Algiers’ 8th most visited website started eight years ago when police showed up to shut down an urban street market. For years, the market would periodically pop up on a street called Oued Kniss in the Algiers suburb of Kouba. People would purchase, sell, and swap everything they could think of, from TV sets to carpets. “It was great,” remembers Mehdi Bouzid.
Like many teens in Algeria around 2006, Bouzid along with his 4 group of friends, Hichem Soudah, Amine Benmouffok Ahmed Bouaouina, and Djamel Eddine dib, dreamed of creating an online blog. They had had in mind the idea of having a classified website for their friends which is why, after Oued Kniss’ souk closed and they were forced to rush their plans forward, to set up the nearby cybercafe and make their own website. In homage to the street market they believed played a major part in Algiers its character, they named it Ouedkniss.
At that time they were not even thinking about making money, says Bouzid. “In 2006, there were hardly any Algerian websites. There were just a few Skyblogs (a blog platform that was very popular in the early days among people who spoke French around the world), forumsand couple of information websites. The only thing we wanted to do was make their mark in the web.”
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From word-of–mouth to online advertising on Ouedkniss.com
The first year the website got no more than 20 users per day, and a few of classifieds posted by friends. However, gradually the word was spread. In 2007, the team was invited to attend one of the first events for e-marketing in Algeria and Ouedkniss welcomed thousands of people in just one day. “This was a record to us,”” remembers Bouzid.
It was upon entering university that the five of them saw an exponential increase in the number of students they could convert thousands of college students. At that time students were the ideal target, as they were interested in the possibilities of the internet, and they were keen to try something new. Quickly the word spread beyond their universities and the site became a phenomenon.
“Many users have shared with us that they began using the internet because of Ouedkniss,” says the cofounder. It was through Ouedkniss it says that many purchased something on the internet for the very first time or searched for the perfect car or apartment for the first time.
In the course of three years developing and tweaking their product, and permitting Algerians create Ouedkniss on their own, the five friends took the decision to go all-in and began advertising the website for internet users as well as to people who had yet to join the site. When they focused on Facebook ads and online ads to promote their service, they were different from their Moroccan counterparts who splurged on billboards and television to convince non-internet users to join. “You are able to find Algerians who don’t possess an email account nor have access to the internet, yet utilize Facebook as a result, and we chose to target those.”
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In no rush to commercialize
As college students more interested in making something than being rich, the five buddies were patient before they began to make money from the site.
In 2009 they launched the Store program for a subscription per month that gave professionals an online store with a set number of classified ads. The store was met with some resistance in the beginning from top users who weren’t willing to pay for what they used to get free. So, the team cut the prices by 1,000 Algerian dinars per 100 adverts, (10 DZD was $0.12 USD at the time). “It was so inexpensive, the people could not resist the offer,” he said.
The end of 2011 the company had 100 professional sellers however, the test was deemed successful, and therefore, the team resigned and hired an agent to contact brick and mortar shop owners with their own stores. In the span of one year, the number of Ouedkniss Stores increased six times.
The Stores were however, not the only monetizing route the team explored. The team began in 2010 to sell ads on the website. “It required us to wait a long time,” is the cofounder’s plight. “I tried [managing advertising sales] on my own between 2009 and 2010, but I quit,” he continues, explaining that advertisers weren’t aware of the concept of the internet. “They were antiquated, and thought the internet wasn’t important enough.” Today, the company has mostly outsourced the job to a couple of ad networks.
There is a change now according to him, due to the rise of a newer advertising staff and the rise of the internet yet, marketers still don’t understand the web culture. He explains that the majority of advertisers remain averse to CPM-based ads (where the advertisers are paid by the number of views they receive) and prefer to pay by the day. He says that despite those difficulties, the website has been profitable since the year 2011.
A 10-year plan
In the span of eight years, patience and determination, Ouedkniss now boasts 250,000 visits a day, and is the first Algerian website in the country to achieve these numbers. While looking at neighboring countries which include major international players merging in Morocco as well as Tunisia being attacked by Schibsted’s Tayara would anyone have imagined the self-funded Ouedkniss being able to remain independent for this long? “We’ve had offers, mostly emanating from the Middle East back in 2008,” says Bouzid, “but we’re not keen on the idea of having investors, we have our vision of what Ouedkniss could be in 10 years.”
The five of them have already begun expanding their business, starting with Their new Travel section, where users are now able to book their trips online and with the debut of cars-dedicated website Autobip.
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