With new Storefronts, Zaarly shows off its marketplace of talented local people for hire

If you’re looking for a peer-to-peer marketplace to take on Craigslist in local commerce, there’s no shortage of startups that fit the bill. HipSwap, OfferUp, Grabio and more are all angling to be the new local marketplace for a more mobile and social crowd.

And, since launching in 2011, San Francisco-based Zaarly has seemed like one more startup competing with that crowd. But with a new feature rolling out Wednesday, the company is pulling away from those marketplaces of goods to really define itself as a marketplace of people.

Storefronts of people

Starting with San Francisco (but quickly moving on to other U.S. cities), the company is letting sellers on the site create “Storefronts” that showcase their talents and the goods and services they can provide – from a day of gardening to a hand-delivered homemade pie to a private yoga session.

“There are all kinds of cool things that are going to happen in the local space,” said founder and CEO Bo Fishback. “What we found in the last year is that this zone – finding talented people around and hiring them to do something great for you – this is where magic happens on Zaarly.”

As opposed to other local marketplaces that focus more on items that people want to sell, Zaarly has always listed items that people request, as well as goods and services people in a local area can provide. As some have said, it’s like a “reverse Craigslist,” which is compelling because you can ask for almost anything. But one of my chief frustrations with the site has been the difficulty in browsing for available goods and services and discovering possible items to ask for.

With the new Storefronts feature, that desire to browse and discover is satisfied, as you can scroll through dozens of people in a neighborhood (there are about 120 in the San Francisco area) across ten categories (including baking and cooking, custom creations, home repairs and lessons and learning) to see the kinds of things you can buy on the site as well as get inspiration for things you might want to ask for.  Sellers in different areas can apply to be showcased in a Storefront and Zaarly selects the best ones and then works with them on photography and marketing.

The importance of location, location, location

Even though the company’s Storefronts help distinguish it from competitors in local commerce, it will have to continue competing with historical rivals. And, with its new focus on people, Zaarly is a bit more competitive with services like errand-outsourcing startup TaskRabbit. But Fishback said Zaarly’s focus is more on helping people find specialists in their local area, not just anyone available to complete tasks. In some categories (custom creations, for example) Zaarly also competes with Etsy now, and Fishback said some sellers on their site use both platforms. But he added that while buying on Etsy doesn’t require that the buyer and seller actually meet, Zaarly’s platform encourages more in-person exchanges and communication.

Fishback said that when they launched the site, they didn’t have the vision for the Storefronts, but knew they wanted to create a local marketplace that prioritized people and transparency. When they added user profiles last March to downplay anonymity, he said, they realized that they had stumbled onto something promising and the Storefronts addition grew from there. Since launching, Zaarly has raised about $14.1 million and attracted just under half a million users. In the last year, it’s processed about $40 million in requests, the company said.