Craig Donato & Oodles Of Online Classifieds
A couple months back, prior to me taking vacation, I had a chance to speak with Craig Donato of Oodle.
Our conversation focused mostly on what exactly Oodle is and what need it addresses in the online classifieds marketplace. With sites like eBay, CraigsList and other monsters offering a classified type service, I didn’t see much need for another site entering the space. But that’s why he and I were chatting, so either he could set me straight or I’d realize Oodle was just another classifieds site trying to benefit from a good PR team and some online marketing buzzwords like social netowrking and local search.
To my surprise, I was quite astonished to learn exactly what Oodle is attempting to do and also learn there’s noone out there doing what they’re currently doing. Although the business model side of things at this point may leave something to be desired [at least at this point] I think the service is quite smart and needs to be explained so everyone understands what Oodle’s all about. And that is exactly what I’ll do in this post. I’ll also follow up this post with another from a Q & A with Craig based on some of the feedback and questions you guys raise from this post. Remember, blogs are a two way street of communication and I love getting your feedback, positive or negative.
Bit of Background On Craig Donato, Oodle’s CEO
Did search and community product management at excite back in ’96. One project he worked on involved building lots of microcrawlers, interesting huh? Several former coworkers from Excite are at Oodle including two of Oodle’s board members and a few others including Faith Sedlin, Scott Kister and Brett Bullington.
Oodle Inspiration Factor
As any seasoned entrepreneur knows, there is a point at which you are doing something relatively mundane and ordinary and you’re struck with a thought. Hey, this is really messed up and I can do it way better [and make money from it as well]. From that initial thought, every following thought either confirms or denies your initial hunch. Well, the same thing happened to Craig and that’s when Oodle was born.
Craig was taking some time off from his last job and wanted to use some power tools. His wife wasn’t too thrilled about him using power tools on their house. So Craig decided to practice on old furniture and with used power tools. Then if he ended up liking what he was doing and got good enough at it he’d buy new power tools and be able to do some real work on his house.
Craig began using online classifieds to find these used power tools and old furniture. It was the process of actually going out there and using the existing online classifieds sites like CraigsList and eBay that he was struck with a thought. Hey, I can make this whole process better. He realized the online classifieds marketplace was seller focused and not optimized for the buyer. There was no way to see listings he was interested in from multiple sites in one place. There was no way to drill down into search results. There was no way to be alerted when an item he was interested in hit a certain price. Finding good deals took hours and hours and the time spent searching for stuff he needed offset any cost savings there may have been from using a site like eBay.
He decided he could do it better and that his system would be focused on making it easy for buyers to find the stuff they’re interested in and it would not only save them time but also save them money. Hence, Oodle was conceived.
Technology – How Classifieds Come Together
There was a huge problem in taking this idea of merging the data from hundreds of classifieds sources into one place. Some sites like eBay offer api’s where Oodle can plug right in and pull the data they need without much finessing of the data required. But the vast majority of classifieds sites don’t make it very easy to pull their data into a 3rd party web site or application. This makes sense due to the fact that these sites not only want to help their buyers sell merchandise but they also want more visitors on their sites. These sites have paid lots in advertising to make that happen and allowing a 3rd party site to steal their data and possibly their traffic requires a lot of trust. Understanding that basic concept makes it easy to see why this is a major barrier to entry for a classifieds meta site.
Craig wanted to make it easy for these sites to get their listings to appear on Oodle and thus offered the ability for these advertisers to submit data feeds directly to Oodle. Now feeds are nothing new and really not revolutionary at all but they’re simple and effective and easy to implement on both sides. Basically, Oodle is just like Bloglines where they go out and crawl the feeds their merchant partners have sete up or they’ll simply crawl their sites if no feed has been set up.
Some of you may be thinking, hmmm, that sounds an awful lot like a meta search engine like dogpile doesn’t it? Haha, now you’re getting it. Oodle is exactly that, a meta search engine. But unlike the meta search engines of yesteryear, the new meta search engines of today have to do more than just return the exact same results as if you had gone to each individual site. Now they have to add value to the data, making it easier for you to find exactly what it is you’re looking for. That’s where the real opportunity lies in meta search today. Oodle is just one implementation in this new meta search revolution that’s focusing in on specific vertical markets. A wave that’s sure to grow in the next 5 years.
I think Craig’s onto something with Oodle and I’ll dig more into that in my follow up Q & A with him in a week or so. While, Oodle’s currently only offering results for 7 major cities, I think that list will be growing rapidly in the coming months. I’d suggest staying tuned to what they’re up to by creating a free account on Oodle and adding their blog feed to your Bloglines account, that’s what I did.
It’s always fun to learn more about internet startups that seem to have a good chance of sticking around but you may not be sure why. Hopefully you’re much more informed about Oodle and a little more informed about the wave of vertical meta search engines that’s sweeping through the internet today.
Jason Dowdell is a technology entrepreneur and operates the Marketing Shift blog.