Rewarder Taps the Crowd of Amateur Detectives and Problem Solvers

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rewards they might be able to earn. It also tracks the online behavior of members, giving them a reputational ranking.

“It’s our highest priority to make sure it’s a trustworthy community,’’ Fargo says.

Fargo’s entire career has been devoted to e-commerce, beginning in 1994 when the Internet was just developing, and social networking wasn’t even on the horizon. After helping to develop a series of startups, Kendall founded StepUp Commerce, which figured out a way to extract inventory data from local merchants’ bookkeeping reports so it could help them sell merchandise online. Intuit bought StepUp in 2006, hired Fargo, and made StepUp into part of its QuickBooks product.

Fargo left Intuit in 2008, but he and his former Intuit colleague Graham Rasmussen kept in touch. Rasmussen took a job at Localyte, where he helped travelers find services at their destinations. Fargo and Rasmussen started to speculate about the next evolution of online commerce. Their plan for Rewarder emerged by early 2011.

“I really believed commerce could be much more personal,’’ Fargo says.

The rise of social networking created the needed framework, because people are now comfortable with sharing their personal interests and passions, Fargo says. With Rewarder, they reap answers to their problems only to the extent that they share their requests on Facebook, Twitter, and other networks. They can also help their friends earn a little money by alerting them to other members’ reward offerings, Fargo says.

Rewarder not only allows members to seek expertise, but also permits people with skills to ask for help finding customers. For example, independent music teachers offer small fees to Rewarder members who identify students who then sign up for instruction. Entrepreneurs can receive multiple referrals by creating an “ongoing reward’’ that stays active even after one or more winners have been paid.

Fargo sees Rewarder as quite different from TaskRabbit, a growing crowdsourced services company based in San Francisco. TaskRabbit is an intermediary that helps users find local people they can hire to pick up groceries or weed the garden, Fargo says. Rewarder allows members to tap into a global pool of expertise, he says.

“About 75 percent of our rewards have no local component at all,’’ Fargo says. He prefers to compare Rewarder with the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, where people chip in money to support artists or entrepreneurs whose work they admire.

“Those are projects around shared passions,’’ Fargo says.

Fans have described Rewarder as “a reverse eBay,’’ a treasure hunt, or a “voyeuristic journey of what people are willing to pay for,’’ Fargo says. “I think we’re in a category of our own,’’ he says.

Hollenbeck, the venture investor, agrees. He says the successful search for his motorcycle part made him more confident that Rewarder would be a good investment. “It just provided a concrete example that the knowledge I needed was out there,” Hollenbeck says. “It works , and it works quickly.”

Rewarder’s nine employees now occupy rented digs on Market Street, on the borders of San Francisco’s financial district near the original site of Fargo’s prior successful startup, StepUp Commerce. His new social marketplace site is hiring, and Fargo is hoping to have a million users a year from now. With more users, problems will be solved more quickly, and more rewards will be offered to a community with a wider range of expertise, he says.

“Once you get to a million, it really takes on a life of its own,’’ Fargo says.

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Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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