Technology is helping cut transaction costs in many domains. Want to rent a movie? Forget the old days of driving 10 minutes to Blockbuster and spending 30 minutes arguing with your significant other about popcorn flick versus art house. Netflix will have a few hours entertainment downloaded in a matter of minutes and even help the indecisive with suggestions.
But is what’s true for procuring movies soon to be true for procuring services as well? Start-up Zaarly hopes so. The app aims to bring local buyers and sellers of both goods and services together easily, taking the hassle out of errands and odd jobs. Where once you might have cruised Craigslist or called around to friends to find a man with a van or an Ikea assembly genius, now you pop your request and what you’re willing to pay onto Zaarly and local folks bid for the job and fulfill your request without stress.
That’s the theory at least, but three months after the app’s launch what’s going on in practice? What sorts of people are actually fulfilling requests on the service? And is the auction-style format as empowering for sellers as for buyers? We talked to three users to get their on-the-ground perspective.
Zaarly is very focused on wooing the student market, and for obvious reasons: college kids are often strapped for cash but have time to burn, the perfect candidates to run “Zaarlies” as they’re known. The company set up “Campus CEOs” to promote the product, tapping Marquette University (alma mater of co-founder Eric Koester) student Joe Scannell to lead the effort on his campus.
He’s used the product both as a buyer and seller — finding used furniture and earning a bit of extra cash proofreading papers — and thinks the app is a great fit for students. “The unfamiliarity factor is big,” but once they overcome their initial hesitation, Scannell says his peers are embracing the idea.
“Craigslist is stuck in the ‘90s,” he says, explaining the advantages of the app, and he also notes that, at least within the hyper-local setting of a campus, Zaarly also serves as a community-builder. “You’re meeting people you never would have met before.”
The young entrepreneur
For Zachary Tombley, known as “Sir Aaron” to users of the app in Kansas City, Zaarly is less about community and more about cold hard cash. As an entrepreneur who had previously set up a company he describes as a mobile butler service, Zaarly seemed like a good way to find new customers.
The app also serves as a good way for Tombley to find his feet as an entrepreneur. He views his work on Zaarly as a “baby business” and envisions it as a training ground of sorts: “I’m going to start it, run it, make my mistakes, see how you can burn money and make money and then pass it on to another young entrepreneur.”
He has had some struggles with Zaarly, however. The lack of any sort of “verified” badge or reputation points for top users causes some problems for Tombley who feels that as a prolific Zaarlier he doesn’t benefit enough from his (relatively) long and successful track record fulfilling requests. The inability to sort requests for services from those for goods also means time wasted digging out the right jobs for his business.
The nebulous newness of the service also has its drawbacks. “Zaarly is really focusing on letting the customer develop what Zaarly means, which is good,” says Tombley. “But it’s very new and it’s going to be new until someone is like ‘this is what it is for.’ I like that because you’re going to get the more outrageous things on Zaarly, but TaskRabbit is more of what I already had my company set up for,” though he notes competitor TaskRabbit isn’t available in his city yet.
The creative freelancer
San Francisco-based student and DJ Peter Clarke sees another possible user base for Zaarly among freelance professionals with specific skills looking to fill holes in their schedule and supplement their income.
DJs are “looking on Zaarly every now and then,” he says. “I’ve seen a few requests where people are, like, ‘hey, I’m throwing a party for my business and we’ll pay you a few hundred bucks to come DJ for it.’” Other professionals are also in demand on Zaarly. Clarke has also seen requests for logo designs on the app, for instance.
“If you’ve got nothing else going on you can go and look,” says Clarke. “It’s a great extra little area for you to go out and seek work if things are going kind of slow.”
Do you think apps like Zaarly are as good for sellers as they are for buyers?