Propped up by the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, this small, nimble group in Lagos want to change the face of advertising, Solomon Elusoji writes

Last year, a tyre retailing business, Etyres, started to advertise on Facebook, hoping to increase web traffic to its website and drive sales. But none of those objectives were met. “We were disappointed,” the company’s Director, Chiebuka Nworah, told me, “all our expectations were dashed.”

What Etyres does, basically, is to counsel car owners on the right tyre product that suits their vehicles, deliver it to their doorsteps and give them accurate expiry details and its ideal customers were car owners in Lagos.

In October 2016, Etyres decided to try another solution by partnering with Dochase, an internet marketing and programmatic advertising company. On its website, Dochase boasts of being able to reach up to a billion customers across the internet.

“It was their low-budget, high-performance pitch that drew me to them,” Nworah said. “And I just thought, why not try them for a month.” Etyres went ahead to partner with Dochase and, one month later, the results were astounding. The company’s website traffic increased by 300 per cent, return visits increased by 200 per cent, online sales grew by 150 per cent and effective cost per customer decreased by 40 per cent. “I am going back this Christmas to buy more advertising space from them,” a sated Nworah said.

In 2013, a digital media and marketing company based in South Africa, Adclick Africa, was looking to run online advertising campaigns with African publishers. The company, too, turned to Dochase. “Working with them has been very beneficial for us,” Publisher Relations and Campaign Management officer at AdClick, Joyce Mogweng, told me. “We have been running online campaigns for different brands in South Africa, increasing their online revenue. Dochase is a network with many Nigerian publications and they have premium inventory which our clients want for their brands. They also have massive Pan African traffic which most of the brands are looking for.”

This November, I visited Co-Creation Hub in Yaba, where Dochase is domiciled. The company’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Chibuike Goodnews, dressed in t-shirt and jeans, welcomed me with a smile. I was curious about the company’s role in the grand scheme of internet advertising, an industry dominated by Google and Facebook? Does Dochase have ambitions of competing with two of the most successful companies in history? Not exactly, according to Goodnews. “We see it as collaboration, not competition,” he said.

What Dochase is, essentially, is a digital marketplace that enables advertisers and publishers to buy and sell advertising space, often through real-time auctions. Through Dochase, advertisers can run campaigns, like the guys at Etyres did, that target audiences on social media, mobile, and through display banners on several websites. “We help you to optimise your budgets and track your performance,” Goodnews said.

According to a special investigation conducted by a brand magazine, Marketing Edge, earlier this year, an estimated N13.4 billion representing about 54 per cent of total media advertising spend in 2016 went unaccounted for. This sort of wastage is what Dochase wants to minimise.

Although Dochase works with local agencies and direct advertisers, Goodnews told me that their biggest customers have come from foreign companies trying to improve brand awareness and sales in Nigeria. The marketing agreement they struck with Adclick, for example, has seen them work with several premium brands including IBM, Stanbic IBTC and Jaguar. “Most of these foreign advertisers cannot reach people in Africa and our platforms help them do just that,” he said.

Apart from helping advertisers optimise every naira spent on marketing, Dochase also wants to help publishers increase revenue. The company fills approved publisher’s websites with adverts from local and international advertisers, let them compete for the traffic, ensuring the higher bidder wins. But websites must be genuine and meet Dochase’s quality standards.

The kind of advertising Dochase does is still relatively new in Nigeria. Many advertisers prefer to buy Television, Radio and Print ads, while ad send on social media – Facebook, Twitter – continues to gain traction.

A ‎Senior Business Development Manager at Eskimi, a programmatic platform, Uchechi Nwanejuafor, told me that the value of programmatic advertising is about three to five per cent of the almost N100 billion advertising industry. “Agencies are adopting programmatic advertising a bit slowly but the numbers are picking up in 2017 and 2018 looks even brighter,” she said. “The depth of targeting and audience data insight programmatic advertising offers will most likely increase the adoption rate.”

But the promise of programmatic advertising might be hindered by a lack of transparency, in terms of where the ads sit and how audience profiles are garnered; advertisers want to know what exactly the machines are buying. Tim Waddell, writing for Adobe.com, frames this problem better: “In programmatic campaigns, machines buy and sell ads, and success depends on the quality of the strategy and data — the creative that is served to the customer. There’s certain to be a learning curve in terms of gathering and analysing the data needed to power an effective programmatic system. And, of course, it won’t be easy to fight a negative perception spurred by poor transparency, as marketers struggle to see exactly what the machines are purchasing or to view transaction details.”

Then there are fraud challenges like URL Masking and Fake traffic created by mischievous bots.

“On programmatics fraud, we use ad verification services like geoedge, forensiq and internal site verification,” Goodnews told me. “We ensure our tags are directly on the sites, our technology reads the behaviour up to the story the user was reading when he saw the ads.

“If the traffic is bad, it will flag it immediately and we yank it off. As a matter of fact, traffic quality has been a major challenge in Africa; people post all kinds of things and advertisers have become conscious of where their adverts are placed. So we have strict policy on content quality and have deactivated a lot of publishers for none compliance. For those that have potential, we recommend actions to improve.”

Goodnews, who grew up in Kaduna, developed a love for computing when he was a teenager, but only started to write computer programmes with Java at 23 while studying Business Administration at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. “I used to read about Jeff Bezos,” he said, “and I wanted to be like him, to build something really massive.”

But while in Kaduna, where he also acquired a Masters in Business Administration (MBA), he felt he did not have the resources to fly a tech business. After leaving the university, he went into banking, but kept writing computer programmes at night, building websites for friends. “It was really challenging, but the joy is when your code runs,” he said.

Some four years ago, a friend introduced him to Saintgermain Onwukeme, a Systems Engineering graduate from the University of Lagos, and they got talking about programmatic advertising. “We started the business as a side hustle,” Goodnews said.

Onwukeme, who Goodnews described as the Wozniack of Dochase, is a six-footer whose mother was also a computer scientist. He co-founded Dochase after working at tech companies like Supermart.ng and after several failed start-ups. “What start-up failure taught me was the importance of deploying technologies as fast as possible,” Onwukeme told me. “Your first product does not have to be perfect. And that was one of the things that worked for us. We had a couple of false starts but we were able to know exactly what was not working and optimised quickly.”

However, despite understanding the idea they wanted to deploy into the market, the two programmers could not quite figure out how to turn it into a viable business. In 2015, they applied for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) and Dochase was selected along 999 other promising businesses.

“It was TEEP that helped us convert this idea into reality,” Goodnews said. “I have worked on so many things but I have never been able to build a business around any of them. But the training, the support, the mentorship we got from TEEP made a huge difference. If it had not been for them, I probably would have still been in my banking job.”

Now, the Dochase team say they are ready to take on Africa. “We want to be the backbone of digital advertising on the continent,” Goodnews said.