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IDEA #11 – Classifieds by Cell – The Long Tail of Used Goods that has yet to Emerge

Currently it can take 5+ minutes to list anything for sale online — I’m proposing a process of less than 1 minute … and tapping into the long tail of items in people’s homes that they would sell (garage sale type items), if they had a quick way of listing the items.

Market / Problem being solved: Yes there is eBay for tons of used products, as well as Craigslist that has an emphasis on localized buying/selling of used products — but what about all the items that you’d typically find at a garage sale or flea market? I bet eBay and Craigslist are only 20% of the potential of products that could be sold online — I bet there’s an 80% long tail of items in people’s homes that they just don’t want to waste the time (given current listing options online) to list these items.

I have 3 used DSL modems, a watch, some music CDs, and DVDs that I’ll never list for sale online, because I don’t want to spend more than 1-minute listing each. The current process would require me to photograph the item, get the photo on my computer, then upload the photo to the site — and if eBay, take at least 5-30 minutes to list the item for sale. If Craigslist, likely 5 minutes (with the photo transferring / upload time included).

I’m proposing a 1-minute or less method of posting an item for sale — using your cell phone…

SMS is expensive — I’d use the email-to-text capabilities of cell phones. Have users register at this website once by inputting their cell phone number, send them a message with a code; user verifies their cell, then allow them to start posting.

User simply records a video or takes photos of something they want to sell — and sends it to an email address they store in their cell’s address book. Once the system receives the message, the system auto-dials the user by voice phone (using VXML technology). The user is then prompted a couple questions —

  1. Is the item available for local delivery only (or can it be shipped national/international)?
  2. How much are you seeking for the item in # of dollars?
  3. Record up to a 3-minute audio description.
  4. Do you have additional photos/videos you’d like to add to the listing? If yes, the system will send a specific text message to the user’s phone with a code in it corresponding to this item. The user simply hits reply to that text message with more photos / videos they want to attach to the listing.

The user can easily login to the website to make quick updates to the title/description/price for any of their items for sale — using AJAX technology, so that the changes are very easy/quick for the seller. The seller can also choose a category for their items that are for sale, to help buyers find their items.
Buyers use the website to surf all the items for sale. They can purchase the item instantly — or if the item is cash only, the buyer can put the item on a “pending sale” — which notifies the seller via text message (and possibly the seller/buyer are connected by voice using VXML).

To ensure listings don’t get out of date, we’ll contact the seller every 2 weeks to verify their items are still for sale — if we don’t hear from them within a week of that contact, we put their items ‘pending verification they are still for sale’ status.

Also, to create higher quality listings — users could update listings they view. We might also incorporate simple speech-to-text software (WizzScribe SI (Speaker Independent) for Linux – $3,400 CPU license), which will help somewhat in getting some text associated to an item for sale — we’d convert the (up to) 3 minute audio description that the seller leaves.

Possible revenue streams: Charging the buyer a fee to get contact information of the seller. Charging the seller a fee to get contact information of the buyer. Charging a one-time listing fee per item for sale (items can stay online for sale for forever). Connecting the buyer/seller via voice phone call — forcing either/both to listen to an audio ad by phone. If we get the mass community of buyers/sellers using the website, we simply do advertising on the site — and/or charge for specific listings, such as cars, apartments, homes, and/or jobs.
What do you think is the revenue stream?

Further use of this technology: Listing apartments for rent, homes for sale, automobiles for sale, etc. Eventually the ability for buyers to inquire using text messaging on their cell phone to get photos/videos/text about a specific item for sale (or standing in front of an apartment and getting a video tour on their cell phone; or standing in front of a car at a dealership and getting a video tour on their cell phone).

Trick is getting the mass community. eBay and Craigslist already have the big community, while competitors such as LiveDeal, and newbies Cellit and IQZone all try to establish brand / communities. I would partner with, Google Base, edgeio, and any others to spread the item listings.

  • Basti

    Hi Steve,

    i just found out about your Blog and since i like to play with new business ideas, it think it´s pretty cool.

    Let´s have a look at your Classifieds by Cell idea.

    I agree with you that it would be really nice to post items in less than a minute and i agree that there is a market to catch. However i´m not quite sure if this is just because of the long post items process. People also might think that these items are not worth shipping (because the shipping would cost more than the item) or that they can´t be shipped (because they are too big). Still i agree people would like to have a faster way to post items.

