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How One Startup Is Making Comparison-Shopping Even Easier

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Writer and Author, Specializing in Business and Finance
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This story appears in the June 2012 issue of . Subscribe »

Based in San Francisco
3 employees
250 million e-commerce pages scanned
65,000 price guides
2 million new pages indexed per day

What It Is
Ever fretted over whether that online deal for a used iPad or Trek bicycle was really a good one? Priceonomics has some answers. The site's algorithms scour e-commerce sites like Craigslist, eBay, Yahoo Shopping and Amazon, among many others. Then Priceonomics distills those disparate deals into comprehensive listings, analyzes the results and produces an easy-to-read guide that zeros in on a product's fair market value.

Save-savvy: Omar Bohsali of Priceonomics.
Save-savvy: Omar Bohsali of Priceonomics.
Photography by Annie Tritt

How It Started
Co-founders Omar Bohsali, Rohin Dhar and Michael Flaxman wanted to see if they could collect all the listings on the web to arm consumers with an objective, rather than subjective, starting price, to counter that "ripped off" feeling. Fortunately, the tech-savvy team had the chops to pull it off. Bohsali formerly worked as a data analyst at the recently acquired daily-deals site HomeRun; Dhar co-founded the job-board builder Personforce; and Flaxman co-founded Thumbtack.com, a marketplace for local businesses.

Why It Took Off
Search for an item or browse the price guides--all the information is organized into simple views, eliminating the need for users to go from site to site to compare prices. For example, a search for a Bose SoundDock yielded links to 50 listings around the country on various sites and a graph showing that there were significantly more for sale for $184 than for $120 or $215. The site also aids sellers, helping them figure out how to price their merchandise competitively.

The Business Case
The team is experimenting with ways to monetize the site, which was launched in December 2011 with $20,000 from the Y Combinator incubator. The most promising model so far has been affiliate revenue. For example, Priceonomics gets a cut when a sale is made through a link on sites that offer affiliate programs, like Amazon. The team is also looking into charging a fee to list items on Priceonomics and for brokering deals on big-ticket, hard-to-find items (like the 1965 Ford Shelby Mustang recently listed) and selling them for a markup.

What's Next
Priceonomics is working with the Y Combinator team to find ways to build the site's traffic and visibility. Still, the founders are satisfied. Says Bohsali: "At this point, we're happy with what we've built: the biggest pricing guide for everything people want to buy."

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