhappy, you are in charge of that. Change it or stay unhappy. Maybe cruel, but so is nature.

MB: What opportunities are there for start ups or entrepreneurs to make money using MXit?
HH: We are in the process of publishing an open API and will have an open seminar later this year in Stellenbosch where we will invite all interested third party software developers to use our platforms. It will almost be like an App store but just for MXit and available to our community. The applications will be able to use our billing engine, and communication between users/players will be possible. We are now in the process of getting the commercial and legal agreements sorted out that will cater for aspects such as revenue sharing and hosting.

  • To keep up to date with what’s happening at MXit from a developer perspective, go to the MXit DevZone.
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