Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

"'MOVE fast and break things' — that's the motto at Facebook, and I pick up the same energy from African businesses," said Facebook's Nicola Mendelsohn during her first visit to the continent.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg swears by his company's motto. It means that if you are not making mistakes, you are not moving fast enough and are missing opportunities.

Speaking in Johannesburg, Ms Mendelsohn said she felt a drive among businesses in Africa to move fast and make things happen.

She has been meeting business owners in Nigeria and South Africa to boost advertising revenue from one of Facebook's fastest-growing regions. She declined to discuss revenue targets for the continent.

Though the number of people using Facebook across Africa has been growing for several years, the social media company's on-the-ground business activities began only recently.

Customers always had the option of self-service, but Ms Mendelsohn said her focus over the past six to nine months had been on taking the product to business people, showing them how to use it and, of course, getting them to use it. Facebook makes more than 85% of its revenue from people and businesses advertising on its site.

"Facebook is a great advertising platform — what other platform has 1.2-billion users? It is a platform on which small businesses can go global at a cost of $5 or $10. Big business can use it to communicate to target customers one-on-one," she said.

Ms Mendelsohn, a mother of four, said her parents advertised their catering business on Facebook.

"It's a platform that can work for a woman selling crafts in Soweto, or for a big corporate in Sandton.

"During my visit to Nigeria this past three days, I felt an energy ... that entrepreneurial spirit that we have at Facebook too, and it makes me excited to do business on this continent," said Ms Mendelsohn.

Today the Facebook website is worth $156.7bn. It generated revenue of $7.87bn during the past year and a $1.5bn profit.

According to Facebook, one of its top priorities during the next 10 years will be to "deliver highly personalised, targeted ads in news feeds that greatly increase average revenue per user and profit margins".

Ms Mendelsohn said Facebook would be aiming its products more towards mobile devices, especially in a market such as Africa, where 86% of users access Facebook through a cellphone or laptop. The company's mobile-derived advertising revenue recently overtook its income from desktop ads.

This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times