Bonanzle Raises $1M from Angel Investors, Plus Three VC Firms, to Expand Its Online Marketplace

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support experience and a really bug-free user experience” in online shopping and selling, he says. “Bonanzle was unique, but lacking a lot of basic things it needs to grow.”

For example, Harding wants to “continue to streamline the communication between buyers and sellers,” he says. “It’s already working, but it could work a lot better.” That means things like making it faster and easier for consumers to sign in and get started on the site. Harding also wants to build Bonanzle’s credibility through buyer protection programs (like eBay and Amazon have). “The key thing you have to establish is credibility from the first click on the site,” he says.

Lastly, Harding wants to put some more resources into better metrics—getting a more detailed picture of how people are using the site. “That would be useful for us to design the optimum buying experience, and useful for sellers to optimize their listings to get buyers to actually buy, and get Google to notice the listing,” he says.

One thing I wanted to ask Harding about: the strange, cult-like comments about Bonanzle left by consumers on Xconomy, among other sites. People either seem to love it or hate it, in equally irrational ways. Harding says eBay gets similar kinds of comments, and admits that some of the vitriolic response can be “a little bit weird,” given that sellers are always free to change the site they’re using if it’s not meeting their needs. As he explains, “The people who are passionate about the site are the sellers. They’re coming to the site every day, and their livelihoods are built upon the success of the site.” Those who leave scathing comments tend to be people who’ve been suspended from the site for bad behavior (not delivering products, not paying fees, that sort of thing), or those who don’t like how Bonanzle has evolved, he says.

I also asked Harding about the issue of giving up some control of the company. “I don’t want to make every decision by myself,” he says. “If you’re going to divest some control, people like Geoff [Entress] and Dan [Shapiro] have some of the best opinions you can get around Seattle. I like the idea of divesting some responsibility.”

In terms of where the company fits with broader trends, social commerce is certainly an active area. But Bonanzle is different from sites like Addoway and Storenvy, which focus mostly on consumers buying things from friends and posting sale items to Twitter and Facebook, or 1000Markets, which focuses on small business sellers. The closest model is probably Etsy, which sells handmade items to a global community and has been growing successfully for five years.

To that end, it sounds like Harding wants to expand Bonanzle’s marketplace in a smart and careful way. “The way I’d like to see the company grow over the next couple years is similar to the pace it’s grown so far,” he says.

Will his new investors let that happen? Entress, for his part, says Bonanzle “might stay profitable, or maybe it’s an even bigger opportunity, and we want to put more gas on the fire to take this thing really big.” He adds, “We could have raised a lot more money than we did…but this is as much money as we need right now. This will enable us to boost the hiring while still keeping us profitable. One of the reasons the venture firms are interested is we might raise more money down the road.”

One thing is clear: Harding and Bonanzle are definitely out of the ordinary in the startup world. As Entress puts it, “He’s one of the unique entrepreneurs who’s been able to respond to changes in the environment, and changes in what the customer wants.”

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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] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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