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India's Internet growth took longer than expected, says OLX CEO Martin Scheepbouwer

Goutam Das     November 6, 2019

OLX India, the consumer-to-consumer marketplace for used products, has come a fair distance in India. The 10-year old company has grown to 4.5 million daily active users and gets about seven billion page views a month. Over 22,000 cars and 18,000 two-wheelers are listed on OLX everyday - automotive is its largest vertical.

Nevertheless, India still remains a market with long-term potential for the group. The OLX Group, owned by South African media group Naspers, includes companies such as OLX, Dubizzle (Middle East), Avito (in Russia), and Letgo (in US and Turkey). Many of the countries the group operates in are far bigger than India. The largest market for OLX is Brazil in terms of volume and Poland in terms of revenues.

"India is the market with the largest long-term potential for us. OLX is a platform for people to buy and sell. We were here early - 10 years ago - when Internet penetration was still very low. Today, when it comes to buying and selling, we are big fish in a small pond. Online buying and selling is still nascent in India compared to global participation rates such as how many people list for sale on a platform," Martin Scheepbouwer, CEO of the OLX Group, tells Business Today during an interaction. Scheepbouwer was in India recently.  

India's nascent status, he added, could change soon with higher Internet penetration taking root. "Internet penetration in India is now at about 500 million people. At some point, they (new Internet adopters) will also start buying and selling. Then we have a fantastic platform to benefit from provided we continue to deliver products that our customers love," the CEO says.

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Scheepbouwer wouldn't say that India has underperformed (its revenues are still modest given its continued investments in people and TV campaigns over the years). But he does acknowledge that foreign investors perhaps were oversold on the India story. "There was an early expectation that India would grow faster in Internet penetration. That took longer than expected because of costs and handset availability," he says. "But there was an enormous catch-up when Jio was rolled out three years ago. Now, it is up to us to develop the right products to serve these new users well because they are different from the first set of Internet adopters," he adds.

India's new Internet users don't necessarily speak or read English. New web products, thereby, got to be developed differently. "It is time to make the platform accessible in multiple languages. Whether it would be through typing, voice, images - I am not sure. In Russia, we have picture search. You could take a picture of a chair and see if its available on Avito. That doesn't require a lot of language interaction," Scheepbouwer says.

India's early Internet adopters were mostly from metros and spoke English. They also had means to own a car, one of the reasons why automotive became a large vertical for OLX. The company now needs to diversify for its next phase of growth. It wants to bet on areas such as online jobs classifieds. In January 2019, OLX acquired Aasaanjobs, a recruitment marketplace for blue and grey collar jobs in India.

"Jobs in the traditional classified model were not served well because the way people buy and sell a chair is different from the way you find a job or look for an employee, both from a brand and the emotional perspective. It requires a different product format that gives more information to job seekers," the CEO says. "In India, there is also the complexity around the process to recruit someone. Aasaanjobs has end-to-end process management that allows companies to get more information about the candidate before they are invited for interviews. There are also other features to ensure that the company's time is not wasted waiting for candidates that never show up," he adds.

OLX India did have a jobs section but Scheepbouwer expects it to "disappear in its old form" post the integration of Aasaanjobs. In the old form, there was not enough information for job seekers to decide, too many random responses for recruiters, and no process management. "There is little bit of money to be made but it is insignificant compared to the opportunity that we can capture if we do an end-to-end recruiting solution," the CEO says. 

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