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Q&A with the Founder of Sulit.com.ph : A Philippine Buy and Sell Portal

Philippine Buy and Sell SiteFilipino’s who have recently used the search engines to look for Philippine Buy and Sell sites could have easily bumped into Sulit.com.ph owing to its high rankings in the Search Engines. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise owing to the popularity of Sulit.com.ph. Because of its huge user base and the traffic generated from it, Sulit.com.ph received 10.4 million Pageviews and 1.7M visitors for the month of November alone. To add further to its accolades, Sulit.com.ph recently ran away with the People’s Choice Award for E-Commerce site in the recently concluded 10th Philippine Web Awards. Sulit.com.ph is definitely a rising star in the Philippine online classifieds scene. Whats remarkable still, is the fact that Sulit.com.ph has been around for only a year.

I got a chance recently to throw some questions at the team behind Sulit.com.ph, RJ David (developer) and his Girlfriend Arianne(Design and Testing), to get the story on how Sulit.com.ph came to be. Prior to interviewing RJ, I informed him that I have a similar Buy and Sell Site targeted at a different market, since in a way we might be competitors, he could opt out of the interview. Even with that card laid out RJ replied to me:

“No problem. I actually learned much of what to add to Sulit.com.ph by looking at similar systems. So it is not a big deal. I will be glad to share the experience to others.”

I first encountered RJ within the catacombs of the Philippine PHP User group forums. At that time Sulit.com.ph was still nonexistent. I could characterize RJ as a very amiable and helpful fellow in the forums. Someone who was eager to give Sage advice to the Noobs of PHP. I should know as I got some good advice from him when I was still starting out with PHP. I dropped out of hanging around PHPUGPH for a while, but the last thing I remembered was RJ promoting Sulit.com.ph in the Forums. Fast forward a year later and I see my wife trolling incessantly the forums of a site that looked very familiar. Sure enough it was Sulit.com.ph. I got surprised at the growth and advancement of Sulit.com.ph after just a year of existence.

To really get to understand the attraction that users get from Sulit.com.ph I had to take a step back and ask my wife, who was looking at Sulit.com.ph from a user’s perspective and not through a techie’s eye. She said that what she liked about Sulit.com.ph was:

  1. The clean and simple interface
  2. The great Javascript enhanced image enlarge on mouseover picture gallery of the products for Sale.
  3. The large amount of posts in each category.

RJ David is young at 27 years old of age. He was a former Mechanical Engineer who left his field to become a web developer. He entered the IT industry in 2003 as a Software Test Engineer then moved on to be a PHP Architect / Senior Developer in 2005. By the end of 2005 he decided to go full time with freelancing. He said that the decision to leave the security of employment was brought about by the influence of the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” (by Robert Kiyosaki) on him.

Aside from IT projects, he also dabbled in other forms of entrepreneurship outside the IT field. But the lack of passion in those none IT ventures led him to drop them to concentrate on web based businesses. Prior to hitting the mark with Sulit.com.ph, he had four other businesses that didn’t quite make it.

With the advent of Web2.0 phenomenon, he was inspired by how the small websites/startups, run by a few founders, made it big in the industry. By May 2006 he decided to create his own online application. He realized that the capital needed to operate and maintain a website was way cheaper than other offline ventures.

During one brainstorming session with Arianne, they came up with an idea to create a classified ads website. They initially planned to operate it for a few months to collect data then analyze it afterwards to see which category would be the most popular so that they could target that niche afterwards. After 2 months of development (around August) Sulit.com.ph was born. Officially launched in September, RJ had to grapple with work responsibilities and Server issues during the launch.

Here are his answers to the questions I threw at him: [* Author’s Notes]

1. What inspired Sulit.com.ph to be created despite the fact that it already looks like a crowded webmarket?

I initially didn’t have the perception that it was already a crowded web market since it was really meant to be an experiment to gather data. Early December 2006, my girlfriend and I came to realize that there would be a nice future with Sulit.com.ph but we have to compete with big players in the local market which have already existed for years and even international classified ads with local listings were making it big locally. And of course quite a number of small and new websites trying to grab a piece of the pie in the classifieds market. Yet, the story of Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, really inspired me on how he created a service using a simple website for the community and ending up with the most successful and popular classified ads website worldwide. Ever since, I believed that if I can deliver a good service to the users through Sulit.com.ph, it is also possible to make it big someday.

