The concept of Zaarly, a not-yet-year-old startup, is pretty cool and simple. You login and either post, “I’m looking for X product and will pay Y price,” or you post, “I have X product and will sell it for Y price.” The system then helps you match up a peer-to-peer purchase and sales opportunity with people in your local area. It’s kind of a cross between the old radio swap shops and eBay.

The idea is catching on around the U.S. with about 230 cities having active posts and several dozen with large user bases posting everything from items they want to sell, to those they’d like to borrow. The hypotheticals mentioned by Zaarly staffers include opportunities like posting, “I’ll pay $20 for someone to deliver a Big Mac to my office for lunch,” or “I need a pickup truck for the weekend to move furniture and will pay $100 for it.” So it can serve as a convenience shopping service or an ad-hoc barter system, too.

The site doesn’t make money on transactions if you pay outside the website, CEO Bo Fishback told me last week. If you pay through Zaarly, a fee of roughly 10 percent is charged, but the site insures both parties are satisfied with the transaction and will even refund money if the buyer isn’t.

Zaarly Snapshot

But the unexpected shift for Zaarly just caught on recently. Small businesses are discovering they can get in on the action and get new customers without having to really do anything. Since there’s no charge to list what you have to sell, a plumber can login, post they they’ll do plumbing work in a certain geographic area for $50 per hour and make their settings notify them should anyone in that area post a need that matches certain keywords.

“We learned that small businesses were like, ‘Oh, my goodness!’ and wanted to know how they could harness the demand we were creating. Many of them have a very unfair advantage because they have track records in this stuff,” Fishback said, referring to the fact an independent moving company that is bonded and insured is more trustworthy than some random user with a truck who will move your stuff for you.

The small business bonanza Zaarly is seeing has caused the company to pivot a bit with their product. New features coming in quarter one of 2012 include allowing sellers to identify themselves to build trust and be recognized as participants in the community. As of right now, all users are mostly anonymous unless or until you reach out to them with a transaction. Fishback says the original peer-to-peer model (which isn’t going away) dictated that anonymity be included. He said, “Commerce is a weird thing to attach identity to. You can verify your account, but we don’t reveal the identity.”

The new addition will allow a seller to reveal themselves if they choose. Otherwise, the site will function as it always has.

Fishback told me Zaarly will also invest time and energy into helping small businesses understand what it means to go mobile with their business. While Zaarly isn’t exclusively a mobile platform, it’s certainly powerful for the person on the go who’s just looking for a little help from someone nearby who can solve their problem.

Fishback is on his fifth startup and has backers like Ashton Kutcher and Ron Conway. They also have a round of funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. So the business has some legs.

More importantly, though, with this shift toward making it easier for small businesses to get customers without having to spend thousands on websites and SEO and digital marketing, Zaarly might just give them legs. And that could be a game-changer.

“We could wind up building a company that changes the way the economy works,” Fishback told me. “That’s a neat opportunity.”

Ambitious goal, that. But certainly not clearly out of the realm of possibility.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Average Jane

    My husband runs a recording studio and has gotten a couple of good, solid clients from watching Zaarly listings. It can really be a boon for a small business that’s willing to keep an eye out for demand.

    • JasonFalls

      Good to hear Jane. Thanks for a little proof for the pudding here. Congrats to your husband!

    • David Spinks


      That’s awesome! Would be great to learn more about his experience on Zaarly.

      We love to share user’s stories, and can probably drive more clients to your husband by featuring him on the site.

      My email is spinks at zaarly dot com.  Have him get in touch if he’s interested. (=

      Enforcer of User Happiness, Zaarly

  • Danny Brown

    Love these type of stories, mate. Funnily enough, we used Zaarly as an example of collaborative consumption in an internal presentation recently, great approach.

    I also like what the TaskRabbit guys are doing:

    Started in 2008, and similar in scope to Zaarly. I especially like the loyalty that’s being built up around the runners over there – better than any damn Klout metric could hope to measure. ;-)

    • JasonFalls

      Good heads up on TaskRabbit, Danny. Hadn’t heard of them. Also got some post blog outreach from which is also similar. I’m looking into them, too. Thanks for swinging by!

      • David Spinks

        Thanks for the support guys (=  It’s an exciting time for sure.
        Task Rabbit is really interesting as they’re taking a unique approach to the task running aspect of things. They do tasks really well, providing pre-qualified “rabbits” to fulfill your needs.

        For context, tasks are about 15% of what’s actually posted to Zaarly.  The majority of listings are goods and specialized services (like for a recording studio, or a photographer).  So Zaarly and Taskrabbit are similar, but are in fact two very different marketplaces.

        Thumbtack is taking a unique approach as well.  They’re focused on those specialized services.

        Then you have even more specific offerings like sittercity for babysitters and airbnb for a place to stay (both doing really well).

        Lots of amazing companies coming up in the collaborative consumption space.  2012 is going to be wild.

        Enforcer of User Happiness, Zaarly

        P.S. I miss both of your faces.  Lets catch up soon please?

  • Danny Brown

    Love these type of stories, mate. Funnily enough, we used Zaarly as an example of collaborative consumption in an internal presentation recently, great approach.

    I also like what the TaskRabbit guys are doing:

    Started in 2008, and similar in scope to Zaarly. I especially like the loyalty that’s being built up around the runners over there – better than any damn Klout metric could hope to measure. ;-)

  • resume

    Best psot ever!

  • Social Network Design

    Thats a good idea.Its beneficial for the consumers and merchants to use such a site.Not only small business  but the big enterprises can also take its  advantage.I hope social media is users to popularize the site.

  • WeGoLook

    Love Zaarly and TR concept- WeGoLook also is a great resource for nationwide tasking and reporting. 7,000 agents are dispatched on an individual’s or company’s behalf to perform custom tasking, dynamic data capture and personalized report templates on virtually any item (eBay), auto, property, asset and even online dates. :-)

  • Mike Whaling

    I’m looking forward to seeing how they implement the seller-facing features. The alerts are handy, but public profiles should help businesses gain an extra level of credibility on the site.

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