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


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.

September 9, 2012 5:43 by

What plans do you have for Dubbizle users’ mobile experience?
Sim: The strategy has been updated a number of times- our original strategy was to build Apps that we think are cool and do them for the major handsets, and then also build a mobile site along with that. Now we realized there are several complications that arise when you build the apps.  We eventually decided we wanted to have a ubiquitous experience across mobile. Thus the future for that, I think, is HTML5, and to be able to build a truly dynamic site that adjusts it dimensions according to the handset. Then the idea is to just put a homepage icon on the app stores. Thus you get a web launcher app on your phone.

You recently started a blog as well, and is it a plan to make it overall a social networking cum classified portal as well?

JC: Yeah we have had a blog up for about 8 months now- it’s a part of our marketing mix and we are doing it to help the brand get more engaged with the local community. It’s basically speaking to consumers on a consumer level, writing articles that they find interesting and integrating that well with our social media presence. It is mainly a communication tool for us. We do not have a PR agency, so really the blog and our social network pages are what we use to communicate with our users.

No PR agency? 

JC: We dont think that a PR agency is vital; of course PR has to be done, however. We believe people that work in-house and know the heart and soul of the business will always do a better job than a PR agency that is on retainer and sends out bulk emails. I’m not saying there are no good PR agencies, but they tend to filter out and sterilize the message a lot- like they wouldn’t let us say any of this for sure ( laughs).

Social media should be used to directly communicate, and if something starts resonating there then we feel the mainstream media will surely pick it up.

Are you looking to collaborate with a branding agency to possible enhance the brand, especially in the new markets?

JC: Do we need to? We hope that the brand is well perceived, and we know that people love Dubizzle and even when they are annoyed they frame it like “We love Dubizzle but please change this”. A lot of it has to do with our culture internally, and we feel this shows on our product. I mean, we do care about design and logos and all those things but the services and product experience should show. We feel it’s important that not only how we talk to the media but who talks to the media. Folks in the UAE and MENA have allowed us to be strategically aligned and also maintain that startup feel, and really get back to our roots of being passionate about the product. That will have a ripple effect not only in our product but also for the overall brand image.

What would be a key learning or takeaway from your experience so far?

Sim: Before you make big commitments like buying offices or promising customers, figure out what your vision is and what is it about the world you would like to change. See if what you want to do is really valuable. Initially, we took what we thought was a lot of money -6000 USD, and did stuff like text messages, Google ads for 5USD a day. If a VC came to us and said here is a million dollars for a classified site, we would have done things differently.

Another key factor is getting the right people on board – getting really good people who will help you along the way is crucial.

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