Speaking to Nils Körber, CTO for Rocket Internet South Africa
23rd April 1 Comment
A couple of weeks ago, an anonymous source wrote about the operations of Rocket Internet in South Africa. We are lucky to have had a couple of questions answered by their CTO, Nils Körber, who talks about commerce in South Africa, infrastructure for new startups and the post PC/mobile era in Africa. But have a read yourself:
Please tell us about your current position.
I’m the CTO for Rocket Internet South Africa. I’m momentarily also heading up the development and IT department for zando.co.za our online fashion retailer in South Africa.
What made you decide to move to/live in/work in South Africa?
I’ve actually moved down to South Africa 5 years ago. My decision was driven by three beautiful things: the country itself, sunshine and love.
What are the biggest eCommerce players in South Africa?
The (still small) market is pretty much controlled by MIH/Naspers who are owning the big Internet properties, like for example kalahari.com and 24.com. Some niche players like yuppiechef.co.za are established and active on the market multiple years. The market seems to wake up not only since the inception of Rocket SA and more and more eCommerce pages are popping out.
Is the marketplace in South Africa very different when compared to the rest of the continent?
South Africa is likely the most advanced market in terms of technology and Internet penetration in Africa. But also the infrastructure is latest since the 2010 World Cup pretty much western standard. South Africa is the only African country on the list of so called “newly industrialized countries”. The gross domestic product is now close to $400 Billion annually and is predicted to grow on average a 4.2% every year.
South Africa really is a step ahead of other African countries.
From your experience, what are the biggest differences between South Africa and Europe or the States when it comes to commerce?
Lots of offline-business happens on the streets and is not necessarily regulated by a higher authority. Many people haven’t got a bank account let alone a tax number. The endemic poverty causes a re-use society rather than the throw-away society present in Western countries. Every wire, tin and cardboard is used over and over again.
eCommerce is a young discipline and lots of groundwork needs to happen. Many people still don’t understand the concept of online shopping – we are often confronted with customers asking for a conventional retail shop when seeing our eCommerce advertisement.
Please describe the tech scene in SA in a few words: Which software/hardware do people use?
Feature phones are the predominant hardware – the Samsung 520 is the most used phone in South Africa. Often is expensive computer hardware sold on a 24x month contract similar to cellphone contracts.
Even though Ubuntu is a South African (powered) product is the software market dominated by Microsoft as everywhere else in the world.
It is often portrayed that mobile is growing particularly fast in Africa because of the comparably high amount of mobile devices (compared to stationary PCs). What’s your take on this?
That is absolutely true. The continent’s device to access the Internet is a mobile phone and not a computer. The price drop in recent years for smart phones, like the BlackBerry 8520 or entry level Android phones, accelerated this development even more.
It is interesting to realize that majority of people experience the Internet on a 240×320 pixels or even smaller screen.
What’s the infrastructure for startups like? How about finding bright heads and proper funding?
South Africa has a fair amount of more or less successful startups. Initiatives like the “Silicon Cape” are looking to attract top technical talent and entrepreneurs specifically to the Western Cape and Cape Town.
International VC companies like Hasso Plattner’s ‘HPVA’ are already supporting local startups but are far off from current multi-Million-Dollar investments in the states.
But recent developments, like Amazon bulking up its developer center in Cape Town, are good signs and I see a bright future for Cape Town and South Africa.