SA based classifieds platform Sirtch launches to take on OLX and Gumtree

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Sirtch is a classified ads platform aiming to connect people to products. The platform is cuurrently focusing on five categories (Electronics, Cars, Real Estate, Homeware, Jobs) which are some of the most frequently traded items. Techmoran spoke to Sirtch founder Sibusiso Khoza about his company and his vision for the company in this incredibly competitive space.

Briefly tell us about yourself, your educational background, your team and how you came together to form Sirtch?
My name is Sibusiso Khoza. I was born in Swaziland from South African parents who moved to Swaziland during Apartheid time to get education there. I moved back to South Africa to do my high school in 2001, acquired my South African citizenship 2008 and furthered my tertiary studies at Tshwane University of Technology, studying Computer Systems Engineering.
In 2012 I started a software development company with my business partner from DRC (Kelly Kuyunsa – We met at university where we were doing the same course) called Noborox where we focused on B2B solutions. I continue to hold 51% stake in the company.
Sirtch is owned 50% by Industrial African Resources (a company I fully own) and 50% by Noborox. Through IAR, I was able to develop Sirtch from concept to beta version. By bringing Noborox to the table after, we are able to bring to our users useful features that utilize spatial data like the upcoming feature called “Plan A Meet” which aims at improving safety for users at meeting locations. We are able to provide users with Point of Interest (ATMs, Police Stations, Restaurants and filling stations) through the data access we have through Noborox.

What does the word Sirtch mean?
Sirtch is pronounced as “Search” and is short for “Search Innovation Research Technologies”. The undotted “i” in our logo represents the spirit of challenging the status quo, the continuous need for innovating and looking for better ways to simplify connecting people with products and services.
Small casing in our logo represent the understanding that we do all of this in service to our users. At no moment in time in our growth and success to come, will we consider ourselves bigger than our users. Everything we do is for and to their benefit. Users will remain our employers and we will always be in service to them.

How would you describe your company; how does it work and make money?
Sirtch is an innovation driven technology business. Our core mission is to simplify connecting people with products and services. This allows us to focus our energy on building products and solutions that help people make better decisions when interacting with products and services from an online environment. We strive to provide a safe environment to trade goods and services.
B2C technology companies’ success comes from mass adoption of their products. This allows for different revenue models to be pursued; Advertisements, premium subscriptions and in-app purchases are some of the revenue models mass adoption affords these types of companies.
At this moment with Sirtch, monetizing the platform is not a priority. Growing our user base is the core focus. All Sirtch operations are currently personally funded. Working on a shoe-string budget allows us to stretch our creativity on how we spend each rand we have to get maximum impact and exposure.
I envision that this approach of watching every rand and spending wisely what we have to get maximum impact and exposure will continue even when we have attracted big rounds of funding at a later stage.
To post a Free Ad on Sirtch you need to have signed up and to have verified the email address you used to register by clicking the verification link sent to your email address.
– Once verified and have signed in on the platform,
– You can simply click on “Post Free Ads” button located on the main menu and will take you to a form that allows you to enter your ad details.
– Advert Detailed Information
– Uploading Photos of your advert to the platform
– Once completed, you can review your advert.

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Sirtch founder and CEO Sbu Khosa

What market gap did you spot that motivated you to start the company?
Entrepreneurs are generally problem solvers, their businesses at their core try to solve a problem that has directly or indirectly affected them. For over two years I used to buy items from auctions, garage sales, people online and sell for a profit to supplement my income. During this period, I picked up a few issues I kept noticing are not being attended to:
Safety when buying goods from strangers – Most of the people I was interacting with kept on expressing their horrible experiences while trying to trade with people they had met through online classifieds. For over a decade, not much innovation had taken place to make the lives of users of classifieds safer.
Local flavor and relevance – Most of the dominating platforms that currently exist were not started in South Africa. They are from countries overseas and have been tweaked a bit by adding local cities and towns to fit local consumers locations. People love to be recognized for who they really are, to be acknowledged for their uniqueness and to have the choice to be addressed in their own language of choice.
Simplicity. This has been my personal issue for a while with classifieds, they are generally cluttered with too much pop-up ads, too many categories and too many color combinations.

