Five years on, Dubizzle ready to cast net wider

After five years of growth from a fledgling operation in Dubai, the classified and community website Dubizzle has its sights set on the wider region in no fewer than three languages.

The American entrepreneurs Sim Whatley, left, and JC Butler set up the Dubizzle website in Dubai five years ago.
Rich-Joseph Facun / The National
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DUBAI // After five years of growth from a fledgling operation in Dubai, the classified and community website Dubizzle has its sights set on the wider region in no fewer than three languages.

Dubizzle, an online marketplace where visitors can buy, sell or find almost anything, launched in Dubai in 2005 and in Abu Dhabi a year-and-a-half ago.

Now, the founders Sim Whatley and JC Butler are targeting the Mena region, with plans to expand tomorrow to six countries: Lebanon, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Algeria and Egypt - and to launch Dubizzle in French.

"We looked at our business and we thought the real value behind it is not being just in one city, it's being the number one classified site for the entire region," Mr Whatley said.

The American entrepreneurs launched the website in Arabic three months ago, and have been expanding since then. Six weeks ago, they launched in Saudi Arabia, and three weeks ago in Syria, Jordan and the rest of the GCC.

"It would be really difficult to only expand in the GCC and not to the Levant; it would feel like we're leaving people out," Mr Whatley said. "There are huge populations as well that need something like this in the Levant and in North Africa - Morocco has a huge, booming younger demographic. It was about giving ourselves the ability to allow certain cities to pick it up maybe faster than others, casting the net out as wide as possible and letting those cities decide where Dubizzle will pick up next."

Ben Walton, Dubizzle's lead developer, said that creating the Arabic version of the website this year had helped in creating the French one. "We'd already developed some pretty strong internationalisation tools during the Arabic development, which really allowed us to get this out the door quickly. From writing the first line of code to launching it took around seven weeks."

No changes will be made to the website itself, but the businessmen believe certain sections will rise to the top in some countries more than others.

"The GCC is very heavy on property for rent, but that won't necessarily be the case in somewhere like Egypt, where young people live with their parents for a long period of time. You look at the demographics of the people per country, per capita GDP and the standard of living," said Mr Whatley, 29.

"It's going to be up to us to decide how we advertise that to those markets."

The company will face some barriers, however.

"In North Africa, there are educational barriers that you have to overcome; some people haven't used the internet before. So we have to educate them on why the internet is more efficient and effective than the paper," Mr Whatley said.

"We will have people on the ground to show them how it works. If they manage to make their lives easier, then we become a brand that is associated with that and it becomes an even stronger relationship."

With substantial investment in the expansion, however, the partners foresee losing money in the first year.

"We're trying to do it a lot faster than what we did in Dubai," Mr Whatley said.

But Hassan al Shouli, the marketing manager, said traffic would pick up fast, and explained the company's approach was efficient. "We are moving quickly and aggressively. We are not applying a 'one rule fits all' approach. We are paying attention to what happens and have the flexibility, capacity and energy to make changes."

Added Mr Whatley: "We're hoping within two years to be number one in at least 80 per cent of the countries. We want to stay focused on our number one goal, which is to be the largest classified site in the region, and we want to do that in the next three years," he said.