Starting off as a hobby in 2000, BongThom.com has become Cambodia’s most popular classified and job postings site. Managing Director Ken White explains the inner workings of the business to the Post’s Laura Ma.
What’s the story behind the site?
I’d started a Khmer phrase guide for myself in 1998. Then I started selling it on CDs with advertising. Eventually it went online in 2000, and I added job postings. I realised it had started costing me a lot of money, because it was free. So we registered with all the ministries in 2006, but it wasn’t until early 2009 that we really set up the business. The phrase book is still online, it still gets used.
How has the site grown?
The number of job announcements we get per day has doubled from two or three years ago. We started charging for job posts in February, 2007. That January, we advertised 885 jobs. After charging, we went down to 80 jobs. But by January 2008, we were back up to nearly 600. Since then it’s kept going up. We have up to 450,000 users now.
What are some of the trends in the job market?
There’s been a lot more job-hopping. It’s a pain for employers, but it’s increasing our business. There’s also been a slight drop in the percentage of jobs advertised in Phnom Penh, and more significantly, in Siem Reap.
How has job recruitment changed?
Bong Thom was the first. Classifieds were all in newspapers. Cambodians had to pay 1,200 riel a day for the paper. That’s why the site is well-known and well-used now. Searching costs nothing, and users can check out jobs from several different places.
What are some of the commonly posted positions?
We don’t get a whole sweep of all the jobs because we are charging for job posts [though not for buy and sell classified ads]. We generally cater to higher-level and well-paid jobs. The smaller companies don’t want to pay for listings. We definitely saw a big shift from NGOs to the private sector around 2009.
What about the volume of classifieds?
It really goes up and down. We get up to 2,500 new ones a day, and it’s actually too much. We don’t have a good search facility.
What other areas need improvement?
We’ll be doing some apps and we’ll be making huge upgrades on the website. In my opinion, there’s a lot we can do. I wrote those pages 10 years ago, and I’ve hardly changed them.
We’ll be incorporating maps and social networking too.
How does Bong Thom compare to Craigslist or Gumtree?
We are doing the similar thing, but we’re small. Those guys are international. The thing about Craigslist, which is in Vietnam and Thailand, is that it hardly gets used. Probably, somebody has already taken that niche in the country. We’ve got the job market at the moment in Cambodia.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.