Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Shifting Gears

After some concern over the market, I think it's time to change gears.

After doing some research, the general census of the initial wanted-ads market doesn't appear to be all that good. The response I get most often is "...why would I list a wanted-ad on your site when I can just find what I need on eBay?"

That's a good question, and I don't have a good answer. The problem with wanted-ads is that, while it's awesome for sellers, it simply won't attract buyers because they'll be too busy using other channels to satisfy their want(s). We need to apply the Wantsy concept to a market that doesn't have a lot of channels for the buyers, and a market that is really buyer-driven.

What is that market?
Advertising. While everyone is being blinded by text ads, the remaining 75% of the market is left untouched. Sure you have services like AdBrite, but are they catering to off-web media? Are they really catering to the buyers? As an ad distributor, I can honestly say it'd be much easier to sell my inventory if I can see the buyers. As an advertiser, I can also honestly say that listing my need and having it fulfilled by an ad distributor who can flex is about the best option that currently exists. Having ad distributors upload all of their inventory in hopes that they'll get a buyer is too time consuming. Advertising is really a buyer-driven model, and I think it's a nice niche.

Tony Wright and Steve Poland really opened my eyes to that market (Steve pushed me to do more research), as well as Fred Wilson, who noted that the wanted-ads market was serviced by Craigslist (although, I think he missed the fact that it wasn't just about wanted-ads).

Monday, February 26, 2007


From time-to-time I'll post ideas. I may decide to pursue them, or perhaps not... I think it's always better to throw an idea around regardless, since success is often found in the execution (not the idea).

Idea 1: Social product review

This would be a service based around social product reviews. Essentially, users would register for the service and create reviews for products. Other users would be able to discuss the product, write their own review, or rate it's popularity. The user who posts the first review will receive a share of revenue generate from their review page. Other non-registered users would be able to browse what products are popular, what products are recommended, and what the overall rating of a product is.

Sociality begins when users connect with other's based on various interests. These socially connected users would be able to see their friends reviews, product recommendations, and perhaps items for sale.

Revenue would be generated by highly targeted ads linking to Amazon and eBay listings, perhaps eventually allowing users to upload their own listings.

Idea 2: Personal inventory

This would allow users to quickly create a personal inventory of items they have (perhaps items they don't want). Optionally, users would be able to tag and rate the items (or even review them); all of this information would go into a database indefinitely. Users could then connect with other users who have items in common to see what they might be interested in (as a sort of recommendation engine). These users could connect and discuss their interests and build a primitive network, perhaps buying, selling, or trading their items.

Other users could search through the database to find users with a specific item. They could then connect with the user and see if that user is interested in selling or trading the item.

Idea 3: E-mail based social network (objective unknown)

E-mail is the most primitive form of social networking. Many people have built at least a basic list of connections in their address book -- if they haven't, they generally know (or can find) the e-mail address of friends.

This service would allow people to upload their address book. As other users upload their address book, connections would be made. If user A has user B in their address book, and user B has user A in their address book, then a connection is made. If the A<-->B connection doesn't exist, it's left "open"; user B is made aware that user A is connected with them, allowing them to decide whether or not they want to "add" this person.

This would build a real-life social network with the people you know. The objective could be wide-ranging, from commerce to life tracking. Users could extend out by several degrees when looking for an item for sale or requesting some sort of information.

The virility of such a service could be pretty high, as users want to see who is or isn't connected with them.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Incubators - are they worth it?

I’m a man of statistics. How many huge companies have come from incubators? Not many (or any that I can think of). Given that the statistics are zero, why would someone want to join an incubator (provided they were accepted)?

Perhaps it’s because the concept is so new that there aren’t really any statistics for it. The concept is quite awesome – you have access to top-level executives and VC’s and you’re given a small amount of funding, all for a 5% stake! I can’t see why it wouldn’t work.

With that said, I’ve filled out an application… I found most of the questions easy – you just have to be honest. If a question is hard, then it could be your business, NOT the question! My only problem was answering questions related to myself. I’m more of a business geek than a programmer; is that acceptable? My education is only high-school; I haven't had the opportunity to go to college (although, I look forward to it!).

Even if we get accepted, I’m not sure that we’ll be able to attend. Again, I’m not sure if not going will hurt our statistical chances of success, but it might. I think as long as you build a good service, make others aware, and build traction that we’ll be able to secure funding – it (almost) always works that way.

So, are incubators worth it? Definitely… but not being a part of one won’t hurt you.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Understanding the Demographic

I'm having a hard time understanding the demographics that Wantsy will be catering to. There is an obviously visible market, but I just don't understand it. Several million listings per year -- it's a modest number, but still enough for a niche market.

BUT - what compels people to post a wanted ad rather than dig through the For Sale listings to find what they want? I see wanted ads for things like "GameCube" or "New notebook" or "Red Corvette". Why a wanted ad? Is it easier to simply post what you want, and then let the sellers come to you with their offering?

