Nigeria’s VacantBoards helps small businesses find advertising space

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Nigerian startup VacantBoards is taking the online marketplace concept into a new area, connecting small businesses and brands with low-cost, result-oriented outdoor advertising opportunities.

Launched in April 2014 and incubated at the Lagos-based Co-Creation Hub (CcHub), VacantBoards has already served over 250 adverts on its platform and made inroads into neighbouring Ghana.

The process of finding a billboard to advertise on, booking space, paying for it, and executing the campaign is all fully automated by VacantBoards, allowing the user to get on with running their business.

Founder Tunji Alao told Disrupt Africa the startup had realised there was no cost-effective, reliable way for small and medium businesses to utilise outdoor advertising.

“There is a lack of outdoor site inventory. Billboards, lamp posts and the like are not structured or searchable,” he said.

This is something VacantBoards set out to change, and the startup now has a listed inventort of over 3,300 billboards, lamp posts and transit media. A total of 65 operators are currently subscribed to VacantBoards, and its Android mobile app is being used to crowdsource more sites across the country.

The company received seed funding from CcHub, but relies solely on proceeds from sales and services – it charges a commission on each sale as well as offering premium services – for running costs.

Currently operating in Nigeria, and making inroads in Ghana, it plans to launch in another African country by the end of 2016. South Africa, Egypt and Kenya are possibilities.

The fact that Nigerians are yet to fully adopt e-commerce, Alao says, is a challenge for the startup.

“I see every difficulty as a hurdle that must be scaled to succeed. At the initial stage, outdoor operators never believed our platform could be useful to their business hence it took a lot of efforts to get our initial listings,” he said.

Yet he believes outdoor advertising remains viable even in an increasingly online world.

“It will only evolve. For instance, you can switch the TV channel whenever a commercial comes up, you can flip a newspaper or magazine, and online ads can be blocked. However, you cannot on your own volition move a billboard,” Alao said.

“As long as people still move from one place to the other, outdoor advertising will still be viable. Other forms of advertising and media will only complement outdoor advertising.”

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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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