This story about Algeria’s 8th most visited website began eight years ago when police came to close a suburban street market. For decades the market would periodically appear on a street known as Oued Kniss in the Algiers suburb of Kouba. People would buy exchange, sell and trade everything they could think of, including televisions, carpets, and even televisions. “It was really nice,” remembers Mehdi Bouzid.
Like many teens in Algeria circa in 2006 Bouzid together with four friends, Hichem Soudah, Amine Benmouffok Ahmed Bouaouina, and Djamel Eddine dib, dreamed of the idea of starting the first blog. They had had in mind the idea of a classified platform for their friends which is why, after Oued Kniss’ souk closed in 2006, they decided to accelerate their plans, get set up in an adjacent cybercafe, and make their own website. In tribute to the souk, which they believed played a major element in Algiers the city’s character, they named it Ouedkniss.
At the time they were not even thinking about making money, says Bouzid. “In 2006 there were few Algerian websites. There were only a few Skyblogs (a blog platform that was very popular during the time with francophones from all over the world) websites, forums, and even a couple of websites for information. The only thing we wanted to do was leave your mark across the web.”
From word-of mouth to online advertisements on Ouedkniss.com
In the beginning, the site had less than 20 people per day, along with a handful of classifieds shared by their acquaintances. But over time, the word spread. In 2007 the crew was sent to attend one of the first online marketing events in Algeria and Ouedkniss was the host. 2,000 visitors in one day. “This was a record-setting event to us,”” Bouzid recalls. Bouzid.
When they entered university, it was at this point that the five friends saw an increase in their numbers and was able to convert to hundreds of university students. At that time students were the ideal target, as they were intrigued by potentials offered by the internet and they wanted to test something new. It was not long before word spread out beyond their schools and the site was a success.
“Many users have said that they began using the internet because of Ouedkniss,”” says the cofounder. It was because of Ouedkniss it says that many purchased something online for the first time, or looked for an apartment or a car for the first time.
In the course of three years developing and tweaking their product as well as permitting Algerians make Ouedkniss their own, the five friends made the choice to up their game and started advertising the site for internet users as well as people who had yet to join the site. With a focus on ads on the internet and Facebook to promote the service they differed from Moroccan counterparts who invested heavily on TV and billboards in order to encourage non-internet users join. “You can find Algerians that don’t possess an email account or have access to the internet, yet make use of Facebook and Facebook, which is why we decided to target these people.”
In no rush to commercialize
As college students more focused on creating something rather than becoming wealthy, the five classmates put off monetizing the website.
In 2009, they introduced the Store program the service, which offered professionals an online shop with a pre-defined number of classified advertisements. They encountered some resistance at the beginning from top users, who were not ready to pay for something they had previously received free. So, the team dropped the price to 1,000 Algerian dinars for a 100 ads, (10 DZD was $0.12 USD at the time). “It was so inexpensive, people couldn’t resist the offer,” he said.
The end of 2011, the startup had only 100 sales representatives The beta test was deemed successful, and it was decided to move on, and hired an agent to contact brick-and-mortar owners of their own shops. In the span of one year, it was reported that the total number of Ouedkniss Stores increased six times.
The Stores were, however not the only monetization method that the team considered. In 2010 , they began making ads available on the site. “It required us to wait a long timeto get there,” laments the cofounder. “I tried [managing advertising sales] on my own from 2009 to the year 2010, but I finally stopped,” he continues, explaining that advertisers did not understand the internet. “They were antiquated, and believed the internet wasn’t serious enough.” In the present, the startup has mostly outsourced this task to a few advertising networks.
Things are better now as he says, thanks to the development of a younger advertising staff, and an internet boom however, the advertisers do not understand the web culture. He says that many remain averse to CPM ads (where marketers pay per quantities of 1,000 views) and insist on paying by the hour. He says that despite these challenges, the website has been profitable ever since 2011.
A ten-year perspective
In the span of eight years, perseverance and determination, Ouedkniss now boasts 250,000 visitors per day. It is the first Algerian website that has surpassed this kind of number. In a quick glance at the countries around including major and international players integrating in Morocco and Tunisia being threatened by Schibsted’s TAYARA – could anyone have anticipated self-funded Ouedkniss remaining afloat for this long? “We’ve had offers, mostly coming from the Middle East back in 2008,” says Bouzid, “but we’re not a fan of the idea of investing and we have a vision of what Ouedkniss could be in 10 years’ time.”
The five friends have already started expanding their business, starting with its traveling section, in which users can book online trips and with the debut of cars-dedicated website Autobip.