Che Kohler co-founder of nichemarket tells us how they offer online marketplaces for entrepreneurs and SME’s and promote local businesses.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Che Kohler: We’ve lost some members of our extended family, but the immediate family has been fortunate during these times. It has naturally been a shift for everyone, but we’ve managed to move past it and made the best the last year.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded nichemarket.
Che Kohler: I started out in the marketing department at one of South Africa’s largest eCommerce retailers kalahari.com (now Takealot.com), and developed my trade there. I was lucky to have some great mentors who were willing to let me get involved in so many facets of the business as well as the various marketing channels, and I learned a lot in those first few years.
Eventually, I settled on SEO as the marketing channel I wanted to focus on and moved on to a multi-national online travel agency, Travelstart, which gave me the opportunity to work with an international team based all over the world. Being so completely focused on SEO, I noticed that locally it was very hard to find smaller service providers online.
Advertising for small businesses locally is a fragmented market between classified sites, social media, newspapers and dark social. I thought there needed to be a central jumping-off point where South African businesses can add their services and consumers would have a portal to find alternatives that weren’t big-box retailers or larger companies with an advertising budget to spend on digital.
I wanted to bring more small businesses online and give consumers more options, and that’s now nichemarket was formed. My co-founder and I bootstrapped the company with our own funds, and we’ve been self-funded for the last five years. We eventually launched the platform in January of 2019, and we’ve managed to list 5000 businesses thus far.
How does nichemarket innovate?
Che Kohler: Our company innovates by leveraging a team of talented remote workers and freelancers whom we’ve screened and worked with for years now. We’re able to secure high-quality talent at a fraction of the cost, and we’re confident in their ability to produce results which have kept us lean and still able to produce results.
We also look at ways of augmenting our SAAS service to provide more value to more consumers and more readers. At the moment, we currently provide
- localized SEO service for small business by way of our directory listings
- a geolocation-based advertising service by way of our classified section
- an information hub by way of our blog
- an outreach service by way of our self-publishing service
And we’re planning to launch new features in the near future, such as job boards, microtasks/gig work, funding services, and more. We’ve also been securing cryptocurrency on our businesses balance sheet as we plan to add it as a transactional lawyer in the future and lower the barrier to entry we find with local and international payment rails, which would drive up the cost of the services we want to launch and reduce the viability.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Che Kohler: The pandemic has affected us both positively and negatively. Our income from 3rd party advertising has seen a decrease as businesses reduce their marketing budgets and are trying to allocate spend more effectively. However, our marketing consultation services have grown in popularity as we see a growing trend towards businesses wanting to bring marketing in-house and require guidance to do so and where to focus.
This shift has naturally helped off-set the impact of revenue loss, but that doesn’t mean we continued as usual. We’ve also reduced our development sprints on our SAAS platform. We are rather focusing on fixing smaller issues and bugs rather than releasing new features as we refine the product. We will also rather look to soft launch features in the future rather than try to gain traction with big launches and marketing campaigns.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Che Kohler: Luckily, we’ve always been a remote team since we started, which made it easier to manage costs, and we always believed that freelance workers were a better option for our business model. Sure we’ve been moving fewer orders to our freelance team members, but they are able to allocate their billing hours to other projects to compensate. I do think that we were lucky in taking this option, and building up a network of trusted freelancers with a proven track record took some time, but it has proven to be a worthwhile endeavor.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Che Kohler: Customer relations have changed a bit, where previously we would have plenty of face-to-face meetings and catch-ups each month with clients we consult for or work within their offices, for the time being, this has changed, and everything has moved towards video calling. We use a combination of Asana and Zoom for some clients, while others prefer to keep everything in Microsoft teams.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Che Kohler: No, we’ve not applied for any grants or received any grants. We were able to lean up operations and reduce our burn rates to give us more breathing room. Having retained earnings means we were able to make these decisions and factor in how much runway we could extend based on certain cost-cutting measures.
Your final thoughts?
Che Kohler: I would encourage business owners to not be resistant to change, to embrace technology where it makes sense to help bridge the gap, don’t be afraid of cost-cutting measures, and extending your runway as far as possible into the future. The more breathing space you give yourself, the better choices you can make instead of frantically trying to secure cash flow to service your expenses. Really double down and see where things are costing you money and time and evaluate how you can progress without it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or collaborate with other businesses, and this could be as simple as splitting your office space with another business or working closely with complementary services to refer to one another clients.