Sweden's Saltside sees massive traction with classifieds in emerging markets

    Classified sites are extremely local, making it that much more remarkable that Gothenburg-based Saltside Techologies has been on a roll with creating a listing sites in Bangladesh, Ghana, and Sri Lanka. The company has been growing at 300% per year, and have beaten out local and international competitors in auto, property, and general classifieds. Saltside is led by CEO Nils Hammar, who one of the first employees at Skype who also founded networking site Kindo which sold to MyHeritage in 2008. Saltside is backed by Investment AB Kinnevik, a Swedish investment house with some expertise in emerging markets, and has already raised $25 million in equity funding.

    Classified sites face the classic chicken and egg problem where you need to attract plenty of buyers and sellers in order for there to be a proper marketplace. How they managed to do this seems to be the interesting angle here, but after some pestering Hammar still didn’t divulge what their recipe was to build up a critical mass other than saying “there are some methods,” but it’s clear they’ve been successful.

    In Bangledesh, for example, Saltside’s Bikroy.com overtook the classifieds market leader Ekhanei.com, owned by Schibsted/Telenor, within 12 months of launching. In Ghana, the company says that Google decided to pull their service after Saltside’s Tonaton started taking off, becoming the 7th most visited site in the country. In Sri Lanka, nearly 50% of the country’s online population visits Ikman.lk monthly, making it the biggest classified site in their key categories.

    Talking to ArcticStartup, Hammar tells us they’re more than a barebones Craigslist, instead making modern full-featured sites tackling everything from secondhand goods, car dealers, property listings, and job listings. “We’re looking how we’re providing the Craigslist, Trulia, Car Fax, and Monster.com to some extent,” says Hammar.

    To support this growth, Saltside has grown to 200 people, of which 90% are locally based. In 2012 Saltside first went into these markets without any local employees, which Hammar says was an “opportunistic” view of the world. Today they have it set up where Heads of Sites of Swedish origin are running each country’s platform, staffed by local employees to sell ads, do customer support, and so on. Back in Sweden they develop the platform and additionally have experts who are a resource to the on-the-ground teams to help with customer support and other topics.

    Despite this growth, Saltside can’t get too comfortable – their markets are in flux. Ghana, Bangledesh, and Sri Lanka are rapidly coming online and users are switching between mobile and fixed connections to access the internet. “Hopefully we can discuss in five years in how these markets have rapidly changed, and internet penetration has rapidly changed, and the business has changed over these years,” says Hammar.