South Africa’s OurHood, a free private social network recently secured seed funding from a small consortium of international investors who see the enormous potential in it in a mission to promote safer and better connected neighbourhoods– by linking the digital and physical worlds in the country and beyond.
“Funding was secured post us having built a great product and us having made significant progress in developing marketing and distribution channels. We will soon be looking for a Series A investors,” said Bruce Good, co-founder Our Hood.
The platform provides a digital platform for residents of clearly-defined neighbourhoods to engage with one another via mobile phones, laptops or tablets by allowing them to instantly communicate with one another, post notices, report any suspicious or criminal activity and as well buy, sell or lend things.
The site also allows users to get recommendations for tradesmen and other services in a community, report issues relating to hood upkeep (Faulty street lights, potholes etc), buy electricity, milk, or other basic goods and have them delivered, share rides, advertise events and organize activities and take advantage of unique deals available to clearly-defined communities only.
Co-founded by Bruce Good and William Mellor, the two had in 2010 founded Name Your Hood (www.nameyourhood.co.za) – an inclusive digital interactive campaign to unearth creative and functional neighbourhood names in South Africa’s urban centres. The bottom-up naming campaign created awareness around neighbourhoods and culminated in the the development of www.capetownhoods.co.za – digital sites for various communities.
Name Your Hood has received national and global acclaim and has been recently been declared a World Design Capital Project 2014.
Bruce won a fellowship with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Name Your Hood wass the local partner of the Pioneer of Health Challenge 2013 – partnering GOOD Worldwide and the Gates Foundation.
Will is arguably one of South Africas most succesful digital entrepreneurs. Having started the successful www.2oceansvibe.com in 2002, his media group, 2oceansvibe Media, incorporates 2oceansvibe News and 2oceansvibe. The website (2oceansvibe.com) speaks to 500,000 unique users per month.
Speaking to TechMoran, Bruce says they were inspired simply by the need connect residents in neighbourhoods in Cape Town. “OurHood offers us a real chance to make a safer and more connected country and continent. There is no single, consistent digital, or offline platform for residents to use to connect with their neighbours in South Africa, or universally, at present and we saw the opportunity to extend our work in neighbourhoods internationally,” Bruce told TechMoran.
The past few years have seen a proliferation of stand-alone community or local neighbourhood sites, yet none are scalable, private and able to offer a one-stop solution to neighbourhood communication. OurHood aims to provide a dynamic platform to consolidate a number of individual websites which residents have at their disposal
OurHood is chiefly being rolled out in Cape Town and Johannesburg, though it has groups in other towns and also a couple of international neighbourhoods are live. The two say they will establish a website for clearly-defined neighbourhoods in cities. Access to each of these neighbourhood networks will be limited to residents who reside in defined neighbourhoods.
Users will be required to provide proof of their address prior to accessing the site and only then can they contribute to the discussions and posts. The discussions will be grouped, with content differentiated by unique silos.
“OurHood will capitalise on the global trends that make the timing of the launch perfect. These include: more engaged residents and active citizens, collaborative consumption, increased use of mobile and decreasing data costs, local advertising and peer-to-peer marketing. Our digital assets will be the glue that pulls together and mobilises these newly-awakened neighbourhoods and communities,” says Bruce.
OurHood is free to residents but revenue will be generated in a number of ways, including advertising and affiliate income. Of huge financial interest will be the social graphing and data intelligence that will be produced.
OurHood aims to speak to groups of like-minded people from very similar socio-economic and LSM groups. The platform offers targeted opportunities for potential brands and advertisers, at a low cost.
The founders say they have opted for the ‘lean’ approach and will now be embarking on the next phase of development – which includes building native apps to not rely solely on a mobile-responsive site. Because it is new, the two aim at getting users to make a daily habit of visiting the site. At the moment, Facebook is there major competition and a couple of businesses making noises about this space though they are not as popular. In the US – www.nextdoor.com is a leader and is seemingly leading the way in neighbourhood social networking.
“Our site is unique and provides resources which make it locally relevant,” says Bruce, “South Africa faces the scourge of crime and it is belief that a stronger, better connected neighgbourhood will be a safer once – hence our focus on crime and notice boards. We also provide a window into e-commerce sites and others all centre on making anyone’s life in a neighbourhood better, safer and more efficient.”
Facebook is a useful tool for residents to host conversations – yet these groups have limited functionality and don’t permit a range of discussions simultaneously says Bruce as it also requires that every resident be on Facebook. OurHood will provide a dynamic platform to consolidate a number of individual sites and effectively consolidates a range of stand-alone apps.
Our Hood is well positioned to make huge inroads into the neighbourhood market – an area that the founders have focused on for over 3 years. They are working very closely with local civic bodies, neighbourhood watch groups and local authorities and have already developed a strong social media following through our existing businesses.
About Cape Town’s startups scene Bruce says there’s much potential.
“Cape Town is a great place to do business. There is strong entrepreneurial culture in the city and with it now being the World Design Capital 2014, the halogen lamp is pointed in our direction. Local media groups have done particularly well and a number of great companies have their roots here. An area of concern is the lack of a mature VC industry here – hence entrepreneurs often need to look beyond our borders. ”
The only challeges Bruce says are skills.
“I’ve noticed a lack of good development talent lately – it seems a number of start ups struggle to find the right skills in what is such a crucial area,” said Bruce.
Every day, Bruce says they are driven by the steadfast belief that their product is not only necessary, but has the potential to improve lives.
“At the same time the business model is compelling and the opportunities are enormous. There is something very special about starting a business from scratch and the energy we derive from seeing users respond positively when using our site is seriously rewarding,” Bruce concludes.