With $25M Backing, Saltside Wants To Be The Craigslist For Emerging Markets

The long road to making markets work starts with marketplaces. It’s no surprise therefore that simple classified advertising sites have been hits in emerging markets like Africa. From Howzit, to N-Soko, to even Craigslist Kenya, classified platforms have proliferated across Africa and Asia as basic internet access has spread. Most sites have grown organically, while others were created by existing corporates like newspaper groups.

Few have tackled the problem in the way a start-up might, but one that is taking this approach is Saltside Technologies.

This classifieds platform aimed at emerging markets has raised $25m in equity funding, backed by Investment AB Kinnevik, a listed Swedish investment house with a specialism in emerging markets.

Founded three years ago, the European tech company has operated largely in stealth to the eye of the Western media, but has been quietly building out its substantial operations in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Ghana, Africa.

Its sites include ikman.lk in Sri Lanka, Bikroy.com in Bangladesh, Tonaton.com in Ghana, and Dekho.com.pk in Pakistan.

Just to put that in context, these countries comprise an audience of around 200 million people and where internet penetration is projected to triple over the coming years, powered largely by mobile access. Online advertising in these geographies is expected to reach $2.8 billion by 2016, according to some estimates.

The company claims listings are currently growing at 300pc a year, and its sites now draw hundreds of millions of views a month.

Saltside’s sites place a particular focus on listings of cars and properties, but chief executive Nils Hammar says it goes after markets where it has first-mover advantage.

Hammar and his co-founder James Peck, were among the first employees at Skype. Hammar also founded networking site Kindo, which sold to MyHeritage.

Saltside is headquartered in Gothenburg, Sweden, where its development team is located, but the company also has staff on the ground in Dubai, Bangladesh, Ghana, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It has 150 employees in total.

Hammar says the company has put great stock by having ‘boots on the ground’ in the form of local teams in its main markets. “Each advert is curated and checked by the teams in the local markets, which we think is why we are growing in these markets,” he told me.

Startups like this could be acquisition targets by media groups, but if they play their cards right big portals like eBay, which has acquired similar sites, may come calling in the future.