Alan Knott-Craig Jr

Alan Knott-Craig Jr says he’s living the dream. Wearing his preferred attire of slip-slops and T-shirt, engrossed in the running of his new e-business, and revelling in the lifestyle in his new hometown of Stellenbosch, it’s easy to believe him.

For a man who reckons he hardly made a decision for himself until he was 25, he made an awfully big one in late 2011. Surprised by the vastness of the struggling mobile communications company MXit, he put together funding in excess of R500- million and bought the business from Herman Heunis and Naspers.

He admits being one of the many who thought the platform was dead just months before, but there were fundamentals about MXit that sparked the chartered accountant’s interest. “We offer users anonymity and quality content,” he says, “while Google needs all kinds of personal information and relies on advertising revenue”. With a reported 10-million active users alone in South Africa and the capacity to run the system on almost any cellphone, MXit proved an attractive offer.

Knott-Craig Jr’s ideas for the business extend way beyond its current focus of mobile chat. Using the idyllic hub of Stellenbosch as an incubator, MXit is experimenting with applications ranging from mobile payments on cellphones to games and music downloads.

But what gives the 35-year-old the grit to play in this high-risk arena, and enjoy it to boot? He reckons dealing with allegations that he wrongly benefited from deals with Vodacom several years ago, while his father was CEO, was one of the best things that ever happened to him. “It hurt at the time,” he says, “but once you’ve gone through it, it gives you armour-plating.” Currently writing a book on MXit’s history, Mobinomics, where does Knott-Craig Jr see the business going in the next few years? “Years?” he responds, quizzically.

— Ian Macleod