How has uptake been like since you launched?
We are currently experiencing traffic between 2500 – 3000 unique visitors monthly and 60 000 to 92 000 hits per month. We are working hard at gaining more exposure for the platform to grow the awareness and traffic to the platform. The most important thing though is servicing the needs of our users which will eventually translate to bigger traffic.

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Your company is in direct competition with giants like OLX. What do you do differently to distinguish yourself from them?
Our main focus is to innovate and solve the above-mentioned issues.
Safety – We are about to launch a feature called “Plan A Meet” this coming week (no later than the 4th of May, 2018), which aims at helping users plan a safe place to meet a buyer or seller. A user will type the name of the suburb where they will be meeting and through our spatial intelligence capabilities, we suggest the closest Points of Interest (Police station, restaurants, ATMs or banks and filling stations – we hope later CCTV cameras will be possible to show too). This is necessary to put our users at a better chance of avoiding being put in a situation where they are in a place they don’t feel safe at and meeting a total stranger whom they do not know and their unknow real intention other than to trade.
This feature puts Sirtch at a unique position as the only platform that goes an extra mile to put its users’ safety first. No other classified platform has done a safety feature to this level. We will continue to improve this feature over time to make it even better.
Local flavor and Relevance – Sirtch is currently offered in four languages (English, IsiZulu, IsiXhosa and Afrikaans) and more local languages will be added in time to come. This hits the nail in the head regarding giving people the choice to be addressed in their own language of choice. It recognizes that South Africans are a diverse nation, multi-cultured and it tells of the culture (within Sirtch) of recognizing that each and every user is different. This makes users feel at home, safe and acknowledged. It connects us to them at a deeper level.
Simplicity – Anyone will immediately notice when they land on our first page that our platform is clean, simple and focuses on only 5 categories (Electronics, Cars & Bakkies, Real Estate, Homeware and Jobs). These are the core needs for our users over their lifetime. At some point, they change cars, look for a better house to stay, want to change their smartphone or that couch in the lounge and always looking for a better paying job. The first place we want them to consider finding these to be Sirtch. It also makes it easier for us to moderate ads posted on our platform. We do not allow any offensive content posted on our platform – any offenders are immediately blocked.
These three differentiate us from our competition drastically as it shows how we put our users’ needs first.

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What are some of the biggest challenges you faced since the inception of the company?

The biggest challenge is being consistent with the plan when things seem to be slow, believing that consistently communicating our solutions of the issues we are trying to address will bring more success eventually. Doing this in shoe-string budget makes it very difficult especially when all the operational needs are personally funded. It requires a constant self-reminder of where we are going and why we are doing this.
It also brings out the best in our creativity to get the best out of every rand we spend. I firmly believe that all the sacrifices made and will continue to make are worth it. The business will grow and will without a doubt prove its viability, thus attracting big players to invest.

What advice would you wish to share with aspiring African entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship generally is a lonely road, especially at the infancy stage of the business. It requires entrepreneurs to take long-term view, have a level head, be consistent with the steps they are taking towards realizing their goal.
In Africa, it takes one to be very practical, realistic and very patient. Funding is one of the biggest challenges. Funding is there, it only requires one to take the journey alone first to proving viability of the business they are involved in. This is the hardest part of the road, it is riddled with self-doubt, lots of disappointments, tough decisions and difficult sacrifices to be made.
The upside of it all is that if you’re able to beat all the odds against you, are patient enough and have pushed your business towards the light at the end of the tunnel (visible signs of viability), there are a lot of venture capitalists and funding institutions across Africa willing to invest into bankable businesses. Your business doesn’t have to be already making a profit but needs to have visible signs that with the right financial input there is a chance that it could be a success story.
I would also advise entrepreneurs to have a pinch of stubbornness (to be able to carry their vision through the tough times), the will to push themselves through all the negative voices and mentors to help guide you where your knowledge fades.