(The stock excnahe screenshot was updated on 31/07/2016 for better understanding)
“Internet is like a railroad. Every one knows that it works, but none knows when it ends.” – But what if the railroad is built on fake tracks and we have been given a false destination? Does the money from investors fund an empty dream, or worse yet somebody else’s pockets, and returns nothing more than air?
My name is Andriy Bondar and this is my insider account of what really is happening in the world of internet marketing, a world of fake heroes, fairytales, puppets, and empty promises.
Who am I?
Since 2006, I have created websites into businesses for vehicle advertising in Africa and Asia. I have done thousands of websites and this is without exaggeration. I have made millions of dollars for myself, my partners and business investors by focusing solely on the business of online vehicle advertising. For the first 5 years I was working for 16 hours a day, not moving outside of my house, and the few hours that I slept I dreamt of scripts & concepts for vehicle advertising solutions online.
Countless stories later, my current portfolio is visible on current website. This represents only a minute % of the work that has been done in since our establishment, the % that I live of. The other let’s say 80% is no longer in my hands or may not be presented here due our commercial obligation to restrict our relations to some of our projects.
What does it take to make money from online vehicle classifies?
First what you need to understand clearly is that for the developers or the website (business) owners to make money from online vehicle classified sites it is completely unnecessary to make a website popular. This may seem counter-intuitive as we all think that a website is only profitable when people use it and make transaction on it. Well, the truth is you just need to be good at selling the idea to the next person with more money than yourself who can then reach out to the next investor and so-on. Internet businesses can be easily (mis-)used in such a way, like an investment vehicle, building on the illusion for the next potential “victim” (investors).
One of my bosses who eventually became a partner once said to me:
“Internet is like a railroad. Every one knows that it works, but none knows when it ends.”
This stayed with me. It really explained the ephemeral nature of the business I am in. Some sort of empty “hug” to credulous investors, a virtual un-gentlemanly shake.
Comparing internet businesses with “the Gold Rush” might now seem cliché to most, and this would be OK if it didn’t come with such real and devastating repercussions to everybody who believes the hype.
Yes they are dressed in beautifully tailored blue suits, no tie to reflect the air of intrepidness, a tech-era visionary rhetoric that is so pleasing to the ear.
The scene is set. The actors are in place. The story promises “gold”. Now we need somebody to fund the production. New economies, emerging economies, unexplored worlds of opportunity where few rules apply... lots of “gold”.
What every one seems to be forgetting is that the tools that are purportedly used to extract that “gold” could sum much more than the actual value of the “gold” lying underground.
Here is the thing, those people in this business who promise “gold” – they are making money by “selling tools”; they do not really care if the gold will come. It does not mean that there is no “gold”, all what I say is that people who say so, and make the tools to extract it - do not care about it.
The story that led to this understanding
In September 2014, I launched the project in Uganda, Africa under the name www.cars.co.ug with a monthly marketing budget coupe of thousand US dollars per month. When I mentioned my budget to my local partner, David, he thought that I was joking with him. He could not believe that we can start such a venture with and compete against African Media Group under the brand “Cheki Africa” who boasted their $10,000,000 USD investment from some Australian investment group.
After some back and forth I somehow convinced him to jump into the venture. After just one year of operations, David reports that accoding to dealer's feedback our site is selling more cars for them. For the purpose of context, Checki Uganda had been running for years, reportedly invested huge sums of money and carry a huge media presence with ads all over Uganda: from build boards, to newspapers, TV & radio.
In November 2014, I launched the project in Tanzania, under the name www.autohub.co.tz with a monthly marketing budget couple of housand US dollars per month, and local partner who similarly had doubts but was finally inclined to join me in this venture to try to compete with now two well known “giants” of the industry, Cheki Africa and Carmudi. In little time he reports that the car sales from our website exceed that from other sites mantioned above.
He is incredulous and does not understand how it is possible, as these guys have major investment behind them publicized specifically towards the purpose of increasing their operations, and well, he really thought that we have no chance to compete with “the big guys”.
Before Uganda & Tanzania – IcarAsia was trying to buy 50,1 % of www.philmotors.com - our business entry in the Philippines, but I considered their deal was not attractive enough and denied their offer.
Then Malaysian based Frontier contacted me with proposal to take my website concept with their investment to African countries where we were not represented yet. When I disclosed my business model and mentioned the amount of money I really needed and that I can offer over 50% of the business - they got confused:
a) They were not happy that I asked for too little money, because if so little money needed - there is no space for a later investor to make their own cut.
b) They could not understand why I am giving away such a large % of my business and not taking at least half, but when I said that investing in Africa is a big risk, that there are no guarantees, and because of their investment they deserve such a % - they refused to believe in my decency and started to suspect some “catch” from my side.
Eventually I got into an unsavory e-mail exchange with Mr. Shaun Di Gregorio (CEO of Frontier DV) who blamed me for not knowing how to run the business, with me blaming him for other things in return. It would make good reading, but it is not to the point now.
Even an Australian investment bank contacted me during this time before they made the deal with Media One (Cheki Africa), but eventually they did not come back as well as the rest of these potential investors.
This whole chain of events really got me thinking. Why is it that I have a proven business model, with clear income streams, and am not able to close a deal with these interested investors? Why are these investors choosing my competitors who from my well-educated point of view make a much lower offer technologically and conceptually from the technology which I offer in the market?
My arrogant behavior? Rude attitude? Limited knowledge of English? …
Or is it possible that the reason for all of the above is that my business model is not included kind of way of "cashing back"?
Let’s reflect on this a second:
If someone decides where to invest $25,000,000 USD and cares little about the result of such an investment, makes a huge deal in the market about their own investments as the little daughter of a public company somewhere… is it possible that those guys were not looking for a real business opportunity at all, but they were looking for "cash back" or shall we dare say, "money laundering"?
Hypothetically! It is logical or not? - You decide!
The only explanation that comes to my mind, is that they only use the ‘idea’ of online vehicle advertising to sell it to the general public as a kind of commercial off-shoring of the stock market shares. Its attractive, sounds nice, and aligns well with the emerging market-global storylines and the all conquering nature of the internet. For the average investor this sounds just about how online vehicle advertising works, and all media news about the size and value of the investment and level of success reinforces their belief. Whether these messages come in paid blog posts, pre-releases, or filter through unassuming mainstream media.
When I see how much money Carmudi spends in the Philippines, according to their own PR spin - I am failing to understand the logic of their investment. We service the same clients, the car dealers in the Philippines, and the money is simply not there to support this investment. Not now, now in 10 years time. Unless of course the logic is not to make money at all, that is, to create a real revenue model to actually monetize the business, but only to spend more just for the one reason - to attract more investors.
Because during 5 years of our operation on the Philippines we have only spent few hundred thousands USD and philmotors.com is already ranked on Google very well for top car sales keywords. Car dealers say Philmotors.com works best. Yes, we are still struggling to monetize the business, but at least the project pays for itself and does not take any more investment. That means that we can afford to offer all car dealers our service absolutely for free without loosing any value and money. But this can be understood ok with a few hundred thousands USD private investment but probably it will not be ok with $10m.
Why should we care?
What other people do with their money should not be much of my concern, or probably anybody else’s for that matter. However, maybe we should stop to think of two things.
1 is this a service or a de-service to the local economies, clients, and users who are used as puppets by being offered sub-standard services with zero value to their interests?
2 should we allow for this charade to continue, where so-called internet visionaries are praised for making false headlines after false promise. Should we be following the steps of the Maydoff’s of the internet for a couple of quick bucks, or worse yet for no bucks at all?