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Interview: UAE-born Dubizzle to debut unique product in other MENA markets

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JC Butler and Sim Whatley, founders of UAE's online classifieds website, speak to Kipp about starting over in 13 other MENA markets and staying away from PR agencies.

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September 9, 2012 5:43 by



How has Dubizzle’s foray into other MENA markets panned out so far?

JC: It is split up between the Mena and the UAE. In MENA we are in the process of making a much simpler Dubizzle! In the past when we first launched in these new countries we had a lot to learn, there were some things that we did right but also some we did wrong. In the beginning we took the original Dubizzle platform from the UAE, emptied it out and copy-pasted it to the other countries, but what we realized is that was not the right platform, as our size in the UAE  is much bigger and the culture is also a bit different. etc. So going forward, we are going to be releasing a new product overall for each country, something we have been working on in-house.

And what would that product be?

JC:  It’s a simpler to use, faster, more dynamic version of Dubizzle that is geared more specifically for other MENA markets. We are taking into considerations factors like slow internet speeds, newcomers to the site and digital consumption habits, mobile usage and most importantly, the language factor. In the UAE we are primarily used in the English language while in rest of MENA, we are used mainly in Arabic. So the basic idea is to put our product out there but then localize, see where it works. Eventually we will have a different site for each country.

What about outside of MENA? Any plans to venture further beyond?

JC: We have no plans for that as of now, at the moment we feel we have bitten off a bit much in terms of going to 12-13 countries at the same time. This is a huge challenge, and we have seen that the sites that have traction are the ones with teams on the ground. Our hope is that eventually the site in Egypt will look and feel different from the site in say, Saudi Arabia and so on, and each of them will run locally. There will be operational teams in each market that will have the autonomy to develop the product, And soon, Dubizzle will eventually be a collection of local companies rather than one big website.

What are your main channels of revenue? Have they evolved over time?

Sim: Its a mix at the moment, about half is through advertising in the site itself which involves creative, direct sales, etc and then the other half is premium property listings. For about 5 years now we have been selling property listings to real estate agencies, all of the property for sale are subscription based by the sellers here. They subscribe to list on our site and that is channel of revenue that has evolved and is still evolving. We’ll soon have subscription based listings for other sectors as well.

What about developments in the mobile space?

Sim: When it comes to mobile traffic, UAE tops the list for us. All in all, mobile has been extremely useful for us, even before we launched a dedicated mobile site, we had about 8% of traffic still trying to adapt the PC version on their mobiles, while now, about 16% of our traffic is through mobile- if you add iPad it goes upto 20%. So one in five people are using their phones or tablets to access Dubizzle, and the engagement levels are the same if not more. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement, but we are pretty happy with the mobile side of things.

What about advertisers on the mobile platform? Have you been able to get enough advertising revenue from the mobile version?

Sim: We actively sell mobile ads as a part of our media kit. We have seen the pickup of mobile ads to be slower than expected but I guess this is due to advertisers not being ready to drive people to a mobile site as they themselves don’t have one! The idea to is to get these spenders to develop more mobile-purpose built sites and experiences, as actually the click through rates in the mobile and ROI through mobile platforms are much higher.

I think it will be adopted, there are a lot of agencies trying to set up publisher networks, they are trying to sell heavily discounted ads across these publisher networks, although we are avoiding those!  We feel we can best represent ourselves. The main goal is to figure out newer and more creative opportunities for our mobile site… you know, stuff like plugging in to someone’s geo location, being able to push notify things around when they are in a certain neighborhood etc. We want to give our advertisers a more seamless way for reaching the mobile Dubizzle user, in the near future.



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