x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dubizzle founders hand over the reins to new leadership

Sim Whatley and J?C Butler started the classifieds website eight years ago, and will now leave it in the capable hands of former marketing director.

Sim Whatley, left, and J?C Butler are leaving their positions as joint chief executives at the popular classifieds website Dubizzle to move home to their families in the United States. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National
Sim Whatley, left, and J?C Butler are leaving their positions as joint chief executives at the popular classifieds website Dubizzle to move home to their families in the United States. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National

DUBAI // For eight years they have helped people to find new homes, new jobs and to get rid of unwanted furniture.

Now the men behind the hugely popular classifieds website Dubizzle have announced they are stepping down from their roles and leaving Dubai.

Sim Whatley and J?C Butler founded the company on a shoestring budget while working from a bedsit in the emirate.

The first of its kind in the region, Dubizzle quickly became the go-to website for people looking for handymen, or to buy or sell second-hand cars. It even featured advertisements for exotic animals.

Mr Butler said a desire to move back to their families in the United States was behind his and Mr Whatley’s decision to step down.

“It’s not only difficult to travel to the United States, it’s difficult to stay in touch because of the time difference,” he said.
“The strain has always been there. We have always had to weigh up what we wanted with what was needed from us.

Dubizzle has needed us less because there has been this new wave of leadership and they’re doing an amazing job.
“Sim’s having his first child and I’m about to have my second one. And we also have bosses – our wives.

“Every year we have been thinking about where are we now and when the balance will tip the other way. Now that’s finally happened.”

Mr Whatley and Mr Butler will remain shareholders in the company, although multinational stakeholder Naspers has been given a larger share.

The position the friends shared as co-chief executive will be filled by the company’s former marketing director, Arto Joensuu.

Mr Joensuu said he would keep the same entrepreneurial spirit that has driven the site’s almost constant growth over the years.

“J?C and Sim have always been the public figures around Dubizzle,” he said.
“At the same time, there have been a lot of people who’ve been around since the early days who have led from the trenches and been behind the scenes.

“It’s not a change from a two-man show to a one-man show. Dubizzle has always been a family. The success of the family depends on everyone sharing the same common values. That isn’t going to change.”

Mr Joensuu has helped to shape the company since he joined two years ago, Mr Whatley said.

“We really wanted people to know our internal culture won’t change,” he said. “This is an internal promotion. This is someone who lives and breathes our values. He knows where Dubizzle came from, but also where we want it to go.”

For two and a half years the company was mostly a two man-operation, but has steadily expanded to more than 160 staff in Dubai and Egypt.

It now has dedicated pages for all seven emirates, and countries including Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman.
Mr Butler said he and Mr Whatley had learnt to deal with the fact that they were no longer the only ones calling the shots.

“We’ve gone through that struggle of letting go of the reins,” he said. “As we had more staff, we had to adapt.
“It feels a lot more natural than it would have been had we not gone through that process. These days our job is mostly just to talk all day.

“The most difficult thing will be not being at the helm operationally and seeing the impact Dubizzle has.
“Almost everyone here has a story about Dubizzle and it has impacted millions of people’s lives. It will be sad not to be a part of that any more.”

Mr Whatley and Mr Butler will remain in advisory roles, and Mr Joensuu has already prepared himself for the inevitable long-distance call from the US at 2am.

“The relationship and collaboration will continue; the guys are moving into advisory roles,” he said.
“It’s great to have them still around, but yeah, the phone will be on silent during the night.”

mcroucher@thenational.ae