By Mario Toneguzzi
Successful Calgary entrepreneur Nikhil Sonpal got his inspiration for a new venture after the traumatic experience of a cycling accident.
The mishap landed him with two broken ribs.
While recuperating from his injuries, Sonpal was trying to find local products but was having a difficult time doing that online.
That’s when the idea of SokoLocal came to mind – a new local product search engine. And the idea has been wildly successful being launched in the trying times of a pandemic and ongoing economic turmoil. The search engine hit one million products on June 1 after launching March 1. As of mid June, it was 1.5 million products.
“Our focus has really been my focus predominantly to give business owners the tools to be able to get their products marketed. And consumers shop for products. They don’t shop for (businesses). And that’s the niche we’re trying to fulfill,” says Sonpal, who is founder of MQLabs.
“We started SokoLocal to help better connect shoppers with local businesses. The interest and growth we have seen . . . is made possible because of the passion people have for supporting the communities in which they live, solidifying the need for this type of innovation . . .
It’s a product search engine. I felt that there was this whole movement afoot for finding local businesses, supporting local businesses.
“But the challenge, at least for me, I don’t know that these local businesses exist. I personally don’t shop for businesses by name. I shop for products. So that’s where the idea came about – to create an interface like Amazon, to give users an Amazon-like experience but the convenience of what the underlying technology that Google has to catalogue and index content that is on these websites.”
SokoLocal, created and developed by MQLabs, a Calgary-based technology company, and has grown a strong presence in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Toronto, with additional cities across North America currently in development.
Supporting local businesses is a vital step in creating new opportunities within local communities. Over the last year in particular, small businesses have been met with unprecedented challenges and have been struggling to stay afloat among giant competitors with international backing. By offering a platform that allows small businesses to increase their visibility and connect with shoppers in their area and around North America, SokoLocal aims to revitalize local economies and direct sales to those who need it most, explains Sonpal.
“The idea for us is to grow this globally. We are trying to make sure that local is not a fad and we can provide the convenience of finding local and by doing so we feel Soko fills that niche,” he says.
“I’ve been in tech now for 22 years . . . The motivation for me is I really want to help small businesses be able to run their businesses efficiently and I think the biggest challenge that small businesses have is how do you get the word out to consumers that you exist. I am saddened by the state of ecommerce in the last year and a half being perceived as the next gold rush and I don’t want small business owners to feel helpless and to be taken for a ride where they feel they have to spend in some cases an unbelievable amount of money to get the word out to get consumers to come in because traditional advertising or marketing doesn’t work. Because it’s digital.”