Aiming at an African Classifieds Marketplace

There have been a number of plays on the free classifieds space in Africa over the years. Most seem to fizzle out, either due to not having enough revenue to continue, or their owners losing interest before the site grows. It seems like a play in the same space as Craigslist and Kijiji (Gumtree in SA) should work well. After all, you don’t need to digitally handle the transaction, that takes place offline.

I’ve been keeping my eye on one that might have some potential though: Kerawa. They explain it as, “an online tool promoting offline transactions.”

Kerawa homepage

Kerawa started just this year, from a small team of guys in Cameroun. They report having listings in 42 countries, but some are limited to just a couple. What’s more impressive is seeing how lively it is in Cameroun, Morocco, Ghana and South Africa, their top 4 countries. What a spread! That means they’re doing decently well in all but East Africa.

Some thoughts on Kerawa

Mobile Phones
I remain convinced that services like Kerawa will not become mainstream in Africa until they build the application in such a way as to allow mobile users to really take part. This seems obvious to me, so I’m not sure why they haven’t created a downloadable J2ME application for this at the least. Maybe they could create a way for people to access it via SMS, or at least pay for alerts on certain items (like jobs).

Growth
Kerawa posted their analytics for the year thus far. It is trending up, which is a good sign. What’s more important is numbers on classified listings, as once you get a decent amount of both buyers and sellers, then you’ve achieved critical mass and become “the” place to go. No one wants to go to the 2nd best market in town (just ask eBay’s and Craigslist’s competitors).

Kerawa Statistics

16 thoughts on “Aiming at an African Classifieds Marketplace

  1. //Thanks hash for this article.

    {
    Concerning our spread, now that you mention it, it’s true we are lacking in activity in East Africa. That’s a new challenge to handle.
    }
    {
    Providing a mobile phone interface to kerawa is second in our todo list for 2009. We’ve got the skills, the technology, and very soon the necessary equipment.
    }
    {
    Concerning our growth, we hope to do better next year. Not only in traffic, but more importantly, in the number of people we help get what they need or offer what they have.
    }

    We’ve learned a lot this 2008 on how to run a startup with limited means (money, time, influence …). Hope all of you too have.

  2. Further to your Tweet about the invisible walls in Africa, I suppose for a project to be truly successful, it would have to be multilingual. This is something that many tech projects with aspirations of being panafrican are going to have to overcome.

    Kerawa does seem like a good start, however.

  3. I’m assuming that they might be waiting to build the mobile app until they reach a certain growth point, since if it were for pay (and you really wouldn’t want to start free and then charge) you’d need a good deal of information there for people to view. If you didn’t and someone popped in and saw very little in the area that they’re interested in, chances are that you’d have a hard time getting them back. That or maybe it’s just like what we’re doing in that you’ve got a long laundry list of items and you really, really want to have the mobile component, but it just has to wait until everything else is rock solid before deploying it.

  4. In the same light as Miquel, it is a pure chicken and egg problem.

    You can’t have “paying” mobile users without sufficient inventory of commodity (similar users, information, ads…), and you can’t have enough inventory without users.

    Solving this problem usually involves offering something for free, which is rather unfortunate as free mobile apps (particularly those run by sms) can be very costly to operate.

    With limited means, it might be more cost efficient to gain potential users of your mobile app via a free web app.

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