Smartphones have a way of shortening the loop on certain actions, like consuming and sharing news. Now, a new start-up called Zaarly is hoping that it can have a similar effect on local commerce, with a new mobile application that helps bring buyers of services and goods together with local sellers and providers in real time.
Zaarly is looking to be a sort of Craigslist for local mobile users, helping buyers find a quick way to obtain what they’re looking for from neighbors and local merchants. This is not unlike what what Craigslist or eBay (s ebay) offers, but Zaarly is built from the ground up to be mobile, local and real-time, accelerating the speed with which deals can done. It was supposed to go live today on iOS (s aapl), Android (s goog) and the mobile web though it doesn’t appear than an Android version is up right now.
Here’s how it works: After creating an account on the Zaarly app or through a mobile HTML5 website, a buyer can send out a request for a service like dry cleaning or a car wash, or they can look to buy product a rent something. Need someone to bring you some coffee? You can put that out there. Buyers can set a price for how much they’ll pay and when they need it by. The post goes out to people nearby who can browse all the listings through the app and filter by location, time and price. Zaarly can also pull in help from your Facebook and Twitter friends. The idea is that the requests are all meant to be very local, though for me, I saw some that were clear across town and probably too far to be relevant.
When a buyer decides on the best bid to choose from, they can establish an anonymous communications channel with the other party by text or voice. Zaarly doesn’t follow up to ensure the deals are completed, but it does monitor requests to identify illegal activity. There’s always a danger we could see some sketchy services being offered and requested, but I think that risk is outweighed by Zaarly’s value in addressing really urgent needs that arise quickly and are best met by people nearby. True value will depend on getting a good mix of buyers and sellers, and making this a go-to place for these types of local transactions. But I like the refined bulletin-board nature of Zaarly.
Zaarly has an impressive list of backers, including SV Angel, Gmail founder Paul Bucheit, Ashton Kutcher, Felicis Ventures, Bill Lee, Naval Ravikant, Lightbank and Thrive Capital. The San Francisco-based company got rolling at the Startup Weekend Los Angeles event in February, and had a prototype up for South by Southwest, where it did $10,000 worth of business in about two days in Austin. The company isn’t taking a cut of cash transactions but it is offering an integrated credit card payment system and will take a portion of the sales made using the system.