    In the US the way of posting items via the email-to-text capabilities might work, in Europe most people don´t have this feature or if they do they would still have to pay for the transmitted Data. On the other hand SMS is cheap in Europe and everybody is using it, but you can´t send a picture via SMS, you have to use MMS. Again no one uses MMS because it is too expensive. That brings us in the situation that we might want to think about a client based solution, but again here we have the problem that the consumer has to install the client (drop out rates of more than 40%) and get it to work on his network (wrong APN settings are a bug problem). Also you need to have a string development team to support different devices etc. I also strongly believe that this is too much trouble and would not been used heavily enough. On the other hand this client could feature some of the ideas that you outlined for further business, like a shopping video guide etc.

    It might also be worth to think about the people that have all that stuff in their garage and flying around in their house. Do these people really all know how to use their cellphone for what we are just talking about? Maybe there is just a faster way to do that online?

    But let´s say that we found out that everybody can use their phones for things like this and that we stick with MMS in Europe, and let´s look at the posting process.

    I think users should be able to post a short description of the item that they would like to sell together with the picture or the video file. If that is done the user don´t has to login to the website later on to do this, and it would stick more with your under 1 minute process rule. The phone call is a great idea and these audio systems are anyway not used enough from startups right now. A voice guide (if properly setup) is still a very powerful tool. On point 3 you mention a 3 minute audio description and i´m not quite sure if we need this when we have a short written description. It might be easier for the person who want´s to sell the stuff, but what about the buyer? Is this something that you want to do? Listen to descriptions of items? If you could get the same information by reading a few sentences? I´m not quite sure about this one. I would rather stick with text or use the speech to text software right away.

    In regards to the listings we might also want to think about some mobile internet or WAP pages. If the mobile internet becomes more popular this might be a way to shop in the future also think about underdeveloped countries and 1 billion worldwide internet users in comparison to an estimated 3 billion mobile subscribers in 2007.

    Indeed we might have a sort of new business model here i general. If you think about companies like admob selling mobile text based ads over WAP sites, you could think about something like this for your post to. So to extend the reach of you post you could just place it on other WAP sites just like a text based ad. On the other hand you would have to pay for that, but the amound could be tiny just like people pay more to have theit item displayed in the eBay gallery or mark it as highlighted.

    In the last 6 month admob delivered a stunning 1 billion ads on WAP sites, so the network is already out there.

    This would also be something that we could add as a possible revenue stream. I think charging a one time listing fee is pretty much OK but maybe this only becomes due if you really sell your item? I would not want to charge for the exchange of contacts. More likely people will pay to a good position and a wide reach of their offer. In Germay there is a real estate website that gathers all provision free apartments for rent (really hard to get) and sends them to you. You pay a small service fee upfront and you get offers as long as you have found your apartment. People might not want to pay for this in regards to smaller items but maybe we could setup some sort of reverse user agents to screen the listings and help people find what they want. This could be done with a notification service that we would charge for (text based or via RSS).

    I like the idea of partnering with and Google Base to spread the listings but maybe we can even find an additional way to generate some buzz. What if items are not only listed in less then a minute but also sold in just another minute? Maybe via the interation into all these WAP sites. I´m not saying that the way it should be maybe you have an idea how we could make a super fast sale? What about widgets?

    I would also like to see a feature that shows me sold and just added items on the website.

    Again great idea Steve!



  • Ben Godfrey

    We’ve had the same idea at We use MMS to capture a photo of the item and the rest can be done on either your phone or a computer. Text to speech is a great idea and we’ve discussed using it in a similar way to your outline. We haven’t launched it quite yet :-).

  • Anon

    Very cool idea seed. I think you should actually use it as a front end to eBay. Take a pic, type a few word description, record voice or video, put it on eBay. THAT would be of value to me. It’s way too hard to list something on eBay right now.

  • Robert Dewey

    For revenue, you could simply charge the seller when a buyer indicates they are interested in the product. Otherwise, no fee would be assessed. That’s essentially a CPA method.

    From a buyers perspective, this is really no different than eBay… The real appeal is to the sellers. I agree with the first comment – if you can make this system work with eBay, you’re set; I’m sure they’d swipe you up for several tens of millions of dollars provided you get decent traction.

