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Zaarly Storefronts comes to KC, could signal revival for local operations

Zaarly on Saturday rolled out the latest iteration of its online marketplace to users in Kansas City, the fourth city to receive the revamped version.

The new approach, called Storefronts, deviates from Zaary’s original request model – “I’d pay blank for blank” – by putting the service providers who respond to the requests up front.

“It was just really clear that we had more work to do to highlight (the service providers), to show them off,” Zaarly co-founder and CEO Bo Fishback said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Zaarly’s website now showcases the services or products of local carpenters, plumbers, hairstylists and other service providers (some full-time, some part-time, others trying to turn a skill or hobby into a career). Service providers now have profile pages to tell their stories, list prices and process transactions. Service providers use Zaarly for free; users purchasing products or services pay a booking fee. 

More than 500 listings from less than 100 service providers are live. Each service provider is approved by Zaarly and then given help to complete their profile – Zaarly provides a professional photographer and the writing and pricing expertise of its internal staff.

The Zaarly request model remains live in Kansas City, but it’s been moved to the site’s sidebar. Fishback said it will become more integrated with Storefronts in the future.

Bo’s bet on Kansas City

After getting its start at a Startup Weekend in February 2011, Zaarly became one of the year’s hottest startups, closing out 2011 with more $15 million in funding. Fishback, who lives in Kansas City, Mo. and commutes weekly to his company’s San Francisco headquarters, said Zaarly spent its first year experimenting, learning where it could “really create magic.”

In September, it launched its first Storefronts to users in San Francisco. Since, it has added New York and Los Angeles. Fishback said he expects Storefronts to really take off in Kansas City.

“My money is on the fact that it’s actually going to be the very best market that we’ve launched in,” Fishback said. “I have kind of a ridiculously massive wager with one of my co-workers about Kansas City versus another city.”

Pointing to a Midwestern characteristic he calls home-centric – “everybody owns their home, they have yards, they do things at their home” – Fishback said he thinks Kansas City has a greater need for the local service provider marketplace.

Fishback said Meg Whitman, a Zaarly advisor and the former CEO of eBay, agrees.

“She’s been banging the Kansas City drum for probably a year,” Fishback said, noting the Kansas City marketplace has been one of the service’s most active since launch.

“She’s like … ‘Don’t fall too in love with like the traditional big cities if that is not where you think your product fits best so that it’s going to make people’s lives better,’ ” Fishback said. “She’s really, really excited about the Kansas City launch.”

Investing “pretty heavily” in Kansas City

Following its seed funding in March 2011, Zaarly leased office space in Kansas City’s River Market and hired more than a dozen contractors in the city. The company subsequently shut down its Kansas City office (along with a New York office) and moved operations to San Francisco.

But Fishback said the launch of Zaarly Storefronts could put employees back in Kansas City.

“We’re going to end up with an in-person footprint in the markets that we activate and that we decide to invest in, and we’re going to invest pretty heavily in Kansas City,” he said. “One, because I live here and I’m the CEO but, two, because this market is a market that is unlike the other three markets that we have turned on in a way that I actually think is going to be pretty powerful.”

Fishback, who’s recently been spending Monday through Thursday in San Francisco, said he’ll begin spending a bit more time in Kansas City as he leads the charge for the company in the city.

“Hopefully (it’s) going to necessitate a couple other people being here with me,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of (San Francisco-based) guys who are just living and breathing Kansas City right now, and both of them are, like, chomping at the bit to get on an airplane and spend some time here because to do this right you’ve really got to be there in person.”


Credits: Screenshots from zaarly.com. Fishback photo courtesy of Fishback.

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