Boostable is putting machine learning to work for marketplace sellers

Maybe I’m not giving her enough credit, but I doubt the Etsy seller who made our new wool cat cave is an expert at building recommendation engines (she also underestimated how fat our cats are).

Even if she were, the current division of data between marketplace providers and marketplace sellers puts it all in the hands of the former group — the Etsys, Amazon.coms and Airbnbs of the world. A startup called Boostable, which is presenting its company as part of the Y Combinator Demo Day on Tuesday, wants to change that with a service that gives sellers access to some of the same targeted advertising techniques that larger companies use.

The way co-founder and CEO Selcuk Atli describes it, the process for sellers is as simple as signing up and giving Boostable their URLs within whatever marketplace they’re selling stuff. Then, when potential customers’ behavior triggers Boostable’s system, it will display that seller’s ad (currently only on Facebook) for cat caves, Airbnb rentals or whatever else they’re selling. Atli said the ad will look like it came from the marketplace itself, but will be specifically highlighting one seller’s product.

“You need that [customer] connection to advertise,” he said. “We’re going to be that connection.”

Boostable is also working with marketplace providers themselves to help put its system into the hands of sellers. As Atli explained, it’s a win-win situation because more sales for sellers mean more money for marketplaces and more sellers wanting to get into them.

Selcuk Atli. Source: Boostable

Selcuk Atli. Source: Boostable

However, there’s a bigger picture to a service like Boostable, which is the trickle-down effect of machine learning and other big data techniques to even the smallest businesses. While some startups such as BloomReach are targeting large retailers with advanced technology, and others like Mortar Data and even Cloudera are trying to create reusable recommendation-engine frameworks for data scientists who want to build them, Boostable is giving what Atli called “classic, but not really novel” machine learning to individual sellers.

Viewed in the light of GoDaddy’s recent transformation into a company that wants to put machine learning and next-generation technology platforms to work for really small businesses, Boostable’s promise seems to be the right one. The number of individuals and mom-and-pop businesses trying to make a buck vastly outnumbers those that can pay for enterprise software or afford to build their own tools,but those individual small fish need some help to get noticed among schools they swim in and the big fish swimming all around. Companies that can package up the right technology at the right price seem positioned to capture a whole lot of users.