A Q&A with Ziliot co-founder Aniekan Okono. The Finland–based company was founded in Fall of 2011 and launched in beta earlier this year.
SUB: Who are your target users?
Okono: We are targeting manufacturers and small businesses because manufacturers need to expand to other markets around the world. These manufacturers are looking for potential partners, resellers, distributors or agents. We are targeting small businesses that are looking for partnership opportunities, distributorship opportunities, and wholesale dealerships.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Okono: Ziliot would consider Alibaba.com competition in a way because most Asian manufacturers have their profiles and products there. Currently if small businesses are looking for wholesale opportunities, etc., Alibaba connects with Chinese manufacturers, leaving the rest of the world to effectively discover products they are interested in from other regions successfully.
SUB: What differentiates Ziliot from the competition?
Okono: Ziliot is different from its competition because of the way users discover products and credible business connections from all over the world, especially in emerging markets where most western businesses don’t have access to official databases of registered companies because they don’t exist. Also, most businesses in emerging markets don’t have websites. Ziliot is different because it has a model where members of business and industry associations, chambers of commerce, and government trade and investment organizations can add the member companies to display them and get verifications. When these organizations add their users, it enables businesses who are looking for credible connections to discover these members. We take a first step to verify the organizations and subsequently verify their members to enhance the credibility of contacts or connections that will be discovered. In our opinion, this will solve the current challenges.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Okono: Ziliot was established in October 2011, and we were lucky to have research from an organization that was specific to determining the usage of B2B Internet marketplaces. Then we started working on the web platform, which is now in public beta. And we bootstrapped from investments of money, time, sweat, tears and blood from all our co-founders who share the vision.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Ziliot? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Okono: The inspiration for the idea came in 2010 when I was working as a sales manager for a Finnish company that sold its products to Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I discovered that the current business networks and or B2B marketplaces offered little help in reaching out to emerging markets. I then started thinking of the best way to solve the problem, what was in vogue at the moment, and which particular sector has this problem. I can say that the idea was gradually developed.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Okono: The first obstacle was in choosing the right tools to develop the site, and later on it was finding the skilled developers with the knowledge of the platform we chose since we abandoned the first and second programming tools. Then another challenge was in actually convincing people that this is not just another B2B ecommerce marketplace. It looks like when the word B2B is mentioned people are automatically reminded of the poor looking marketplaces and B2B networks, the same with the name ‘B2B social network’ or calling it a ‘business social network.’ We are trying to distance ourselves from this thinking as much as possible and we are looking forward to bring the much needed innovation into this space.
SUB: Do you plan to raise funding in the near future?
Okono: Yes we are planning to raise funds because if we want to be disruptive and change the status quo, we need to have enough funds to hire the best and sustain them through the process. Also this requires marketing to create awareness in emerging markets.
SUB: What are your goals for Ziliot over the next year or so?
Okono: We are people with ideas, passion and a long term vision in mind, but it is also quite challenging from our present location to dream very big. But we’re watching how things unfold, do what we have to do and can based on what is available. On our fundraising presentations we put out a six year plan with fair estimation based on what an American counterpart or web application can achieve with the right financing in a year, two, three, four, five and six. We know entrepreneurs like to dream big and we too have what it takes to be crazy enough.
Ziliot – www.ziliot.com