Anything But Ordinary: Bonanzle Aims To Be the Social Site for Buying and Selling Niche Items

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marketplace that fosters an environment around those weird, niche items. And add on the social experience.” (The target market is different from Valu Valu, another Seattle-area online marketplace startup, which focuses on “scientific pricing” of used video games and other standardized products.)

As for the inevitable eBay comparisons, Harding says his site is “simpler to use, easier to use, more powerful, and more interactive…People are a really important part of the equation at Bonanzle. You get a sense of the person’s personality. As a buyer, when you see that store, you can ask questions and shoot the breeze with the seller.” What’s more, he adds, “eBay is competing with Amazon on commodities, and we’re trying to go the opposite way, as far away from commodities as possible,” he says.

Bonanzle makes a commission of three to five percent on each sold item, and also offers premium subscriptions whereby sellers can get more placement for their goods on the site. The startup is already profitable, and now has two full-time employees and four contractors. As for further growth, it sounds like investors have been beating a path to Harding’s door, and the entrepreneur has been fielding their calls with cautious interest.

“Right now, the economic climate is just so terrible that the valuations I’ve heard for many reputable, successful companies are far lower than six or 12 months ago,” Harding says. “Given we are profitable already, and our growth trajectory has been quite good so far, we’re listening to offers, but we’re taking the stance of, all right, we’ll have a conversation, but we’re waiting for someone to make an offer that shows us they understand the vision of Bonanzle and will work with us to make a plan.”

Harding’s peers in the startup community have been raving about the company lately. “Bill showed me the site, and I was really impressed,” says Dan Shapiro, the co-founder and CEO of Ontela, a mobile software startup in Seattle. “There are people who want to talk about what they’re selling and buying. And they actively discourage that on eBay and Craigslist.” As for Bonanzle’s not needing to take outside investment, Shapiro (who has plenty of experience in fundraising and choosing partners) says he supports the strategy so far. “If you’re profitable in this economy, good Lord, don’t screw up a good thing.”

But rather than trying to build a mass-market site like eBay, Craigslist, or Amazon, Harding says his long-term vision for Bonanzle would be something more like Etsy, an online marketplace devoted to handmade goods. “They’re extremely successful. They dominate the market,” he says. “Their traffic isn’t huge, but they’re successful at creating this place in buyers’ minds.” With Bonanzle, it looks like Harding has at least begun to create that space for buying and selling long-tail merchandise—and connecting with like-minded people.

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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