  • Robert Dewey

    Basti… The true value lies in the fact that I can quickly create a listing for my existing service. My current method is as follows:

    Find digital camera
    Take photo(s)
    Find cord to connect camera to PC
    Download the photos
    Login to listing service
    Upload photos and create listing

    As a long time seller on eBay, I would much rather flip open my phone and snap some photos, instantly creating a listing.

  • Steve Poland

    Does the eBay Developer API allow for adding listings? If so, this could be done.

  • Dan

    Steve –

    I like this idea, and I checked out some of the mobile classified services out there – they seem pretty cool, although many of them haven’t quite yet launched fully.

    One issue I see is the adoption rate. You’re somewhat at the mercy of new phone technology and the direction camera phones, internet connections, and texting move in (although it should be positive!). But the buyers still have to go to the cpu to see items, so it may defeat the purpose of mobile until you can connect buyers with sellers without ever having to go online (via local alert system).

    For a biz model, you could do something with google local on cells, etc, paid local shopping ads via text msg.

    I do disagree with your statement that you have to post all those listings individually on CL and it takes 5 min each. You can post them all in one listing, and a simple CL search will return items that people are looking for.


  • Robert Dewey


    As far as I can tell, eBay’s API contains an “SYI” function (SellYourItem). You could extract information from the user’s phone and send it through the API to the user’s account, which would auto-create a listing.

    The value here is awesome… I could see this becoming the next “Andale” so to speak. The value to eBay could be great, and I’m sure they would take notice.

  • Steve Poland

    Maybe make a deal with Verizon / Cingular / Sprint — and have an instant one-button access to an app on the cell phone already that will take photo/video of a product for sale, and list it on this proposed business site. This increases SMS/MMS to their users, allowing the cell companies to increase revenues (in an ever-decreasing minutes cost war). One-click access to post an item for sale — user is charged cost of a text message (or 5-10 cents per item posted, split with carrier).

  • Khalid

    What about fulfillment?

    When someone buys that one CD, that old speaker, that extra router, how is it packed? How is it shipped? How is postage handled? What if the buyer is in a different country?

    I wonder if the “buyer” in this scenario should be one of those local ebay aggregators who take your stuff and sell it on Ebay on consignment.

    In this sense, the photo you take of your item is announcing what “inventory” you have available. Local resellers could view all these quick listings of what items are available and make arrangements to collect them and use their systems for fulfillment and handling payments.

    From the user’s perspective: Take a minute and photograph or record a video of the item and auto-list it. Some local reseller contacts you and arranges to meet you at your home or office to pick up the item(s). When the item sells, the reseller sends the money to this listing service who takes a small cut and forwards the rest to the user.

    List it and wait for pickup – no packing, no shipping, no package tracking, no yard sale sorting and organizing.

  • Basti

    The idea to use it as a storefront for eBay is great. Who can find out if that would work with the eBay API?

    In Europe a deal with the network operators could very well be possible since the application would generate lots of data traffic.

    Do we have enough developer on the hand to give it a shot 😉


  • Robert Dewey

    Why would you need to partner up with a carrier?

    The hardest part of creating a front-end for eBay would be the categorization system.

  • Kevin

    I think bar code scanners will be integrated into cell phones as per John Battelle’s prediction in “The Search”. Were this to happen, just scan your item and *poof* it can be registered with attributes pre-designed online (like shipping, etc.)

  • Tisha Dore

    Hi Folks – iqzone, inc. unveiled the world’s first mobile service for creating and receiving classified ads last week at DEMO 2007. Please let us know if you have any questions.

  • Graydon

    The comment about “order fulfillment” made me think…
    One avenue of this service is that it would make it easier to sell those low price items that most don’t want to hassle with eBay for.

    So, one way to drive adoption is to notably localize it. I’m thinking virtual garage sales where those power shoppers that show up at 6:30 am for the 7am start go constantly looking for local items to buy.

    I had a thought once about the idea of providing some laydown space for people to use for getting organized… you could tie in a service like this as an added benefit as well (details at… )

  • Jon

    Hi Steve, We worked on a similar mobile sales network concept called Lemonade Stand ( on the StartupBus (