MANILA, Philippines - Filipino entrepreneurs have helped turn US-based Multiply Inc. from a social networking firm into a social e-commerce leader. Multiply founder and CEO Peter Pezaris on Tuesday said 100,000 Filipino merchants, which he dubbed as "Pinoy Multi-preneurs", make up more than half of its 175,000 registered merchants around the world.
Multiply started as a social networking website in 2004, but Filipino users soon began using it as a platform to buy and sell goods, even though it was against the website's terms and conditions.
"I started hearing from people how they bought something from Multiply, but I didn't make much of it... In fact, it was illegal to use Multiply to buy and sell, but we wised up and saw how we can measure the extent of it," Pezaris said, in a presentation at the Management Association of the Philippines conference in Makati City.
What Multiply officials discovered was quite surprising, especially since the company's goal was to become a leader in social networking. Multiply asked its users how many were merchants, there were 17,000 who replied on the first day alone.
The numbers were enough to lead the company to a different path, e-commerce, from what it originally envisioned.
"We listened to our customers. In our case, there was so much of this activity and it was hard to ignore. But it led us to the right direction (to social commerce)," Pezaris said.
Even more interesting was that 50% of its traffic from the Philippines was for these seller sites.
Thanks to these "Multipreneurs," the Florida-based company has managed to avoid being crushed by Facebook in the social networking category. They have also helped Multiply become the number one social shopping destination in Southeast Asia.
Multiply now has 18 million registered worldwide, and attracts 20 million unique hits every month.
The 100,000 Filipino merchants sell a wide variety of items on Multiply, from clothing and bags to cupcakes and cellphones. The number 1 category is female and fashion-focused items, such as shoes, clothing and handbags.
Just how dominant are Filipino users on Multiply? "We were looking at our traffic stats, and we noticed one day the traffic was cut in half. We checked and found no problems, until we realized there was a typhoon in Manila. That's when we realized how much traffic came from the Philippines," Pezaris said.
Multiply is committed to the Philippines, opening an office here with 50 employees.
But despite Multiply's shift to social commerce, Pezaris assured users who are worried this business shift will mean the end of its social networking features.
"I'm the CEO and I realize that one day there will be a time when I won't be part of Multiply. But I know the value of all the blogs and photos I've uploaded on it. We'll never take any of it away," he said.