2. How many people does it take to run Sulit.com.ph?

From September 2006 until July 2007, I was running Sulit.com.ph alone in my bedroom with the help of Arianne for a few hours at night answering forum posts, online marketing and other web design tasks after she was out of the office (she was working as project development lead in one of the banks in Makati). By August 2007, I requested her to resign from her job and help me manage Sulit.com.ph full time. Since then, I focused on System Administration, Maintenance and Development, Analytics, SEO and the business-side of Sulit.com.ph. Arianne take on the role of Web Design, Testing, Support, Marketing, Paper works and Organization.

3. Aside from the opportunity to network, what else do you think you are offering your users that makes it a cut above the rest?

  1. More exposure of ads to people actually searching for related keywords -> with 10.4 million pageviews and 1.7 visitors last
    November 2007
  2. Administrators listen and communicate with the members – Arianne and I are always visible in the forum.
  3. Continuous improvement of the website giving more and more benefits to the members. Members see and feel the improvements.
    We also implement member suggestions when it is proven to be beneficial to the majority of the members.

4. Did you experience any start up bumps during Sulit.com.ph’s early days that almost made you want to quit and throw in the towel?

A number of times.

  1. When Google penalize our website and removed us from the search engine result pages (SERPs) in April 2007. I painstakingly analyzed changes in the site from January to April and removed those which I think had an effect with the penalty. We were lucky to be back in the SERPs but I didn’t know what really caused it and those features removed never made it to Sulit.com.ph again.
  2. I am a web developer and not a system administrator. With the growth came problems with server performance due to high traffic. I ended up learning how to optimize a server in 2 days without sleep but it was all worth it.
  3. Yahoo! Mail bouncing all e-mails coming from our server and had more than 10K e-mails not sent to members. I had to learn how to “properly” setup an e-mail server and end up changing our e-mail policy and adding e-mail settings to profiles of our members.

5. What are the factors that you think helped Sulit.com.ph reach where it is today.

  1. SEO
  2. Service-oriented goal
  3. Community-driven approach

6. What methods of promotion did you use to market Sulit.com.ph?

  1. SEO, forums and directory listings
  2. RSS
  3. Recently, joining expos as media sponsor
  4. Raffles

7. How do you envision Sulit.com.ph to be 5 years down the road?

Available in different countries

8. Any sister sites in the offing after the Success of Sulit.com.ph?

“Success” might still be a far-fetched word in my vocabulary. But I do have 2 other projects in mind which I hope to start by next year after I have completed all the major functionalities that I am planning to add to Sulit.com.ph.

Currently, I have another project to be released in Dec. 10, which is targeting local entrepreneurs called Bizyonaryo.com. This project will provide the offline marketing needs of entrepreneurs which is obviously missing with the online nature of Sulit.com.ph, and a lot more. This project is created in alliance with PowerShopper, Inc. which is a provider of a unique Free Door to Door Media Bag.

* For current entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs looking for an online and offline marketing medium, check out the Sulit.com.ph Team’s : Bizyonaryo. It is a site where entrepreneurs can look to create and save cash for their business.

9. What monetization channels do you use to finance Sulit.com.ph?

  1. Adsense
  2. Direct Ads (major change by April 2008)
  3. Ex-deals with companies and individuals

*Ranked according to amount contributed.

10. What is the most active sector of Sulit.com.ph?

Buy and Sell followed by Real Estate.

11. Describe the average Sulit.com.ph user

Interests and professions are as broad as the categories in Sulit.com.ph. Regarding age, gender and location, I do collect the data but I still haven’t done any analytics but this will be available for the major change in Direct Advertising in Sulit.com.ph by April 2008.

12. Ycombinator VC, Paul Graham, believes that in order to succeed in an online venture, you must be a two man team. Case in point, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Paul Allen and Bill Gates, etc. Do you believe in this theory?

Sulit.com.ph is founded and being operated by a 2-man team, Arianne and I. Although I believe it should be at least 2, and one should be a techie who knows the ins and outs of the application.

13. What Offer would it take to part with Sulit.com.ph or open it up to a partnership?

Until I complete the system with the major functionalities that I plan, I don’t think it will be open up for partnership. But if ever my plan to expand to different countries pushed-through, I will definitely be looking for someone with experience to run and build a working team around this worldwide project.

Thanks to the folks behind Sulit.com.ph, for agreeing to be interviewed. Good Luck to Sulit.com.ph, Bizyonaryo as well as your other future projects.

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