Q&A: Nic Haralambous, Motribe co-founder

Nic Haralambous, co-founder of Motribe and now CEO of NicSocks, talks to HumanIPO about the development of Motribe, its partnership with and eventual acquisition by Mxit and his own plans for the future having left the company.

HumanIPO: How did Motribe come into existence?

Nic Haralambous: Motribe was created by myself and Vincent Maher. We were both at Vodacom in Johannesburg and realised we wanted more. So we left and founded Motribe. We raised funding, moved to Cape Town and stopped smoking all in the space of about 9 months. 

What gap in the market did it fill?

A very simple gap in the market for mobile social communities made for mobile phones in the emerging markets.   

What did it do that other companies didn’t?

We took on mobile as a core focus. We didn’t support desktop web versions of our sites. We also began to take on the enterprise, brand and corporate space quite heavily. Brands are trying to access the market in Africa and just don’t know how digitally. We were the solution.

What were the reasons behind its success?

I think the driving force behind Motribe was the team we employed as well as our willingness to hustle. Entrepreneurs in Africa know how to hustle to get things done. You do whatever it takes and we were good at that. We also secured some key relationships that generated some solid revenue. We had our problems. Cash flow is always a problem for a young business. But at the heart of it, we hired “A” people and this is a winning recipe.

Explain the initial connection with Mxit.

Mxit was looking for apps to be built on their platform and Motribe was in the space where we had the time available to build apps on their platform. We were a mobile community platform and Mxit has a very large community. So we partnered with them and created our first two apps; JudgeMe and MxPix.

Why were Mxit and Motribe so right for each other?

I think that Mxit needed something that Motribe had and vice versa. We needed an audience as large as theirs and they needed a group of people who were able to develop and iterate quickly and effectively and who understood mobile community building.

How did the acquisition come about? Can you put a figure on it?

I can’t put a figure on it but it was a profitable exit for all involved. The acquisition was a natural progression of a partnership that was working for both parties.  

Why did you decide not to move with Motribe to Mxit?

I’m an entrepreneur and I felt that being inside of Mxit wouldn’t really cater to my entrepreneurial goals. They were kind enough to give me the option to leave without restraint, so I took it. 

What are your future plans?

While I was waiting for the Mxit/Motribe deal to go through I developed an idea that I’ve subsequently launched: NicSocks. It’s a subscription sock service. We sell limited edition, stylish socks for men. I’m doing a lot of mobile consulting to brands and businesses as well. I enjoy consulting, working with smart people on great projects is always fun.

What do you think of the startup scene in South Africa?

I think the startup scene in South Africa is small. I think we need to multiply our growth massively before we can be a force to be reckoned with. There is a swell happening but it needs to happen faster. That’s part of the reason I’ve joined the Silicon Cape Committee. My portfolio is Startup Relations so I intend to dedicate a chunk of time next year to helping entrepreneurs launch more companies.

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