The story of Algeria’s 8th most popular website began eight years ago when police were on hand to shut down the market in a suburb. For decades the market would periodically appear on a street called Oued Kniss in the Algiers suburb of Kouba. People would buy exchange, sell and trade anything they could imagine, including televisions, carpets, and even televisions. “It was great,” remembers Mehdi Bouzid.
Like many other teens in Algeria during the period of 2006, Bouzid along with his 4 buddies, Hichem Soudah, Amine Benmouffok Ahmed Bouaouina, and Djamel Eddine dib, dreamed of starting a blog. They had had in mind the idea of a classified website for their peers, so, when Oued Kniss’ souk closed in 2006, they decided to accelerate their plans and get set up in the nearby cybercafe and create their website. In homage to the street market that they felt played a huge aspect of Algiers its identity, they called it Ouedkniss.
At the time they didn’t even think about earning money, according to Bouzid. “In 2006 there weren’t many Algerian websites. There were a handful of Skyblogs (a blog platform that was very popular at the time among French-speaking users all over the world), forumsand handful of information websites. All we wanted was to leave your mark across the web.”
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From word-of-mouth to online advertising on Ouedkniss.com
In the beginning, the website received no more than 20 people per day, plus a handful of classifieds posted by friends. However, over time, the news spread. In 2007 the Team was invited to attend one of the first e-marketing events in Algeria And Ouedkniss even hosted 2,000 visitors in one day. “This was a record-setting event that we set for ourselves,” notes Bouzid.
After completing their studies at university that the five friends saw an increase in their numbers and could easily turn into many students. Students were at the time an ideal candidate for conversion, since they were interested in the possibilities provided by the internet, and they were keen to test something new. Soon, the word began to spread beyond their institutions and the website quickly became a sensation.
“Many users have told us they started online due to Ouedkniss,” says the co-founder. It was through Ouedkniss according to him, that many bought something online for the first time or searched for an apartment or a car for the first time.
After three years of working to improve their product as well as letting Algerians create their own Ouedkniss design, five friends decided to step it up and begin advertising the site, both to internet users and those who had yet join the site. By focusing on online ads and Facebook to promote the service they differed from their Moroccan counterparts who splurged on billboards and TV ads to get non-internet users to join. “You are able to find Algerians who don’t even own an email nor use the internet but are on Facebook and Facebook, which is why we decided to target them.”
In no rush to monetize
As students who were more focused on making something than being rich, the five friends put off monetizing the site.
In 2009, they introduced their Store service, a monthly subscription that provided professionals with an online store with a set number of classified ads. They encountered some resistance at the beginning with top users who weren’t ready to pay for something they could get for free. So, the team cut the prices down to 1000 Algerian dinars for 100 ad, (10 DZD was $0.12 USD at the time). “It was so cheapthat people couldn’t resist this,” he said.
By the end of 2011 the company had 100 professional sellers, but the beta was deemed successful, and so the team moved on and appointed an account manager to connect with brick-and-mortar owners of their own stores. Over the course of a year it was reported that the total number of Ouedkniss Stores increased six times.
The Stores were, obviously not the only monetization method that the team considered. In 2010 , they began selling ads through the site. “It took us a long timeto get there,” is the cofounder’s plight. “I tried to handle the sales of ads] by myself from 2009 until 2010, but I gave up,” he continues, explaining that advertisers didn’t get the internet. “They were old-fashioned and believed that the internet was not serious enough.” Today, the company has mostly outsourced the task to a few advertising networks.
There is a change now He admits this, due to the arrival of a younger advertising staff, and an internet boom however, the advertisers do not grasp the importance of web culture. He says that many still refuse to do CPM-based advertising (where marketers pay per 1000 views) and insist on paying by the hour. However, he claims, despite those difficulties, the website has been profitable ever since 2011.
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A ten-year perspective
In the span of eight years, patience, and persistence, Ouedkniss now boasts 250,000 daily visits, and is the first Algerian website in the country to gain these numbers. Looking quickly at neighboring countries including major and international players joining forces in Morocco and Tunisia being taken over by Schibsted’s Dayara could anyone have foreseen the self-funded Ouedkniss being able to remain independent for this long? “We’ve received offers, mostly coming from the Middle East back in 2008,” says Bouzid, “but we’re not keen on the idea of investing and we have a vision of what Ouedkniss will be in 10 years’ time.”
The five members have already begun to diversify with the launch of their Travel section, where visitors can now book trips online and also the launch of a website dedicated to cars, Autobip.