I think by applying more advanced (but not necessarily more complex) features, we might be able to increase the potential market size. I'm really interested in the tagging and RSS aspect of Wantsy. I'd like to think that this might be the first marketplace that really relies on RSS and notification; I'd like to get to the point where a user can simply select tags describing what they want, instantly notifying sellers.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Logo, again

So I screwed around with the logo, again... I just pushed the words together for a "friendlier" feel, and I unbalanced the "sy". I also thickened up the trails behind the ball.

I decided to make the changes when I made the master file 2048 x 1000 resolution (give or take some). I just want a fun feel to the logo...

Sunday, February 18, 2007


I was messing around in GIMP and tried my hand at making a logo... I think this one works out pretty well.

It emphasizes the "want" with a different shade, and carries over the "sy" with a nice bouncing "ball" (I suppose that's what it is). While I may be biased, I personally like it... I just can't justify the cost to have someone come in and develop something else.

I made sure the logo was pretty simple, so that it could be carried over to other objects. I also wanted to make sure the brand name was a significant part of the logo - it's easier for people to remember if your name is your logo :)

Overall, I like the color scheme and think it would work with the Wantsy site. Shades of blue are always easy on the eyes.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Better UI Layouts

I'm working on some better UI layouts. My previous layouts were hand-drawn; the new ones are made using a combination of GIMP and MS Paint. They aren't what I would call "professional", and the color schemes don't portray the actual colors scheme that will be used, but I think they will make development a lot easier.

I've made sure to include just about every aspect of the service, mapping out various features and buttons. I've also made sure not to neglect potential future features, making it easier to implement them if needed. In an attempt to show the functions of various buttons, I'm going to create an animation for those features.

As I said, I think the better UI layouts will help in terms of designing the system and setting up the database by knowing how the user interacts with specific fields or queries.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Registration Optional?

While I haven't heard from Steven (co-founder and chief developer) in a while, I'm pretty sure we're going to go with the "registration optional" route. Our goal is speed, and registration diminishes speed. While I'm not sure if registration is a huge barrier, it could reduce our userbase more so than other services given our content.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

I'm no Developer

I'm not a developer, I'm more on the business and innovation (UI) side of things (with some IT experience). That worries me, because I have no idea how long certain development tasks should take or what is or isn't possible. I'm the type of person that wants things to be done within a few weeks (depending on the project). Any longer than that without efficient communication, and I feel like things are falling apart. That doesn't mean things are going wrong, it just means that I have a personal shortfall :)

I'm sure this is a problem that plagues many startups... Most telecommute via the internet, so it's hard to gauge what exactly is being done on the other end of the line. We use Basecamp to keep each other up-to-date and track possible features, functionality, and things on the business side. Even with the most efficient communication possible, the waiting game is something that every startup has to go through -- it's just harder on some people (hint: me)

Service-based analysis on Alexa

Here's a comparison of eBay, Craigslist, Edgeio, Etsy, and iOffer.

eBay obviously leads the pack, with Craigslist in second place, followed by iOffer and Etsy, then Edgeio sneaking in towards the bottom. The growth rate of Etsy is phenomenal, breaking the 10K rank in as little as 18 months. I was really stunned to see that Edgeio comes in last place and leveled off significantly compared to Etsy. Edgeio probably has the most buzz surrounding it, while I imagine Etsy caters to quite a vocal niche group (although, they might be a hard demographic because most people into Arts/Crafts aren't similarly interested in technology).

This was my guess as to how the chart would look, rank-wise:
  1. eBay
  2. Craigslist
  3. Edgeio
  4. Etsy
  5. iOffer
I typically analyze other similar services to gauge potential success. It's quite clear that the marketplace industry isn't dead... Simply reviving a business model or changing the way something is done seems to be sufficient in driving traffic.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Registration (cont)

My registration woes have subsided after seeing "Useless Account". It seems +5,400 users have no problem creating an account for the sake of simply creating an account. That's right, "Useless Account" is pointless... All you do is create an account and modify it. It's obviously a hoax website, and pretty funny at that (given the number of people who actually signed up).

When I think of Wantsy, the registration process is really simple; an e-mail address and password. That's it... It can even be a part of the listing process, so it's not a big deal. On the seller side, if you see someone that wants your item, why wouldn't you create an account?

Sunday, February 4, 2007


The most complex part of a web-based service startup is the development process. You have to figure out the UI, among other things... While most people believe the UI will "make or break" a service, that simply isn't true most of the time. Craigslist is ugly, no question about that... But it's successful because it services a real need. On the other hand, a site with an overly complex UI can scare users away. I really like to consider the UI to be a form of art (and as we all know, forms of art can be ugly yet in demand). I like a service that has both a simple and good looking UI, while meeting a real consumer demand - Hopefully we are doing just that.

The development period is also like the "quiet period"... You build, you test, you build, you test, you tweak, you build. The "testing" and the "tweaking" are the vocal aspects where other members input their thoughts. The rest of the time, it's just keyboards punching in code.

A little stressful? Yes... But that's what a startup is all about.

Confidence is building...

