South African Website to Launch in Brazil

Digital Content

A locally developed website offering free classified adverts is expanding into Brazil today in a venture backed by Internet entrepreneur Ronnie Apteker. The Vottle.co.za website lets anybody buy and sell items for free, and has grown to attract up to 400 new adverts a day and 60000 visitors a month since its debut two years ago.

Now Apteker is in Sao Paulo for the seventh time this year to launch the service on behalf its local partner, the South American publishing house Abril. "Abril is doing this because it makes sense for a physical publisher to have online publications," Apteker said.

"They are covering the costs and we are getting a modest fee, but it's a very exciting business and getting a foothold into Brazil means if we do a good job it's a stepping stone to expand there with other things."

Vottle was developed using resources from Internet Solutions, which Apteker founded. Now the software has been translated into Portuguese for Brazilian users. Lessons the team has learned through the foreign expansion will be used to improve the local site as well, Apteker said. It has yet to make a profit, although the revenue from companies advertising on the site is growing as it gains critical mass.

Vottle is a local version of Craig's List, a hugely popular US classified adverts website that now includes job vacancies, events and discussion forums for 500 cities in more than 50 countries. It attracts about 40-million people a month who publish 30-million new adverts.

Apteker is also helping the locally developed shopping site Want It All launch in Brazil at the end of next month. That site lets people buy goods that Amazon.com will not deliver to SA, by collating numerous orders that are repacked in the US and imported by courier.

Want It All was founded by brothers Justin and Ryan Drennan and their friend Terence Murphy, who believe the software can be exported to other countries that are also boycotted by Amazon.com.

They have also just launched Want It All in the UK for shoppers who prefer US goods to the European selection offered on Amazon's British website. Apteker and his friends own 30% of Want It All and are championing its foreign expansion, making Brazil an obvious choice because of Vottle's new presence there.

Apteker and Internet Solutions have begun to fill a gap caused by the lack of venture capital available for local technology start-ups. Another of their ventures is ISLabs, a mentoring centre for ideas that will improve the internet for local users. Entrepreneurs can submit ideas that will be supported if they have a chance of success.

"Venture capital in this country with regard to technology doesn't work," said Justin Spratt, a business manager at Internet Solutions. SA's internet billionaire Mark Shuttleworth and Hasso Plattner, the founder of SAP, have both created venture capital funds in Cape Town.

"Just because they are smart and made money in information technology doesn't mean their venture capital arms are smart," Spratt said. "I have experienced a lot of deals and they don't work." Spratt is also a part-owner of Vottle, and said he had spent a large amount of time working on it for no pay. "Working with smart people is the pay," he said.

Business Day