VConnect is a local search portal that was launched few years ago in Nigeria. In this exclusive interview with eT Edge News crew, the General Manager, Mr. Deepankar Rustagi revealed how the website with over 200,000 searches per day has empowered over 700,000 businesses in Nigeria.
How does VConnect work and how has it contributed to the Nigerian economy?
VConnect is a local search engine portal where users come on board and find business at their convenience using their laptop and phones. We have over 700,000 businesses listed and verified with detailed addresses, phone numbers etc. We also have testimonials of users; these are people that have used the services. VConnect is connecting buyers and suppliers. Our main objective is to support the small and medium enterprises ensuring they grow in every sphere of their businesses. We identify with them as the hub of the Nigerian economy and so, their growth is very critical. We help them generate leads through our various tools. In addition, we also develop this sector by teaching them how to manage their businesses online, reputation management, database marketing and so on. What we do is to find out who they want to reach, communicate their strategies and take their business to the targeted people and connect them to the right market. That’s how we grow these businesses. We feel by doing this, GDP level will increase and most of the businesses will be easier to sustain themselves and employ more people. That’s how we contribute to the local economy.
What attracted you to the Nigerian market?
I have grown up in Nigeria; I left for some time and came back. I have been in Nigeria for 14 years and have studied here. Even my dad used to work here, when I came to Nigeria after my degree in engineering and Diploma in entrepreneurship skill, I started working with some multinational brand and tried to understand the working scenario of the country, and that’s very interesting. Few years back, when there is the need for very important information like finding a hospital, restaurant or even a police station in Lagos, the internet will direct you to some place in Portugal because there is a town called Lagos in Portugal. There were no Lagos restaurants listed on the internet few years back. That is why we decided to start VConnect. Initially it was a very challenging task for us because building data base was not easy especially the first eight months, you have to go out to the field and interact with people, people will be sceptical and ask you who is VConnect and we didn’t have a website then. It took a lot of efforts to gather these data. We tried our best, you know most people in Nigeria have GSM not landline so if one person moves out of business the number changes, so we have to be very interactive with these businesses by keeping these numbers and data alive. This was a big challenge, but eventually they came on board and we gave them log in IDs, they provided details and we manage their online profile at no cost, we also provide a mini websites for them at no cost.
You have spent so much to build the database. VConnect works with the internet, broadband is still a challenge, how are you breaking even?
VConnect was partnering with Mobile Monday on a project called HACKATHON, what is it all about?
HACKATHON is basically where you get a lot of developers and you give them a stability time and you ask them to develop a module and present. This is basically a talent identification site. We call people with the help of MobileMonday, we called over 100 developers and shortlisted them, and over 50 developers that were good, we gave them an objective and some of them have innovative brilliant ideas and suggestions that you will be able to identify. We are working with them to groom them in bringing their suggestions to life. We are the future leaders and we would love to lead the industry in future, it’s not all about being good today but takes you to the growth path you want to be in future, that’s what we are doing. HACKATHON is one of the initiatives designed to identify very good talents, and these talented young Nigerians were given awards.
How do you manage to update your site, in case a business changes numbers and locations – how can that be sorted out?
We have a call centre. What we do is to call these people to verify the data, sometime we might get wrong data, but we call to verify, so every number that is not getting connected we try to verify. But such cases are minimal, about 1%-2%. Any number that you see on the VConnect site has been called to be verified every quarter. The main thing is that our data base gives you the highest connecting data in Nigeria. If somebody is not getting connected around April-May we verify at the end of the quarter we bring the site down. Assuming you take any government data for instance you find old landline numbers etc but in our data we have GSM numbers and we connect to them and get them updated.
You said that you have over 700,000 businesses listed?
We recently crossed the bench mark of over 700,000 businesses listed and we are projecting it comes to a million mark before the year runs out.
Is it possible to know the traffic on the site on daily basis?
The approximate number of searches on the sites is over 200,000 searches every day.
If registration is free, how then does VConnect make profit?
If a business wants to keep in touch, there is a use of flash which we give to business community; we charge a token amount for that. We do not have to reach the entire populace in Nigeria, for instance a laundry in Apapa will not likely reach out to people in Lekki, so this promotional tool narrows the clients down to Apapa. That’s one of the ways we make money.
How is VConnect search portal different from other search portal like Google?
Google is basically huge company and they are aggregators and they are Data Company and whatever you search for Google will provide you the link and Google is technologically based, but we are data base company. We provide strictly local content on B2B and B2C basis and we are different from Google because we are data based company.
What are the challenges of doing business in Nigeria?
In the terrain that we operate in there are challenges. This is a new form of business so you have to actually demonstrate things to them, show them how it works. Those were the initial part but now we have referrals and testimonials. Another thing is that internet has been a big challenge to us. Everyone said we are working for small and medium scale business but we have said it loudly and clearly that we can work with banks, government etc, we can provide data for them. VConnect target the growth of SMEs, but then, these big organizations are not left out, but our main focus is SMEs.
Is it possible to know your staff strength?
We have 100 people working in VConnect presently and they are divided into segments. 70% of them on board and the remaining 30% on the field collecting data and relating with users.