Collaborative commerce is seriously hot stuff in startup circles. For proof, we need merely to turn to Zaarly, a San Francisco startup that went from zero to launch in three months, rallying high-profile investors and scoring bucketloads of press for its rocket-like trajectory.
"The idea is contagious: What you want, when you want it. As soon as people hear it, they get it," says co-founder and CEO Bo Fishback, who left his post as vice president of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation to run the company. Fishback describes Zaarly as an online, buyer-powered marketplace where you can broadcast to your local community what you want, how quickly you want it and how much you're willing to pay for it, and then sit back and see if there are any takers. People looking to earn some extra cash can peruse the want ads with an eye on offering up products or services they're ready to rent out.
It all began in February, when Fishback visited some friends at a Startup Weekend competition in Los Angeles. On a whim, he pitched the idea of a hyperlocal eBay, which he'd been considering ever since he found himself--all 6 feet 8 inches of him--sitting at an airport gate and thinking how he would pay someone $50 to switch for an exit-row seat. Unfortunately, there was no non-creepy way to broadcast that fact.
Fishback's team ended up winning the competition, prompting them to camp an RV outside of Austin, Texas' South by Southwest festival three weeks later and work around-the-clock to introduce a trial service. The app was a resounding success. Zaarly processed more than $10,000 in transactions in a two-day period and nabbed a cool $1 million from Ashton Kutcher.
The pace hasn't let up. Since the initial seven-city rollout in May, Zaarly's been diligently activating city by city, growing mainly through word-of-mouth. "It's users finding us," Fishback says. "They love it, love tweeting about it, so we get a boost from social media."
In October, Zaarly announced another funding round led by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. Hewlett-Packard chief Meg Whitman recently joined its board of directors, and its advisory board boasts TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington and actress Demi Moore. The company, which has 30 employees, maintains a strong foothold in major U.S. cities, including D.C., Chicago and New York City; and at press time, it reported more than 100,000 registered users, 15,000 unique monthly listings and nearly
$6 million worth of posted transactions. Subscriptions are growing by more than 10,000 users every month, and by 2012, Fishback says the total will be well north of 150,000--a "conservative" projection.
Fishback is incredibly optimistic. "It's still in early stages, but from everything we've seen, collaborative consumption is a massive opportunity. Massive," he says. Zaarly's biggest challenge isn't getting customers, but rather keeping ahead of the copycats. "Right now, it's an execution play. We just have to go faster and be bigger--and I think we can do that."