Online network Viadeo eyes Africa after shelving IPO

Reuters News
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Posted: May 31, 2011 2:50 PM

By Bate Felix

DAKAR (Reuters) - Viadeo, the world's second-biggest online networking site for professionals behind LinkedIn, plans to double its users in Africa within a year, its chief operating officer for the continent said on Tuesday.

Viadeo, which targets professionals, job seekers, recruiters and serves as a brainstorming platform for entrepreneurs, shelved plans for an initial public offering (IPO) early this month to focus on growth in emerging markets.

"I think we should be able to double the volume of members in Africa within a year," Chams Diagne, Viadeo's chief operating office for Africa, told Reuters in Dakar, referring to the current base of one million African users.

"If we put all our plans in place, I think that naturally, without effort, we should be able to generate many more members," he forecast.

Senegalese-born Diagne moved from France early this year, where he was in charge of a European unit, to build the company's presence and expansion on the continent.

"There is a market in Africa just like in China or India. At the moment everybody agrees there is a potential, that is why we decided to focus on the growth and be present here," he said.

"There is a huge appetite for social networks in Africa. If you look at the activities of our members, those from the continent are sometimes more active than in some European countries," Diagne said.

"They chat, share information on forums and seek expert advice, update their CVs and share information with peers."

Compared with LinkedIn's 100 million users worldwide, Viadeo has 35 million users, and until recently was mostly known in the French-speaking community due to its origins. It has gradually expanded its presence worldwide with offices and acquisitions in India, China and Mexico amongst others.

Diagne said the firm would look to grow its presence on the continent through acquisitions, targeting virtual and real-world associations and career groups while also building partnerships with professional associations.

But a lack of online payment options in Africa meant it would be a while before the company started generating revenues from the second of its business models which targets users of its premium content.

"We have two business lines. A business-to-business platform which we offer companies to advertise within Viadeo and another to recruit, those are our biggest revenue lines," he said.

For the business-to-consumer model, Diagne said the firm was still trying to find a better and secured payment tool because most people do not have credit cards.

"We know that half of Africa's population is under 25 years old, We know that at the moment it is difficult to monetise because of structural issues, but that will change," he said.

(Editing by Jane Merriman)