Zaarly’s New York team is about to get a whole lot bigger, from two full-time employees up to a possible ten to 30 employees. To facilitate plans to make New York City an central Zaarly hub, the startup, which is part of a growing crop of companies trying to build a real-time mobile market for people to bid on tasks and goods, has moved from temporary space in Marc Ecko’s building at 40 West 23rd Street into an official office under the same roof.
Back in 2009, when Mr. Ecko’s urban apparel empire was reportedly facing sizable debt post-recession, the 28,000 sq. ft. space, complete with half-size basketball court and a rumored $9 million-a-year lease, was on the market. But perhaps Mr. Ecko has had better luck with his venture capital fund, Artists & Instigators. According to the fund’s website, its portfolio companies claim over $5 billion in revenue.
Both Mr. Ecko and his fund invested in Zaarly’s $14.1 million series A round led by Kleiner Perkins.
At the Betabeat offices yesterday, Zaarly co-founder Bo Fishback, a veteran of the Kauffman Foundation for entrepreneurship, said Mr. Ecko had been “Spending some time at Kauffman, leaning from there how to set up Artists & Instigators.” But the two didn’t actually cross paths until three weeks after Mr. Fishback left Kauffman when they both spoke at the much-loved Big Omaha conference in May. “He came up to me after and was like, ‘Dude, love it. Is there anything I can do to help?’” Weeks later, Mr. Ecko offered to invest. Since Kleiner led the round, Mr. Ecko and his fund’s investment was in the “hundreds of thousands, not millions,” said Mr. Fishback.
As for establishing a New York City hub, Mr. Fishback explained that fairly early on, the startup realized New York would be a vital testing ground. “We hope to learn what we need to know from the New York community to help us go to scale in other cities,” he said. Part of that feedback is for an going initiative to incorporate small business into Zaarly to bid on requests.
The company just announced that it has signed agreements with more than 1,250 New York-based small businesses from fitness instructors to writers, graphic designers, tech professionals, catering companies, childcare, pet services, and more. For small service providers, that could transform the site from a peer-to-peer market into a lead gen engine since the companies get text message and email alerts when relevant keywords pop up and chance to bid on request from a buyer for something they’ve expressed they want. Mr. Fishback said the interaction wouldn’t look different for consumers, but there’s a chance when you ask for someone to walk your dog, say, a professional dog-walker could be also be bidding for your task.
Zaarly also does all of its community engagement with power users in New York. “We have two guys who are already here now fulltime and it is there job to meet with every single possible user that we can out of thousands. All of the feedback we use to improve our product, that comes from people in New York.”
Currently, Zaarly employees are scattered around the country. Its design team is based in Greenville, South Carolina, its mobile team is in Seattle, and Mr. Fishback said he made three hires in Denver recently. “The option is open to all of them: Hey do you want to move?” he said. “I think what’s gonna practically happen is we’ll end up with two major hubs, one will be here and one will be in San Francisco. It turns out a lot of people like to be in New York, so it wouldn’t surprise me if we had quite a big office here.”
As a beta testing ground, Mr. Fishback said, New York is unparallelled in its diversity. “Our group of users here has been so awesome and so varied. It’s not just the tech scene. It’s like real humans and that helps us learn so much faster.”