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Zaarly: Bringing Local Storefronts Online

Founders of Zaarly (L-R) Ian Hunter, Bo Fishback, and Eric Koester. Koester departed in in February.

One of our recent Monday Maine Mavens, Jordan Weymouth Richards, discussed the importance and value of doing what you love each and every day. Zaarly’s three founders, Eric Koester, Bo Fishback and Ian Hunter feel the same way. The business was created in a single weekend two years ago and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.

When I first moved to New York City in 2008, the biggest question was, where do I live? How do I find a cheap (college student here) apartment in this expensive city? I met a few people who recommended Craigslist and I found my dream place—two-bedroom/two-bathroom with hardwood floors, granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, full dining and living room for a mere $1,650/month in a nice Harlem neighborhood and two blocks from the A train.

It seems like a dream, right? Well, for me it was, but when I recommended it to a friend last year it seemed deals were hard to find and scams were heavily abundant. Enter Zaarly—a site that brings e-commerce to a new level by allowing the seller to create a virtual storefront, complete with product descriptions, a profile picture and comments—the model is remarkably similar to a social media site for your business/services.

Your virtual storefront works like a social media site. Profile picture? Check. Comments? Check. Creativity is welcomed from a company that claims, “Rules for Work. We do not have these.”

Co-founder and CEO of Zaarly, Bo Fishback says, “Craigslist built a great first version of how to use the Web to make local economies work a little better. It’s coming on 20 years since Craigslist was started and it is unchanged at a time when technology is changing faster than it’s ever changed before—I just had a super simple idea about how to create a hyper-local marketplace.”

It all began at Startup Weekendin February 2011. Two of the founders, Bo Fishback and Eric Koester were inspired by personal pet peeves and/or inconveniences. The third founder, Ian Hunter, had been thinking of a similar idea, virtual garage sales—how can you create the sale without actually having to go to the sale? They pitched their idea and Ashton Kutcher just happened to be one of the judges that evening and loved it. He funded the project with $14 million.

All three guys quit their jobs, went all in, and in a mere two years they have grown their idea into a million-dollar brand, boasting 100,000 registered users, 200 cities, 30 employees, 15,000 unique monthly listings, and $6 million worth of posted transactions.

The idea is that they introduce you to local business people who are passionate about what they do—Zaarly helps you meet people within your community, and those relationships and core connections are the key to their business model. Their website tells you to reclaim your local economy, stating that buying local means investing in your community’s future.

On their blog, Fishback tells the story of how much he loves picnics and how happy he was with a fulfilled picnic request he posted on Zaarly. Bo and his wife, son and dog enjoyed a relaxing two hours provided by “a third-grade teacher during the day, but a picnic wizard by night (and weekends),” who made the experience the best picnic of his life. Former Zaarly Chief Operating Office Eric Koester tells a similar story about a bride who had a DJ cancel the day of her wedding. She posted on Zaarly and within a few hours she had a new DJ booked and the crisis was resolved.

In honor of Zaarly’s goal of bringing people and businesses together, their team page makes it easy for you to ‘meet’ them.

Fishback says, “We help people get paid to do what they love—it’s amazing when you talk to these sellers and they come up with amazing things. We’re just welcoming the sellers into this marketplace; we did not have to invent the world of trust and safety in peer to peer marketplaces—we just get to improve on it.”

An improvement to that system came in February when they decided to leave their peer-to-peer model and approach it from the merchant perspective. Storefronts were born, and similar to Etsy and Shopify, they allow businesses to successfully market their products to customers, receive orders and confirm details.

Fishback says this was a difficult decision, but necessary based on the metrics of their original marketplace. He says that being a startup comes with uncertainty from the market saying, “If you don’t know if there are any fish in the pond, or what kind of fish are there, why would you fish?” Their new model establishes the sellers and on average their sellers are making between $1,500 and $2,000 per month, with some reaching between $6,000 and $7,000 each month.

So how can Zaarly help your business? Here in Maine, we are lucky to have an abundance of ‘Mom and Pop’ stores that not only exist, but are doing exceedingly well. We also have a variety of downtown alliances and organizations that are all about promoting local businesses, farmer’s markets and more.

Zaarly helps connect these businesses and people, promoting local prosperity. They are currently represented in San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Kansas City and Los Angeles, and are always looking to expand their markets.

Check out Zaarly and sign up for a free account today. If you’re looking for great ideas for your business then I suggest you follow their awesome founders on Twitter @ianhunter, @bowman, @erickoester.

 

Contributed by Erika Bush

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