Zaarly — The Mobile Social Hyper-Local Market of SXSWi 2012

This year’s SXSWi was no different than past years in terms of the amount of start up software companies all competing for the attention of the crowd.

In years past, we’ve seen application brands like GroupMe, Foursquare, and even Twitter ascend into the spotlight during early March in Austin, Texas…showcasing their products and winning the hearts, minds and widespread user adoption of the crowd.

South by Southwest is one of the industry epicenters for launching new ideas with almost magical qualities … if the crowd loves what you’ve created.

Geo-Fencing Can Be Creepy

I’m not one of those huge privacy pushers or internet conspiracy theorists. My rule of thumb is simple: If you want to keep it private, keep it offline and away from Google.

That said, this new wave of social geo-fencing applications gives me a bit of the creeps.

A plethora of social geo-fencing applications were rampant this year. Names like Sonar, Banjo and Highlight became known as the apps that mashed up your social network profile data and connections with your current GPS location in order to let you know who might be nearby.

Sounds like a neat idea, right?

Unless you’re that girl who’s suddenly approached in a restaurant by some creepy guy who happens to know what your twitter bio reads, who you’re traveling with, and what parties you went to the previous night.

Creepy.

These apps had been poised by many bloggers to be the tech gems that would surely steal this year’s best in show. After a few days of use, there seemed to be a somewhat unsettling vibe among attendees as to whether or not social geo-fencing may have some cook time ahead before the masses get comfortable.

Mobile Commerce Prevails

In the end, an innovative commerce application called Zaarly emerged as the app supreme of SXSWi, surrounded by a largely favorable buzz about everything from investor interest to the performance of the app.

Zaarly Mobile Command SXSW

Photo Credit: Silicon Prairie News

Zaarly ScreenshotZaarly is a platform for connecting buyers and sellers so that they can work out deals for everything from hiring a helping hand in your neighborhood to help you plant your spring garden, to selling those gently used baby clothes your kids have outgrown.

What I like most about Zaarly’s approach is that the platform shares some of more positive qualities of older and popular sites like Cragslist and Ebay, yet adds the speed, localized relevance and ease of use that you expect from other geo-location apps.

Creating geographically relevant commerce opportunities gives Zaarly an edge with travelers and urbanites in that the market for goods and services is determined by where you are, delivering deals that are in proximity and immediately up for bid.

I overheard more than a few conversations about Zaarly, citing stories where a few users were able to work out deals on shared rides to and from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport with other attendees who had rented cars. The team at Zaarly launched a charitable giving program on their own platform, offering VIP passes to a list of parties available for bid to buyers.

A few hard to come by concert tickets to the American Express-sponsored Jay Z show found their way up for bid on Zaarly, quickly becoming hot items. There were even attendees who, for a small fee, used Zaarly to rent out their conference badges for the day so that other badge-less attendees who didn’t spring for the high cost of a badge could catch a few sessions and make a lap around the the exhibit hall.

So, What can Zaarly Do for My Business?

Back in December of 2011, Zaarly announced it would be launching a business pilot program with 1,250 select New York City small businesses. The move was largely driven by freelance graphic designers, maid services and other small shops that looked at the platform as a free avenue towards lead generation.

Since that time, Zaarly has developed alert systems based on category and keyword searches that can be saved and then automatically delivered to your inbox. Much different than sites like Groupon, there is no discount for revenue tied to this service, and sellers are free to list and negotiate their price.

While it’s early on in the development of Zaarly, I see this app having a long shelf life. As start ups go, it’s well funded and has built adoption momentum by delivering a clean user experience coupled with an addictive factor that will lead to repeat use. Keep your eyes on this company as they grow.

Can you really argue with the potential of localized, real-time and sales-ready leads being delivered right to your phone?

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