For many, the appeal of realtime, local commerce platforms like Zaarly is evident almost immediately. For those unfamiliar, the mobile-centric reverse Craigslist allows users to post requests to Zaarly’s app — for anything from data entry to a fancy Starbucks mocha Frappuccino and how much you would be willing to pay for it. Then users can kick back and wait for their coffee to arrive — or so the idea goes. It’s a great idea, and it works. For a good example, look no further than Greg’s experience.
The initial concept immediately caught the attention of Ashton Kutcher, Felicis Ventures, Paul Buchheit, Bill Lee and Naval Ravikant — to name a few — who put $1 million into Zaarly less than a month after it appeared at LA Startup Weekend.
As appealing as the idea is, however, I must admit that, personally, I was skeptical at first. What about trust? Wouldn’t people just prefer using TaskRabbit and Craigslist? How would it scale? The team launched Zaarly 2.0 in March, which began to address the trust issue in particular, removing the anonymity component, allowing users to create profiles along with the opportunity to recommend and review both buyers and sellers.
Of course, Zaarly’s initial model leaves it up to users to discover the app themselves, or by word of mouth, which means that, development-wise, the Zaarly experience is somewhat limited. But, today, the startup took a big step forward in its evolution, launching its “Zaarly Anywhere” API, which boasts seven top content publishers as launch partners, including Everyday Health, The Fancy, LA Times, Cookstr and IKEA Hackers.
As Paul Graham has noted, APIs have become increasingly popular among startups as a tool that enables “self-serve” — or instant — “business development.” Thousands have caught onto this, as have some of the alternative Craigslist marketplaces. TaskRabbit, for example, launched an API in February that allowed third-party apps to integrate with the startup’s API to allow their users to outsource their to-do workflows.
Astrid and Producteev were among two early startups to sign on, enabling their users to outsource tasks directly from their apps or portals to the TaskRabbit community with one click. Facebook has grown to a behemoth for myriad reasons, but one of the bigger contributing factors was Facebook Connect and its “Like” button, which worked Facebook into third-party apps and into the fabric of the Web, allowing businesses and sites to port their social graphs and log in to various sites using their Facebook info.
Zaarly Anywhere is a natural next-step for the service, borrowing from these previous examples to help expose the service to new users and extend its functionality beyond its native app. Now, through Zaarly integration, visitors can, say, post a request in the Zaarly marketplace and have their requests responded to with a click of a button without having to leave the site they were browsing.
Zaarly co-founder and CEO Bo Fishback also sees the startup’s new API as creating a new revenue stream for its publishing partners by offering them another way to connect their online content with offline commerce.
While its launch partners include impressive names (and user bases), the scope is still somewhat small. But eventually, at least so their thinking goes, you could be browsing any type of online content — like, for example, a review of a new video game. You might check Amazon or other sites to find that it’s not available, but integration with Zaarly’s marketplace allows you to put up a figure to be able to buy or rent the game immediately.
Fishback believes that, in this way, Zaarly can help build a new type of commerce, or at least a new way to buy local. Read about a delicious dinner on a Cookstr, and immediately be able to connect with the Zaarly marketplace to ask a local chef to make it happen. It’s a potentially appealing option for publishers who, with shrinking ad revenues and bottom lines, are nearly all looking for better, non-intrusive yet effective ways to monetize content and increase engagement.
It’s a great way to begin building the Zaarly experience into other websites and through partner channels, leveraging the open web to create dedicated services that encourage people to spend money in their local communities (while creating additional revenue streams). For publishers, Everyday Health’s David Siegel, for example, calls this a great way to pair “inspiration with action.”
But how does it work? While on partner sites, users create Zaarly requests by clicking a button that will be integrated into content, like articles, social media buttons, and photos. The Zaarly API then populates the request with the title, description and location details from the partner’s site, enabling people to receive offers from users in their own community, who can choose the best response and pay through Zaarly’s platform.
Fishback says that the startup’s initial partners fall in line with the most active requests they’ve seen to date in the Zaarly marketplace, namely food, health, wellness, design and home improvement. Going forward, the startup will be looking to incorporate additional partners fast and furiously, while it continues to maintain its open marketplace, which has seen more than $30 million in requests posted since launching in May of last year.
It also represents a positive step forward towards future monetization for Zaarly, which is currently resting on laurels that include a $14.1 million series A raise from Kleiner Perkins, Sands Capital Ventures in October (on top of its initial $1 million), as well as the addition of HP CEO (and former eBay CEO) Meg Whitman to its board of directors.
Zaarly Anywhere opens the startup to a customized experience within dedicated platforms without pushing purchasing or sales in a way that would make most consumers balk. It just gives readers and surfers an opportunity to make the content they enjoy come to life while supporting the kind of skilled, local labor that can help make that happen. Could be a win-win.