Rocket Internet pulls plug on Sparklist

25 Apr 2016

After barely six months, German start-up incubator Rocket Internet pulled the plug on Sparklist, the mobile-only marketplace in Pakistan and the Philippines.

In CIR17.02 we reported an interview with Sparklist’s CEO (now ex-CEO) Nalla Karunanithy, in which he shared with us quite impressive download numbers and explained how the venture had been trawling in bargain hunters in Pakistan’s major cities since its launch in November 2015.

Now, Sparklist is no more, Karunanithy left to take up new challenges, and so have most Sparklist employees.

Until recently, Karunanithy’s LinkedIn profile page (here) said he was founder and CEO of Sparklist, a “global Rocket Internet venture”. (So, right from the word go, he had global aspirations for his brand.) Now his profile says he is founder and managing director of Bandist, a Rocket Internet music site.

The LinkedIn profile pages of many Sparklist employees confirm they have left and taken new jobs.

Nothing official has come from Rocket Internet, but Sparklist wasn’t in the Playstore when we last checked, neither could audience stats site SimilarWeb find signs of Sparklist life.

The stats of PrioriData, a Berlin-based provider of app data intelligence, also pointed to an exit from Pakistan by Sparklist. In the six weeks from the official launch date, the Android app was downloaded almost 47,000 times; in January 2016 it was downloaded 24,000 times. Then the wheels came off: 500 in February, 300 in March, 13 in April (with one week to go). The IOS numbers were neglectable in comparison.

A German start-up magazine reported the unconfirmed closure of Sparklist last week (here). We reached out to Rocket Internet’s communication department and are waiting for a reply.

But, there is also good news: the market for mobile-only stuff sites in Pakistan won’t go unexploited for long. Klasy, a mobile-only peer-to-peer marketplace, appeared on the scene to capture the market left half-explored by Sparklist.

The Android-powered Klasy facilitates c-to-c buying and selling of electronics, gadgets, clothes, household goods and books. The five-member team, led by a local graduate, aims to eventually run 12 categories, including jobs, real estate and autos. Still in its introductory stage, with no glaring promotion and branding and a tiny download number, the mobile marketplace has a long way to go.

Syed Talha Izhar, Klasy’s proverbial father, is well aware of Sparklist’s departure.

“What puts us apart, is our focus on security features,” said Izhar, an entrepreneur who graduated from a local science and technology institute. He has been working in ecommerce for the last seven years with an own business, and told us fraudulent activities could only be curbed with a tight registration process for buyers and sellers.

That’s why new Klasy users who register on the app are required to enter verification codes texted to their mobile phones – which is a common way of verifying authenticity.

A searcher is shown classified ads in his neighborhood and in a radius of up to 100 kilometers. “Though Pakistan is our focus, we also facilitate trading beyond the country borders,” Izhar said. “A majority of our app downloads is outside Pakistan.”

Klasy also offers free chats among members. Klasy will start earning revenue once it generates enough traffic, which Izhar hopes will be within the next six months.

“Right now, we want to create value and attract more merchants to our platform,” he said. “Our IOS app is in the testing phase. It will soon be available for download.”

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Tariq Ahmed Saeedi

Tariq Ahmed Saeedi covers Pakistan. Tariq is curious to dig up stories revealing the potential of technologies in turning things around.

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