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The peer-to-peer mobile marketplace

Eric Koester had pain, but it wasn't the physical or mental kind one might expect; it was the pain of annoyance and frustration.

He kept getting parking tickets and a thought crossed his mind that has no doubt occurred to many of us under similar circumstances: "I'd park my car, put money in the meter for two hours and then be on the phone and think, 'I'd happily pay someone $10 to put $2 in the meter, instead of getting a $50 parking ticket.'"

His friend Bo Fishback had a similar pain. Every time he got on a plane, he wished he could pay someone $50 for their exit row seat. Granted, it's a little awkward to broadcast to a plane full of people, but what if technology could help him out?

The two took their thoughts with them to Los Angeles's StartUp Weekend in February 2011, a 54-hour competition that sees teams of aspiring entrepreneurs plan, develop and present concepts for companies in front of a panel of judges. As board members for the competition, they weren't planning to participate, but soon the energy of trying to solve their shared problem overwhelmed them and with a third man, Ian Hunter, joining their ranks, they were off to the races.

What came out of those 54 hours was a mobile app and website where people could post what they need -- whether it's a DJ for their sister's wedding, someone to grab their dry cleaning or a new couch -- and how much they are willing to pay. Then someone in their community who wanted to fulfill that need (and make a few bucks while they were at it) could respond -- all electronically. This new mobile marketplace was dubbed Zaarly and it won the weekend.

Though they didn't know it at the time, a subsequent investment from Ashton Kutcher, who happened to be one of the judges, would not only make their business real -- with Koester as the COO, Fishback as the CEO and Hunter as the CTO -- but make Zaarly one of a slew of websites that allowed people to complete ordinary tasks and needs by outsourcing them to the larger public.

The good ol' days
Though this may sound like a new idea, Koester contends that this mobile marketplace trend is using technology to take commerce back to a simpler time: "It's a broader move that asks, 'How can we make commerce simpler, easier and, in some ways, back to the way it used to be?'" he says. "Commerce used to be entirely local, it used to be entirely personal, it used to be a lot more real-time and what technology is starting to do is take us back to the days of the town market."

Oh yeah, those days. The ones when people would yell out what they were looking for and vendors would yell back what they had and they both would negotiate a price through shouts in the open air. They're what Koester terms "The Good Ol' Days of Commerce" and they're exactly what Zaarly, and other sites like Fiverr and TaskRabbit, are trying to harken back to.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted May 4, 2012
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