By Hassina Obaidy
Photos Andy Sweet
A young man dressed in a cat printed black t-shirt, a leopard print zip up sweater, and a pair of dark washed jeans is standing next to a red Skee-Ball trailer at SoMa StrEAT Food Park on a Friday night. He is known as Joey the Cat, or Joey Mucha, and his Skee-Ball trailer can be often spotted every week at the SoMa StrEAT Food Park, parties, and other city events. A Skee-Ball champion and trainer, Mucha uses Zaarly to help promote and expand his Skee-Ball business.
Slightly similar to other service selling platforms, Zaarly, based in San Francisco, gives talented people the opportunity to make money by doing what they love while expanding small, local businesses. A visually driven platform, it offers services and goods from Skee-Ball lessons, make-up tutorials and homemade goods to the local community. Storefront sellers and buyers can avoid the awkward face to face business deal when purchasing products on websites like Craigslist. With a click of a mouse, a smooth transaction is made between the buyer and the storefront seller on Zaarly to ensure security, privacy, and trust.
After Bo Fishback, CEO of Zaarly, picks up his order from the barista at Blue Bottle Coffee in Mint Plaza, he sits outside his office building dressed in jeans and a black zip up jacket.
“I’m really, really proud of our product actually because I think it fixes much of what is broken in local services,” says Fishback.
Since February of 2011, Zaarly has been growing since with more users and services provided. Zaarly is active in three cities: San Francisco, Kansas City and Seattle. Although Zaarly may overlap with other selling platforms like Amazon, Craigslist, and Etsy, it works a bit differently. Anyone can go through the application process, but not everyone is accepted to sell and promote their business. Fishback says it takes amazing local talent, motivation, and experience to actually create a storefront on their platform. Most possible sellers who come to Zaarly have either had prior experience with other businesses, or come in with referrals. A little less than a thousand businesses are using Zaarly and only about twenty percent of people who apply, go through the application process and end up getting accepted, says Fishback.
Scrolling through Mucha’s storefront on Zaarly, users will find unique services that he specializes in such as Skee-Ball machine rentals, Skee-Ball parties, and Skee-Ball training lessons.
Mucha has been using Zaarly for nearly five months and agrees that his business has boomed since. With a built in audience and a built in backend to handle different vendors, Mucha says Zaarly is “great exposure and good for connections. People in the industry have said ‘oh, I saw your Zaarly store’ and they’ll share it on Facebook, so it’s got a nice social aspect.”
Fishback says some storefront owners don’t have businesses yet, but they want to and this is a starting point for them. Other storefront owners like Mucha, have small businesses that they would like to grow and make more efficient.
As of now, Mucha’s services are only available within city limits, mainly because a Skee-Ball trailer is not aerodynamic and can’t be driven on the freeway. He hopes to grow his business in more cities and expand his services.
According to Fishback, Zaarly collects a ten percent transaction fee on each purchase. A powerful tool that Zaarly has is the use of stories and photos of each seller and their storefront. Before their storefront goes live, the content team makes sure that the seller’s page is visually appealing and includes enough information about the owner to make it more personal. Zaarly pays for professional photography for the storefront owners to show the audience their services rather than just reading about it. In addition, an entire team has multiple conversations with the seller to make sure they’re a good fit and not a waste of their time.
“I would say our biggest straining factors is motivation,” says Fishback. “It’s got to be people who really want to leverage a platform like this, to make a business, to make money doing what they love, to really take a skill that they have and really bring it to community.”
Jonathan Reisfield, an SF State alumnus and Zaarly seller, appreciates the visual and personal aspect of the platform. Reisfield’s storefront has been active for nearly a year and similar to Mucha, his business has also expanded and became more apparent. His storefront consists of specializing in hair and makeup (personal shopper, tutorials, styling), personal assistance services and a singing telegram. Reisfield used to sell other services like gardening, but the representatives helped him narrow his focus down to something that would be the biggest grab.
Before Zaarly, Reisfield had his own business and used Facebook to promote his hair and makeup services, but wasn’t receiving the same amount of attention as he is now.
“I was getting attention because I’m a performer and doing hair and makeup on performing friends, but going on Zaarly has opened up a mainstream market to people who are outside of our circle of friends that refer me, so in that way it expanded,” he says.
Aside from Zaarly, which is a more community based platform, Fiverr also offers a number of unique services to its consumers locally and nationally. Fiverr is a website where people can provide micro jobs for a flat rate of five dollars to purchase services and goods. Although Fiverr is not as visually driven, or personal like Zaarly, this platform is largely used to make some extra cash.
Shawn Rosvold, a former resident of San Francisco, has been selling on Fiverr for two years. Rosvold sells voiceover services for extra income in hopes of getting a long term high paying client.
Rosvold acknowledges the international aspect of Fiverr. Compared to Craigslist, he has buyers outside of the U.S. and has generated the most income thus far.
“Once your ad and demo is posted on Fiverr, it remains there until you stop it, or you’re suspended for some reason,” says Rosvold. “Craigslist requires you to post and repost your ad on a regular basis.”
Consumers have access to a number of diverse platforms that fit their needs and wants.
Samantha Yee, student at U.C. Berkeley, uses both Zaarly and Fiverr to purchase services. Yee uses Zaarly for more practical reasons like car services and purchasing baked goods from a variety of options which also includes free delivery in San Francisco and the surrounding areas.
“You also get to know people on a more personal level on Zaarly. Almost all sellers have profiles with photos and bios about their hobbies and their backgrounds, and you’ll usually get to meet them if you order their services,” she says.
Although Yee prefers Zaarly over Fiverr to purchase goods and services, she’d rather sell on Fiverr because she says it requires less time and effort.
“The five dollar price tag is appealing to buyers, and the potential customer base is all around the world rather than just in San Francisco,” she says.
Although cheap services, personal relationships, and visual aesthetics may entice buyers to specific platforms, the use of social networks like Twitter can take online purchases to a different level. Tweetstore, based in San Jose and launched in September 2012, allows Twitter users to post products or services to engage with buyers in real time and avoid scams, spams, and excessive e-mails.
Chip Wilkes, co-founder of Tweetstore, says that he was fed up with all the scammers replying to his posts on Craigslist, so he built his own marketplace, a social commerce marketplace.
“For every ad I posted, I would receive ten scam replies,” he says. “I wasted a lot of time posting, reposting and reposting ads only to receive scam emails.”
After closing down his franchise, Smoothie King, Wilkes decided to pursue online opportunities and began selling the equipment on Craigslist. Wilkes also started buying other equipment from Craigslist sellers and resold them. He met his partner David Donson, who was already developing Tweetstore.
Once a seller posts their product on Twitter, Tweetstore will promote the item on their Twitter feed and help spread the word. As of now, it’s free to use, but starting January 1, 2014, a freemium annual subscription price plan will be implemented of seventy-five dollars for unlimited product listings.
Tweetstore is in the process of developing their customer adoption, building their supply side, and customer loyalty incentives for buying and selling on their website.
“Ambitious and ripe for disruption, our plan is to take out Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist,” says Wilkes.