Wednesday Mar 21, 2012 by Nathan Burke - Director of Marketing, CloudLock
peddl, The MIT Media Lab Startup Solving An Age-Old Problem: How Can We Make It Easier to Buy and Sell Secondhand Things to People Around Us
When it comes to buying and selling secondhand things, there have been few technological innovations after the garage sale and Craig’s List. But a new startup called peddl is using its MIT Media Lab brainpower to use a combination of a mobile app, hyperlocal, and new market models to make it easier to broadcast the idea that “I have this” and “I want this” to prospective local buyers and sellers.
|The story starts at the MIT Media Lab, where Tony DeVincenzi, a creative director, Matthew Blackshaw, a Yale graduate and former Microsoft employee, and Dávid Lakatos, a Hungarian national and particle physicist work on experimental computer interaction projects. They came up with an idea 6 months ago to come up with a software application that could have a large outreach and would solve a problem that many people have: easily buying and selling secondhand things to people around us, with "people around us" meaning hyperlocal.|
It’s an interesting problem. After just moving a week ago, I was faced with the problem of:
1. Throwing away things I won’t use
2. Moving them to the new place and leaving them in boxes
3. Selling anything of value
And if I do decide to sell things, I have a new set of issues to solve:
1. How much do I charge?
2. Will someone show up and rob me?
3. Is it worth the effort to list and manage all these things on Craigslist or ebay?
peddl is a mobile and browser-based app that attempts to solve this problem by connecting those that want to sell their items with those looking to buy. Though in its early stages (not formally launched or even considered a beta), peddl already has listings, and there are definitely users buying and selling through the platform.
The question is: why is it so hard to buy and sell things from people on the same campus, the same city, or in surrounding cities and towns?
The founders felt that dealing with Craigslist and ebay was an archaic process that involved far too much time managing emails, posting, replying, and monitoring listings. To solve the problem, they built an iOS app called peddl, which they refer to as "the easiest way to buy and sell things with people around you." The three co-founders graduate from MIT in June, and "fully intend to run with peddl as a startup with multiple employees."
Using the iOS app is simple. You can either view the items nearby that are wanted or are for sale, list something for sale, or buy something. At the moment, there is no mobile payment system integrated with the app, so for now peddl is not facilitating the actual transaction.
I spoke with Tony DeVincenzi from peddl about the idea behind the app, why it is a fundamentally different approach, and what’s next for peddl.
Nathan Burke: Where are you in the process of the product? It feels early, but there's enough to the app that it feels like a beta release.
Tony DeVincenzi: We've launched only in Boston, and it has been a very controlled launch. We've sent a few emails around MIT, added a few facebook posts, talked to some friends, and reached out to a few Boston-area publications like VentureFizz. We want to tackle and understand how to deploy the service within a singular market to understand what's working, what's not, and iterate on it before launching the platform in a wider release.
As far as the launch goes, we're seeing this more of a test bed launch than a beta launch.
NB: How do you plan on getting over the first hurdle facing anyone launching an app, the "chicken and egg" problem, whereby you need to have users to attract users, and the value of your app is directly related to the number of users in the system?
TD: We're definitely aware that there needs to be a wild magnitude of posts for the system to create liquidity between people that have objects to sell and those who want to buy them. If you look at peddl, you'll see a lot of the things you'd expect to see: iPads, iPhones, bicycles, etc., but if you were looking for something a little more bespoke or random, it might be harder to find because we don't have a million posts. But we have plans on increasing the market liquidity:
one is very feature-based, incentivizing people to put more information into the system by rewarding them. We want to get really smart about all the items that are in the system, and we want to get detailed, granular information about each object allowing people to refactor the way they input information on items.
We envision someone being able to snap photos of items in their apartment and having our system frictionlessly understand what those items are. We want to give users a beautiful, curated view of all the items they have and what their estimated value is. When you think of Craigslist, the opportunity cost of listing something for sale is pretty high. We want to remove
the friction to allow people to add excess inventory into the system even if they're not willing to sell.
I think the coolest part has been the emails we’ve been getting from people saying that they love the product or ask “why aren’t you doing this?” and giving us feedback to make the product easier to use going forward.
NB: You mentioned that it is one of your initiatives to get people to add more inventory to the system. Lots of mobile and web apps (Waze is a good example) give users incentives to interact. Have you considered a points system for peddl users? What other incentives are you using to reward users?
TD: We refer to that as “single player mode”. Let’s not refer to that as “gamifying”. For us, that translates to a kind of user review and points system, but we’re staying away from the A+++ approach used by ebay. We’re more interested in building rapport and trust in the user base using clever methods.
NB: Comparing peddl to craigslist and ebay, I’ve noticed that peddl has no user profile to speak of. While craigslist offers no user profile whatsoever, and ebay uses seller and buyer profiles as proof of trust, where does the idea of a seller and buyer profile and ratings fit in with peddl?
TD: Trust does not come from colored stars on a website. In a hyperlocal marketplace, trust comes from other factors. If a seller and I live on the same street or have 19 facebook friends in common, there’s only one hop between us socially, so looking for commonality between people is more likely to create trust in a hyperlocal community.
NB: You’re going to have some interesting data. It’ll be interesting to see what you’re able to do with that data in terms of understanding which US cities have the most second-hand transactions, and you’ll be able to see the average price of certain items by geography.
TD: That’s what we’re excited about, because aside from our own analytic desires of looking at a dashbord to understand values, we can also feed that data back into the system to empower users to understand the relative value of their items. When you make a post right now, how would you competitively post that item in a price and time range that’s reasonable? If we can have tooltips or a guiding hand that’s helping the user understand what the high and low boundaries are realistically within their physical location and proximity in price and time, that’s what we’re interested in.
One of the fundamental things we talk about is our great balancing act. There are two main types of marketplaces: buyer powered and seller powered. Craigslist and ebay are great examples of seller markets, where sellers say “I have this”. Then there are buyer-powered sites like taskrabbit where people say “I want this”. We looked at this and said “that’s interesting. Why don’t these people talk to each other?”.
You have all these expressions of demand on one side and expression of supply on the other, but they don’t communicate. We decided to build peddl as an alternative to the two approaches, letting us sit in the middle of what we call a balanced marketplace.
NB: I’ve noticed that peddl is item-based rather than category-based. Because of this, there’s no way to browse similar items, and it makes it difficult to zero in on what you’re trying to find.
TD: Categories are very high on our list right next to user ratings, and we think just like user ratings, categories have to be re-solved to make sense in a hyperlocal marketplace. We don’t believe in “electronics, lawn and garden, etc.”. We’ll use our collective brainpower to find a new and clever solution, and our hunch is to find how to use our existing categorizations
(distance, price, time, social proximity) and add a filter ontop of it that is more detailed than, say, electronics, but rather Mac: Laptop.