Everything online– from photo albums to music streaming– is becoming increasingly social, and anchored by people’s true identities. In the web’s most popular marketplaces such as eBay and Craigslist, however, anonymity is still the norm. A new San Francisco-based startup called Copious is looking to change that.
Copious has built an online marketplace in which all buyers and sellers are linked to their Facebook identities. Users’ profile pages can also include links to their identities elsewhere online, such as Twitter, eBay, and personal blogs. When a prospective buyer looks at a product page, she can see by how many degrees of connection she and the seller are separated. The user can also see if anyone in her networks has purchased, shared, or commented on an item from that seller.
“Being able to view and understand a buyer and a seller through the lens of their network changes everything,” Copious co-founder and COO Jonathan Ehrlich, who previously worked at Facebook’s head of marketing, told me in a pre-launch interview. “It makes me feel more comfortable that you are who you say you are.”
Copious’ online marketplace launches in beta form Wednesday. The site decided to focus its launch on selling handbags, Ehrlich told me, since that’s a market where trust of a seller is paramount to ensure the product’s authenticity. The site plans to open up more categories in the coming days.
Copious has no listing fees, and the company plans to make money from taking a 10 percent commission on each transaction. For launch, Copious will take a discounted commission of 3.5 percent.
Copious was founded in January 2011 by Ehrlich and his two-cofounders, former Mobshop CEO Jim Rose and former Critical Path VP of Mobile Strategy Rob Zuber. The company currently has eight employees and has taken on $2 million from Foundation Capital, Google Ventures, BlackBerry Partners Fund, and a number of Facebook angels.
Watching Copious’ demo, I was immediately struck with that feeling of, “Wow, I might really use this.” I’ve never sold anything like clothing or handbags online, since the barrier to entry on eBay always seemed way too high. Once buyers would see that I was a first-time seller, they’d probably be reluctant to purchase anything from me. Now, I typically take those things to consignment shops where I can get maybe 30 percent of their value. But with Copious, I could actually see myself listing and selling a few things a year — say, a nice sweater I received for Christmas but don’t plan on wearing — without much hassle at all.
But an online marketplace is only as good as the products people list, and how quickly it can respond to user behavior. Ehrlich says that he and his co-founders have constructed Copious’ culture to address just that. “We wanted to ship a minimum viable product and we believe in iterating rapidly. When you start building a company, you’re always wrong in some way, so you want to find out how wrong you are as fast as you can.”