I must say that my confidence is building... Writing these blog posts really helps get everything off my mind so that I'm not trying to think about too much stuff at once. I consider this blog my "brain cache"... If there's something important, I put it on this blog so that I can "forget" about it. If I need to recall something, I can find it here, in my brain cache.

My confidence is getting higher that this startup can become successful. I'm excited about the fact that I would enjoy the service and look forward to using it; I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who would feel this way. The UI layout looks pretty good, at least IMO, and there really isn't anything that would throw a user into "feature shock".

My other fear (a much bigger fear) was that it would be hard to capture a market. I'm not really afraid anymore - I know that I will use the service, and if I find it useful, so will others. There is already a proven market, so we're not creating anything from scratch; we're simply exploring an area that others have neglected.

While all of the other markets that I previously discussed are good, I don't really know them all that well. I haven't personally experienced the problem that I would like to solve within each of those markets. Those other markets aren't really traction gainers, either - although they might be able to bring in much higher RPU (revenue per user), I would rather make more people happy and take less revenue.

Saturday, February 3, 2007


What will we do when it comes to funding? For starters, a web-based business doesn't take all that much capital. It's my belief that startups should shy away from VC money as long as possible. If needed, fund internally through friends and family. If you still need more capital, get in touch with some angel investors. As a last resort, head for the VC's.

I think VC's introduce a level of unneeded complexity, especially at the seed stage level. Not only do you have to meet expectations, but you also give up a lot of control - your "solution" is no longer your solution... It's a solution determined to be satisfiable by the VC's.

This opinion is largely shared with the founders of 37Signals. Don't take funding unless you need it. In the "web 2.0" world, I see many companies doing just that. I may be alone on this, but I don't think an unproven blog widget requires $5 million in VC funding after the first week of operation.

Do you have a good idea?

How do you know when you have a good idea? There are two methods (that I personally know of) that might turn on the light-bulb above an entrepreneur's head.
  1. You think of a solution to a problem that (potentially) plagues many people. You may not necessarily be one of those affected people, but you believe strongly that people will find your service or product useful.
  2. You run across a problem and think to yourself "there has to be a better way". You create a service or product to fulfill your desire... In the process, you realize that your product or service will benefit many other people who share a similar problem.
If you take a look at the majority of the 800 pound gorillas in the tech industry, the founders started with one thing in mind - fix a problem that they have run across. Rarely does a huge success come from someone trying to monetize a market that they know nothing about. Only those who experience a problem can create a successful solution.

So, if you run across a problem, identify it as potentially common, and figure out a solution, you could very well have the next million dollar idea. If you're simply seeking a market to monetize, and create a solution to a problem that you have never experienced, you're probably setting yourself up for a failure. Make solutions for the problems which you know... When you're doing math, always find and read the problem before writing the solution.

Here are some examples;

Problem 1: I keep losing my bookmarks when I upgrade my PC, and my bookmarks are only available on my PC.

Solution 1: Delicious

Problem 2: It's hard to find stuff on the web, so I'm going to organize all of my findings.

Solution 2: Yahoo!

Problem 3: Current search engines are corrupt and I can't find 90% of the information I'm seeking (plus I'm need a thesis)

Solution 3: Google

Thursday, February 1, 2007


Since the rise of the internet, marketing has become easier. Since the rise of blogs, marketing has become much easier. You can now throw hundreds of thousands of people at your service in a matter of hours by getting good coverage in the blogosphere (as a best case scenario). Obviously the majority of those people won't become your customer, but your name will be etched in their mind... It could either be a good "etching", or a bad "etching". If it's the latter, you might be screwed.

That begins the WOM (word of mouth) campaign... As long as you can keep your service innovative and useful, you can maintain a level of growth for years to come. Your selling point is that you always have innovative features and you solve a real problem, so people often refer you to others - that's what I define as basic virility. Under this definition is MySpace - they didn't rely on external widgets to draw the user in - they were just so "cool" that friends bugged friends to sign up. Their features keep people coming to the site.

On the other hand, I define widget virility as something that draws the user in externally using widgets (who would have thought?). For example, YouTube's success was probably a direct result of their embedded video player... Delicious' or FeedBurner's success could be attributed to their chicklet widgets.

I guess the hardest part is getting your service in front of someone. Even if your startup solves everyone's problem, it's worthless if nobody knows about it. It just simply isn't a case of "build it, and they will come". Who are "they"? How will you capture their attention?

The way I imagine Wantsy succeeding is by drawing in users who are interested in purchasing an item - i.e. the existing wanted-ad market. As a previous high-revenue seller on eBay, this would clearly be a driving force for other sellers. If I have an item that I'm getting ready to post on eBay, why not do a quick search on Wantsy first to see if there is an immediate demand? If I'm a buyer, why not create a quick listing of the item that I will be seeking? Even if I plan on using eBay, I can still create a wanted ad and get the best of both worlds.

We aren't competing with eBay, Craigslist, Edgeio, or Etsy - we're simply supplementing them.