Zaarly Storefronts give talented New Yorkers a site for ‘hustling on the side’

On any given weekday, you can find New York twentysomethings Jojo Yang, Mohammad Mehrabani and Austin Lacey at their respective corporate offices building PowerPoint decks and Excel models. But come the weekend, the three friends climb to the roof of a West Village apartment building to turn salvaged wine crates into one-of-a-kind coffee tables and desks.

“We were looking for a creative outlet that lets us work with our hands,” said Jojo, who is a consultant most days of the week.  “In New York, because it’s so rich with an artisan craft scene, it drives you to do something that gets you away from the computer, to create something that’s more tangible.”

Since May, they’ve sold their goods, under the name Le Petit Monster, on Etsy and Craigslist. But starting Wednesday, the part-time handcrafters are getting a full-time virtual storefront on Zaarly, as the San Francisco startup expands its new marketplace of people to New York.

“It’s the city of the side hustle,” joked Zaarly CEO and co-founder Bo Fishback. “It’s a community of people who are super engaged on more than one axis.”

Earlier this month, Zaarly launched Storefronts in San Francisco, moving its platform from what some have called a “reverse Craigslist” where people can request any item to a marketplace showcasing the goods and services talented local people can provide.

A people-first marketplace

By the end of the week, about 100 hand-picked New Yorkers will have live Zaarly storefronts to sell everything from personal training packages for couples to custom jewelry and furniture to specialty grilled cheese sandwiches and baked goods.  Over the next few months, the site will add sellers in New York and San Francisco and will expand to other cities across the country.

Fishback said about half of the featured sellers are using Zaarly to promote a growing full-time business and half are trying to give their so-called “side hustle” a more professional presence.

Since launching, Zaarly has processed about $40 million in requests through its original platform that allows people to ask for any item or service (like “I’m looking for an iPhone 4s for $50” or “I need someone to install shelves”) from people in a local area. But, as I wrote when Storefronts launched, the new people-first marketplace really sets Zaarly apart from other startups, like OfferUp, Grabio and HipSwap, that want to update eBay (s EBAY) and Craigslist.

The new strategy, which cuts across all verticals, makes Zaarly a bit more competitive with other locally focused startups, such as SideTour, which offers unique local experiences, and TaskRabbit, which lets people outsource errands.

Fishback acknowledged that the company’s approach is ambitious but said, “what Airbnb is trying to do for spaces, we can do for people.”

Professionalizing hobbies

Especially in a place like New York that has such a high density of multi-talented people, I’m really curious to see the kinds of new services Zaarly brings to a larger audience of buyers and the kinds of opportunities it opens up for creative sellers. With technology, the nature of work is changing so much and platforms like Zaarly give people a chance to try on multiple professional hats as well as create new revenue streams.

For example, Diana Spalding, a Brooklyn midwife, told me that she and her graphic designer husband Cam always seem to be the go-to couple for planning friends’ baby showers and birthday parties. Through Zaarly, they now have a way to sell their party-planning services and see what it might be like to professionalize an activity that they love.

“My parents always said that if you have the opportunity to turn a hobby into a job, you should go for it, and this is exactly what that is,” she said. “We figured it would be a great opportunity to test the waters and see what it’s like on a professional level.”