Name change is ‘sulit’ for OLX
Many people may doubt the wisdom of changing the name of their eight-year-old online buy-and-sell advertising service, but RJ David says becoming OLX Philippines (OLX PH) is definitely “sulit” (worth it).
David is co-founder and managing director of the erstwhile Sulit.com.ph, a virtual cottage industry when it started in 2006. He and his wife, Arianne Rose, head of operations, ran it from his parents’ home.
David says it was not easy to drop their original name. After all, choosing a good catchy name the first time was a challenge.
“Arianne and I wanted a name that Filipinos could relate to and, at the same time, describe what our platform offered,” he says.
Sulit means getting your money’s worth and that is what the couple hoped to offer clients.
Changing to OLX PH, David says, brings them “one step closer to taking our brand to the next level. Joining OLX meant being part of the world’s leading classifieds platform that’s available in 40 growth markets in Asia, Africa, Middle East, Latin America and Europe.”
They realized Sulit had become part of the Filipinos’ language and lifestyle, but David says the “bold business move” of changing their name “is now creating opportunities for us.”
“Being part of a global brand, I am confident that OLX can…surpass what we…ever imagined for Sulit,” he says.
RJ and Arianne, who got married two years after they launched Sulit, feel they are up to the challenge of getting both regular and new clients to accept the new brand.
After all, they faced the same struggle when they set up Sulit when they were both just 26 years old.
Although the Internet was booming then, with websites growing from 20,000 in 2000 to 92 million by the time they launched their start-up in 2006, the year YouTube was born, their resources were limited so they could not take full advantage of the dramatic increase in Filipinos’ online activities.
But David, a mechanical engineering graduate of the University of the Philippines, inspired by trailblazers Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Kevin Rose of Digg who, at a very young age, “created something useful to a lot of people through the…Internet,” decided he was capable of big projects, too.
The freelance web developer and Arianne, who was then working in a bank, “decided to pursue our own project because we believed we had the capability to do it and it was an opportunity to be able to help a lot of people.”
With an initial outlay of P2,400, of which P600 went to domain rent, the Davids worked out of his parents’ home where they did not have to pay rent or use of electricity.
RJ became Sulit’s product and technical manager and Arianne, who eventually left her job to work full time in their company, was chief web designer and test engineer.
“We had to conduct a lot of guerrilla marketing techniques to attract users without incurring substantial costs. The initial challenge was getting people to register and post ads on the site. Arianne and I did all the leg work and had to wear many hats to sustain the increasing traffic we got shortly thereafter,” David says.
Despite the Filipinos’ growing familiarity with the Internet and smartphones, David says many were not accustomed to selling stuff they no longer needed, let alone doing it online. In many households, getting rid of still usable items means giving them away to relatives or friends.
Offering the ad service for free, however, encouraged prospective sellers to consider going online to dispose of excess or unused stuff. After a slow first three months, interest grew so quickly that David says they had difficulty coping with the demand.
People began realizing they had stuff they wanted to sell and earn from.
The choice of name, David admits, helped a lot, as the name suggested clients would get value for money.
“(Sulit) was definitely a game changer because this allowed (people) to promote their items to thousands of potential buyers without having to spend so much. Plus, they can do it inside the comfort of their own homes. It’s a win-win situation for us and our users,” David says.
Despite some initial skepticism, David says more people were persuaded that selling online was safer, easier and faster.
“The beauty of online selling is your ad gets seen by hundreds of buyers quickly and not only by people living within your area, as with garage sales,” David says.
It is also easier because they can do it using a computer or smartphone.
He adds that people find it easier to sell things to strangers than to people they know.
“Besides,” Arianne says, “other people may find value in an item that relatives and friends will not see.”
The online site has hosted ads for the sale of cockroaches, a tank—well, an armored truck really—and a personal plane.
Last year, OLX PH, still known as Sulit, launched the campaign Ibenta Mo Na!
The campaign has now become a house-to-house initiative, with OLX PH teams visiting homes to encourage families to sell online.
David says profiling their sellers showed that most of them are mothers, not surprising since they know exactly what household items are no longer needed.
Members of the OLX PH team also help households identify what items are likely to attract buyers, as many people do not realize that others may want what they have—as the saying goes, one person’s junk may be another one’s treasure.
In homes without computers or smartphones, Arianne says their agents bring laptops with dedicated wifi connection or mobile phones for instant Internet access and help families offer items online. As many prospective sellers do not have e-mail addresses, they use mobile phone numbers as contact detail.
OLX PH people also offer free services like taking photos of items for sale and uploading them to the website on the spot.
The Davids assure the public the OLX PH teams do not go to communities without coordinating with barangay officials. They come in pairs with proper identification documents.
OLX PH also organize barangay, school and office events to encourage people to turn into cash items that are just gathering dust in their households. And the service is free.
David says their goal right now is for OLX PH to get “another million Filipinos” to sell online.
He says they decided to accept only sellers’ ads and leave out want or need ads, like people wanting to hire somebody or looking for specific items, as website visitors are not really interested in those. Personal ads have also resulted in complaints, even visits from authorities.
David says, from the beginning, they have encouraged C2C, customer to customer or face-to-face interaction, to minimize scams and fraudulent transactions. That is why, although OLX is a global brand, the Philippine affiliate still wants people to sell locally—that is to prospective buyers they can easily meet personally. OLX Philippines does not get to see items offered online, David says.
As for keeping the site secure from hackers, he says they have online security experts monitoring it 24/7. But “educating the public is key to overcoming fears and apprehension,” David says.
Sulit’s partnership with the South African-based OLX, for David, shows just how far the Filipino startup has gone in eight years. The linkup, he says, gives Sulit, probably the country’s biggest online business right now, exposure in 100-plus markets.
David says many people still call the company Sulit and look for its website. But the number is decreasing although OLX PH still has a lot of work to do to promote the new brand.
But he and Arianne have no regrets about the change in name.
“When we underwent rebranding, we were ready for the reaction and feedback…good or bad. Not everyone understood our decision but we were committed to get the next one million Filipinos to sell online,” he says.
David says that this year, the number of sellers went up significantly, showing acceptance of the brand.
“Our users recognize it’s the same brand they’ve come to know, just with a different name,” he says.
OLX, he points out, is among the world’s most used online platforms, surpassing the 200 million active monthly users worldwide, with more than 11 billion monthly page views or 360 million page views each day. Locally, OLX Philippines has 12 million page views monthly.
Whatever inconveniences they had when they first became OLX PH, David says, “Considering the growth we are experiencing now…the (initial) disadvantages were just minor bumps along the road to rebranding.”
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