OurHood neighbourhood network plots overseas expansion

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Ever been in a Facebook group for your local area and become irritated by the amount of trolling or irrelevant content spewing onto your News Feed? Or been frustrated at the linear randomness of a WhatsApp group about your neighbourhood? Well, in South Africa at least, there is now a site for you.

OurHood launched in May after raising seed funding, providing private local neighbourhood networks allowing neighbours to access information specifically relevant to them.

The online platform is designed to facilitate conversations between neighbours, and is broken down into several sections meaning users can skip directly to the things they need, unlike in more disorganised Facebook and WhatsApp groups.

One section of the site allow users to report criminal activity – with all group members then send a toggle on-or-off free SMS notifying them of anything posted in the section. A neighbourhood trading post allows users to buy, sell or lend things locally, while directories advise on the best plumbers, electricians or doctors. Faulty street lights or potholes can be communicated to the local representative, and events can be advertised.

Meanwhile, the site’s monetisation strategy – it has already made some revenues and is targeting ZAR1.5 million (US$130,000) by the end of its first year – is based around being able to provide neighbourhood-specific deals and advertisements provided by local companies.

OurHood founder Bruce Good told Disrupt Africa that though people already used services like Facebook and WhatsApp to communicate with their local communities this was more due to a lack of any other option than the fact they did a good job.

“That’s probably one of our biggest challenges, that people use those sites,” Good said. “But they could be a lot more effective, and that’s where we come in. We’ve created something that’s locally much more relevant. You can go on it whenever you like and you know that the information will be relevant to you.”

He said the aim of OurHood is to create stronger communities, with people needing to be verified before being allowed to join an otherwise entirely private neighbourhood.

“It’s a way for neighbours to connect with each other. For something as important as neighbours there has never been a social network for them,” he said. “We’re trying to bring back the old spirit of neighbourhood by using the digital world.”

Even though May’s launch was only a soft one, and OurHood does not plan a full-on national campaign until January when its iOS and Android apps are ready, the site is already hosting 355 neighbourhoods with 5,000 users.

These neighbourhoods are spread across South Africa, though mostly in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and interest has come from elsewhere also. There are already a number of neighbourhoods in Namibia and Botswana, and the site has just established its first in the Spring Valley area of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Good said he had had to work hard to push the concept out, but now neighbourhoods are usually added at the request of local people.

“What I’ve been doing is going to a lot of neighbourhood watch meetings and meeting people who don’t have the money to build the technology but want to communicate with residents. They then have a way of communicating with their database through our site,” he said.

“Anyone that has a vested interest in where they live will want to use this. For 99 per cent of the population, your home is your biggest asset. We’ve actually had a lot of requests from the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK) and Canada so we’re going to set up there as well.”

The company currently has five permanent staff, but will be seeking further funding early next year for marketing, sales and expansion purposes, as it looks to add more neighbourhoods further afield.

“You have to have local knowledge and local marketing for local people,” Good said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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