x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dubizzle: From Dubai bedsit to household name

In the past eight years, millions of people have used Dubizzle to sell furniture, cars or houses - the site is believed to be worth tens of millions of dirhams.

DUBAI // When Dubizzle was launched in 2005, it received only 1,000 hits in its first month.

These days it has more than 69 million, with tens of thousands of new advertisements posted every day.

In the past eight years, millions of people have used it to sell furniture, cars or houses.

It is a quintessential Dubai success story, the product of imagination and hard work by two American expatriates, Sim Whatley and J?C Butler.

They launched a rudimentary version of the site in August 2005 on a shoestring budget of just Dh44,000, pulled together from their savings.

It is believed the site is now worth tens of millions of dirhams.

In 2005, when they were both 24, they shared a one-room bedsit and slowly built up a loyal customer base using basic legwork.

“We’d get a newspaper or go to see the notice boards in Spinneys,” said Mr Whatley. “We would text people.

“If they were trying to sell something using another forum that was a bit dated, we’d tell them about online classifieds. It was guerrilla marketing and it was low budget.”

The pair would often work 18 hour days, six days a week to build up the site. Over the course of those first four weeks it managed about 1,000 page views and 100 listings.

“At the time that seemed like a major achievement,” said Mr Butler. “But it’s really nothing when you compare it to now.”

Aside from being a hit with customers, the site has also won plaudits from analysts.

Ashley Batten, research analyst at Euromonitor International, said Dubizzle had a major impact on people’s lives in the region.

“Dubizzle has revolutionised the sale of second-hand goods in the UAE and the wider Middle East region,” Ms Batten said.

“The young, highly mobile expat population is highly internet savvy and thus has responded favourably to Dubizzle’s business model.

“The site’s easy-to-use format and ability to reach large numbers of people quickly have been major factors in its success.”

Mr Whatley said his definition of what it meant to be successful had changed from simply making lots of money in the early days to being able to have an impact on many people.

He said Dubizzle’s runaway success had made it difficult to think of launching another start-up when he went back to the US.
“The bar has been set very high,” Mr Whatley said. “It’s quite intimidating to think about what you might do next.”

After eight years of working together, the pair will also probably be going their separate ways. Mr Whatley will return to New Orleans and Mr Butler will move to Austin.

Mr Whatley said that helped to add an extra dimension of melancholy to their decision to leave.

“We’ll definitely miss each other,” he said.

“We’ve had a unique friendship that has allowed us to be able to work together for so many hours a day, go out socially together and not completely kill each other.

“I can’t think of a single friend back in the States that I could have done that with. The whole experience has been really cool.”

mcroucher@thenational.ae