23:43 PM

Zaarly: Searching For Gold In Hyper-Local Commerce

Bo Fishback is convinced that his startup Zaarly has the potential to remake the national economy by making it easier for people to farm out small jobs to their local community.

Need someone to stand in line for you at a popular breakfast place in San Francisco? That's what one Zaarly user did recently and paid $100 for the service. People use it for all sorts of things including picking up lunch, finding a maid for the afternoon, or help with yard work.

The company is just 14 weeks old and already has more than 60,000 users. It's most active cities are San Francisco and New York. Mike Arrington, the former editor of Techcrunch is one of the investors.

Here are some notes from my meeting with Mr Fishback:

- Having Mike Arrington as an investor has been great, he has made some good introductions to other investors and has stayed away from involving himself directly with the business. The controversy didn't affect us negatively.

- The idea for Zaarly came a couple of years ago when Mr Fishback and his wife were at an airport and wondered about how to approach strangers to ask them if they would like to sell something, or do something. There is no direct way of doing that but online you can match people with ease.

- Craigslist hasn't changed in years and that's fine but it's left a big hole in the market.

- We avoid Craigslist's problems with sex workers by filtering out posts. We manually approve every post and we also filter for code words that we find on Craigslist. We have a five point "perv" scale.

- People are meeting neighbors they hadn't met, it's making local communities tighter. People don't want to rip off their neighbors, that's a big incentive to discourage people scamming each other.

- We've only had one instance out of 13,000 Zaarlies where a person did not pay for the service and that was because of a misunderstanding, we stepped in and paid it.

- There are cultural differences emerging. San Francisco is mostly about services; people in L.A want stuff; Chicago is mostly about food; and New York is across the board.

- We're hiring like mad: engineers, marketing people with hyper-local experience; analytics -- because we're accumulating a sea of data.

- We don't yet know what Zaarly will look like at scale. Currently it is useful with just a few hundred users in a city, what will it be like if there are hundreds of thousands, or millions of users in a place like New York? We don't know yet but we are collecting data to figure that out.

- We are looking at communities such as college kids looking to make some money. Other target communities are moms, lawyers, startups, etc where people are pressed for time and willing to pay a premium for a service.

- Our revenues currently come from credit card processing, we charge about 10% to process payments but that's not our business model, it's a service we provide users. We want to get to millions of users before we start trying to monetize Zaarly, our focus until then is on how to provide the highest value.

- People are using Zaarly for a kind of blind date, meeting people in their communities. There are lots of couples doing jobs together. I'm not sure why that is except that it's fun. I ran into a couple who said they were on their first "Zaarly date."

- Big brands have contacted us to see how they can use Zaarly. I don't know yet, I'm hoping they can tell us.

- Coming up: we already have beautiful mobile apps and next is a revamp of our website to improve the user experience. Then push alerts will come next; then creating profiles where users can evaluate each other, trust each other.

- I'm hoping Zaarly can become a platform that enables communities to do whatever they want to do with it, they make it their own rather than we tell them what to do.

- I'm certain that we will have hundreds of copycats, we have to be the best of the lot. I think there's lots of value in having one platform no matter which city you are in. You know how it works, what to expect.

- If we can figure out how to scale Zaarly we have a big future ahead, we can help remake the economy. We can help to keep money within communities.

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Please see Rafe Needleman's profile of Zaarly. Zaarly: Not nearly as crazy as it appears | Rafe's Radar - CNET News