Durban pair in geo-classifieds start-up
Worldwide Open Marketplace wants to allow local communities to connect, trade and share things online and from mobile phones. By Craig Wilson.
The Worldwide Open Marketplace is a new service that wants to match your exact location to people looking to buy products and services. It uses Google Maps geo-location technology to display classified advertising-like content based on where users happens to be.
Though there is the facility to sell items, the focus is on requests, from products like beds and bicycles, to services like carpentry and babysitting.
Users can request almost any product or service in real time. They can also opt to sell or give away items they no longer want or need. Although the service is arguably best suited to mobile devices, it is only available via the website, with applications for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android to follow.
The Worldwide Open Marketplace, abbreviated clumsily as WWOMP, lets its users receive notifications from others in their area who are either looking to offer items and skills, or receive them. Items requested and offered can be linked to other local advertising or shared through social networks.
Founders Baronne Mouton and Rob Schultz, both 35, are from Durban originally, but now live in the UK. The pair began work on the website in June 2011. It went live a month ago, in May 2012.
Mouton is CEO and Schultz is chief operating officer, but they’re quick to point out that their roles are quite dynamic and they’re both involved in most aspects of the business. Schultz oversees all of the design and development aspects of the business, while Mouton is more concerned with the business management side of things.
By day, Mouton is an IT consultant focused on server infrastructure and data centres. Schultz, meanwhile, works in finance at British broadcaster ITV.
Mouton says that although the pair had hoped to have the mobile apps ready at launch last month, various complications in the development the process, which had been outsourced to India, had resulted in delays. Nevertheless, they plan to release an iOS application “shortly”, with Android to follow soon thereafter.
“Mobile is crucial because that’s what people use and how they can get the most out of the service,” says Mouton, adding that a Windows Phone 8 version and mobile Web version that can be used on all mobile devices are also on the cards.
It’s through the mobile platform that the pair intends monetising the service. They plan to take a small cut of facilitated mobile payments between users.
“We’re on the cusp of a mobile payments boom,” says Mouton. “WWOMP wants to partner with a mobile payments provider. If I want someone to come and trim my hedge, I want to be able to make payment mobile to mobile. We’re still shopping around for the best option to make that possible.”
The company is also investigating local equivalents of services such as Square in the US, which allows users to receive card payments using a card reader that plugs into a mobile device. Unfortunately, it appears unlikely that WWOMP will be able to find a single solution for all regions, though it hasn’t given up looking.
Mouton says the company considered using PayPal but found it convoluted and laden with administrative difficulties. “There’s so much red tape with PayPal that it’s difficult to use unless you already have enormous turnover,” he says.
The intention is to focus on English-speaking markets such as SA, the UK, the US and Australia to begin with, but Mouton hopes the company will expand into other countries over time.
“We’ve opened our doors to the world, but we do know we need to target certain markets first. With these sorts of start-ups, it’s very much a numbers game. You need to be able to show decent user numbers before you can attract investors.”
Currently, the site is registering a couple of hundred visits a day, with occasional busier days. Schultz says the challenge is getting people to list items rather than simply browsing existing listings.
Mouton hopes the ability to give away unwanted items for free might increase user numbers. “There’s a service called Freecycle that allows people to give things away, but it’s run using a Yahoo group that’s really painful. It’s a nice idea but the execution was bad. Now you can take an image, put it on WWOMP, and people around you can find it easily.”
Schultz says that although sellers are welcome on the service, it’s “more about getting things you need or want”.
“Whether it’s getting someone to walk your dog, or wanting to buy or swap tickets at an event, it’s about locals getting to help each other and about harnessing the power of mobile devices within a community.”
So far, the website has been wholly funded by its founders, but they are beginning to shop around for potential investors. “Our start-up costs haven’t been too high,” says Mouton. “It’s great to be able to start something up quite quickly and easily. I suppose it’s the nature of online business.”
For now, most of the users are in the UK and the US but the company has preemptively registered domains for each of the regions it intends targeting so that it can take a more region-specific approach in future.
Mouton says both he and Schultz were inspired to launch the service after Mouton came across US company Zaarly. “We thought we could do something similar in the UK and other regions because services from the US can take a long time to move the other markets.
“We’re interested in the possibilities of a buyer-focused marketplace where people are requesting things rather than looking for them,” Mouton says. “You can think of it as a ‘wanted’ section on steroids.” — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media