China’s Tencent launched a version of its WeChat mobile chat service in Africa late in 2013, and now the chat-app giant has used WeChat Africa to make its first investment in an African startup: the “micro-jobbing” platform M4JAM, according to Ventureburn.
M4JAM (“Money for Jam”), a South African startup that has been on WeChat Africa since its own rollout last August, is an on-demand service that lets individuals use their mobile phones to bid on small jobs that will taken about 10 minutes to complete. Neither WeChat Africa or M4JAM disclosed the size of the investment, but it’s the first outside money that M4JAM has brought in.
The new capital will let the company scale its business locally and expand it beyond South Africa’s borders, M4JAM said in a prepared statement. “WeChat’s investment allows us to focus on building our business while they provide the community that helps enable our success. We launched M4JAM on WeChat because the social communications app offers a fast and easy deployment platform,” said M4JAM “chief jammer” Andre Hugo.
Despite the investment, M4JAM won’t be exclusively a WeChat Africa service, Hugo told Ventureburn. He said that M4JAM jobs have also been embedded in banner ads since December.
For Tencent, the investment is part of its effort to expand WeChat’s footprint outside of China, where it dominates among chat apps. About 30 percent of WeChat’s users are now outside China, but competition from WhatsApp — which was already well established in many markets before WeChat began moving outside China — has made expansion more of a challenge.
But WeChat’s success is crucial for Tencent, since the chat app is also the vehicle for Tencent’s payments and e-commerce offerings, and its core platform for competing against its archrival, Alibaba. WeChat may also eventually be the front end for banking services, if Tencent — which just opened a digital bank in China — decides to expand into international banking as well.