Ben Edwards is trying to take a bite out of eBay, one mobile device at a time.
Edwards (Left, photo from twitter.com/bennybeta) is the creator and proprietor of Swappa, an online marketplace for buying and selling gently used Android smartphones. An Android programmer from Kansas City, Edwards has long felt that sites like eBay and craigslist are lacking as marketplaces for the sale of Android phones. Edwards has never found the sites’ policies regarding phones’ conditions stringent enough — “the wild west,” he calls eBay and craigslist — and grew weary of having to inquire about the specifics of phones he planned to purchase. Eventually, Edwards decided to take action: he started work on Swappa last year, and the site “launched quietly” in December.
On Swappa, Edwards said, users need not worry about the condition of the phone they’re purchasing.
“One of the biggest things with Swappa is the rules dictate that we don’t allow bad devices,” Edwards said. “And so the criteria for a good device that you can throw on Swappa is it’s got to have a clean serial number, which means it can’t be reported lost or stolen with the carriers. It can’t be tied to an account in bad standing, that sort of thing. It can’t have a cracked screen. It can’t have water damage.”
That’s just one way in which Edwards said Swappa tries to differentiate itself from other online marketplaces for mobile devices. He also touts Swappa’s unique form for posting sale items, which is tailored to Android phones.
“It’s really, really easy to create a listing,” he said. “Because Swappa is so focused on one thing, and that’s Android devices, we actually have a catalogue of basically all the devices you can sell on the site — the 100-plus Android devices.”
Edwards has a full-time job, but he balks at categorizing Swappa as a side project. He has bootstrapped the entire project and said his dedication to the venture — and differentiation from the competition — shows in “the amount of personal attention I pay to each of the transactions, as far as making sure the buyer and seller are happy, and overseeing transactions and helping to resolve disputes … when they do arise.”
After launching Swappa in December, Edwards spent January spreading the word about the site. That work began to pay visible dividends in early February. Edwards said Swappa is approaching 10,000 registered users, listings number “in the low thousands” and there have been several hundred transactions.* Those transactions, which carry a $10 flat fee that’s charged to the buyer, are Swappa’s sole source of revenue at this point.
“eBay’s not scared yet,” Edwards joked.
Swappa provides an overview and detailed information on each phone. Screenshot from Swappa.
But Edwards is optimistic about the Swappa model, and he’ll keep nibbling away, one Android device at a time, in hopes of eventually taking a sizable bite out of the big boys.
“The model right now, I think, is really sound,” Edwards said. “I’ve gotten a handful of requests for, ‘Oh, you should do this for Apple devices or add Blackberry devices or do all cell phones,’ that sort of thing. And that’s absolutely not on the horizon.
“The Android ecosystem as far as users and developers for Android and that sort of thing, it’s really rich. It’s a really good ecosystem, and it lends itself to something like Swappa. And so I think right now, for the immediate future, the goal is just to spread the word and get it out there and really kind of embed Swappa as something for Android users.”
*Update 1:15 p.m. — Sales figures have been changed since the story was originally published. Previously, transactions were stated as numbering in the “low hundreds.”
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