China’s largest messaging app will invest 50 million rand (about $3.4 million USD) in African startups. WeChat said in a blog post that will work with Cape Town tech strategy firm Batstone to find promising early-stage companies.
Earlier this year, WeChat, which has over 600 million users and is owned by Chinese Internet giant Tencent, made its first investment in Africa, putting an undisclosed amount into M4JAM (Money For Jams).
Based in South Africa, M4JAM is similar to Taskrabbit in that it connects people with temporary “microjobs.” Unlike Taskrabbit, however, M4JAM reached its users exclusively through WeChat when it launched (though it is now available as a standalone service). A few months later, WeChat also announced a partnership with PicUp, which is also based in South Africa and only accessible through WeChat.
In today’s post, WeChat said that its new fund will look for other companies that, like M4JAM and PicUp, use the messaging app to conduct business, which in turn may help it take advantage of Africa’s rapidly improving smartphone penetration rates.
WeChat has users worldwide, but it hasn’t disclosed country-specific numbers. The service is ubiquitous in China, where it can be used to play games, pay utility bills, book taxis, and make online payments, but it has struggled to gain a foothold in other markets where it competes with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Viber, among other apps. These messaging platforms all see African countries as a growth opportunity (and there are also homegrown apps, like South Africa’s Mxit and Nigeria’s Howfar).
SMS still dominates in countries with low smartphone penetration rates, but in countries like South Africa and Nigeria, where there are many more smartphone owners, messaging apps are quickly gaining traction.
TechCrunch has asked WeChat for more details about the fund.