It’s been a helping hand to expats in Dubai looking for accommodation and jobs for many years, and now the Dubizzle website has launched here. We met the creators, JC Butler and Sim Whatley
Time Out Bahrain staff
You are launching Dubizzle in Bahrain – for anyone unfamiliar with it and where it comes from, how would you explain it? Dubizzle is the best local marketplace to buy, sell and find anything with members in your community, free and fast. Launched in August 2005, Dubizzle rapidly became the UAE’s leading online classifieds and community portal. We started with a staff of two (the two of us) and today have an eclectic mix of over 40. There are over 1 million unique visitors and more than 50 million page views on a monthly basis. With continued user-based improvements, the site is easy to navigate, and is even available in Arabic, English and French.
Where and how did you get the idea for something like this?
We both came from a place where we were used to sites like Dubizzle, but when we arrived in Dubai, both of us were in the process of setting up and so we needed help, but above all else, we needed jobs. Unfortunately, there was no Dubizzle at that time, so we tried (frustratingly unsuccessfully) to use things such as paper classifieds. The idea for Dubizzle started as a gripe, but became an opportunity.
And how do you explain its success so far?
People often laugh when we say this, but we view classifieds as a basic human need. Dubizzle is simply a facilitator of trade, and trade is not only necessary, but has existed for all of human history. Dubizzle simply facilitates that trade better than what existed before. We place a lot of emphasis on accessibility, as the more people that are buying and selling, the better and more efficient the market will be. It is also free to sell and buy, and there is the ease of use factor, so it’s quick and easy to place ads – there’s more offers, and the ability to search easily and effectively means the right buyer will find the right seller and vice versa. But we also want security, as it is important for buyers to feel safe and for the marketplace to be clean of fraud and spam. As a community site, we promote only local face-to-face commerce, as this is always the safest bet. And the fact that we’ve grown organically and we’re a young, tight-knit team of entrepreneurial geeks has made Dubizzle a fun project for all of us, and we hope that light-hearted passion resonates with the site’s users.
You say you have processes to protect users from fraud and spam – tell us about those. Well, we verify all users through their mobile device using SMS. This ensures that only users in Bahrain are able to place ads in Bahrain, keeping any would-be foreign fraudsters off the site. We manually screen all of the photos for anything offensive or suspicious, and we have a team of administrators who scan the site for suspicious ads. They are further tipped off by user reporting tools, as well as technical triggers that flag any behaviour that would be unusual for an authentic user. We have lots of information and warning messages throughout the site and through any email communications that advise users on how to buy safe. We also take every opportunity (including this one) to tell our users that buying locally and transacting face to face prevents 99.9 per cent of fraud.
How easy is it to break into a new market? You have done it now several times… Every market is unique, and there are always different challenges for each one. It’s always a good practice for us, however, because with each new challenge we are forced to examine the core values of what we provide and question how we can do it better. That said, we wouldn’t say it’s ever ‘easy’, but we love it. It draws on our entrepreneurial spirit, and makes us better as a site and as a company.
What is it about Bahrain that made you want to launch here? To be quite honest, Dubizzle’s goal is to be the free local classifieds site for the region. And that means we have launched sites in 14 countries. If, however, someone were to have said to us you can pick only a few places to go next, Bahrain would definitely be among them. Culturally and socially, Bahrain shares a lot of similarities with places where Dubizzle is already wildly popular. We should also mention that Bahrain stands out as a community that has given Dubizzle one of the warmest welcomes thus far.
Where will you take it next? Can you see any limits with how far you can expand? Dubizzle has evolved over the years, and we have always focused on the quality of what we are delivering. It is only natural that we expand as we are able to help other communities buy, sell and find anything. For now, we are 100 per cent focused on becoming the number one go-to marketplace in the MENA region. After that there are many opportunities, but we like to put one foot in front of the other.
So are you guys web billionaires like Mark Zuckerburg? It’s a free classifieds site, so, er, no.
Is there any obvious competition for the site in Bahrain? Dubizzle is quite unique and doesn’t have any direct or obvious competitors in Bahrain. We are really more focused on tweaking the site in Bahrain to make it as navigable and useful as possible for the people who visit it.
What about taking the site mobile, for use on portable devices and iPhones? We have just developed a phase 1 of our private API, which will allow us to develop all sorts of apps for different devices. We are just starting to develop our iPhone app, with apps for other devices to follow throughout the year.
It is a site where you can buy and sell stuff – what’s the weirdest item you’ve ever seen posted? Currently you can find a Royal typewriter with side glass panels made in 1912, or a Scarface ‘Tony Montana’ collectible figure. We’ve also seen some interesting items like toilet paper signed by The Beatles, original Superman comic books, Boeing Jets and Formula 1 race cars. One of our favourites is from a few years back in the Lost & Found section, where someone posted that they had lost their ‘Dignity’ at the weekend.
Finally, the name – obviously Dubizzle is taken from the city it first launched in, Dubai. Were there any plans at all to call the site here Bahrizzle? We thought of changing the name for each market that we went to, but decided that would be confusing. People have to trust our name, and we don’t want users to think that their local version isn’t related to the safe and successful version that started in the UAE. But we have to admit, ‘Bahrizzle’ is an awesome word. More info at www.dubizzle.com/bahrain