Posted by: Rob Hof on November 16, 2009
You wouldn’t think the world would need another place for people to buy and sell used media such as DVDs, books, video games, and CDs. eBay and Amazon.com, along with innumerable smaller e-commerce Web sites, dominate a multibillion-dollar market that obviously provides a satisfactory experience for a great many people.
Glyde, a startup created by former eBay Motors founder and chief Simon Rothman, is betting there’s plenty of room left for newcomers that can make the whole buying and selling process much faster and easier. On Nov. 16, the Palo Alto-based company is debuting the site, which it promises will provide single-click purchasing for buyers (after the first one, during which you have to fill in your credit-card and shipping information) and 10-second item listing for sellers.
Rothman landed on the idea after leaving eBay in 2005 and "decompressing" in his native Ohio, where he discovered many people--real people in the middle of the country, outside Silicon Valley's reality distortion field--not only didn't sell or even buy online but had no desire to do so. Too much hassle, too much time, too little trust, he found.
Yet he estimates that some $300 billion worth of unused media products are collecting dust on people's shelves, or $3,000 per U.S. household. "E-commerce doesn't seem to work for real people," he says. At the same time, he adds, while other kinds of Web sites such as social networking have evolved, "e-commerce hasn't really changed materially."
Rothman and his team, which includes Chief Technology Officer Mark Wong-VanHaren, a onetime cofounder of Excite and former Charles River Ventures partner, essentially have rethought the entire online buying and selling process to painstakingly reduce the friction throughout. They've designed their own search engine, payment system, pricing algorithms, shipping system (sellers receive a branded envelope for shipping), and more.
Indeed, in an era when Web companies toss out beta sites in a matter of months, the three-year-old company is a bit of a throwback. It has operated in secret--not even a mention on TechCrunch!--even since Glyde built the first version more than a year ago. It has been testing it ever since with an increasing number of family, friends, and friends of friends.
Glyde, which has 15 employees, got $6 million in 2007 in a Series A funding round led by Charles River Ventures. "Every layer of what they've built is changing the game," says Charles River partner Bill Tai.
After checking it out, including buying an item (which won't be delivered until Nov. 20), it's clear that the Glyde team put great care into the experience. It's a clean, uncluttered design, and the experience is indeed fast and easy.
I can't speak for the selling process yet. But a demonstration indicated it was much faster, as little as a few seconds. On eBay, it can take upwards of a half-hour, though to give eBay its due, that's because it does offer a lot more options thanks to its much larger product base. (Its Half.com unit that deals in used media is much closer to what Glyde's doing.) Glyde has no plans to compete in collectibles because it's impossible to standardize the data and selling processes for them. Most media products have data, images, and pricing information available to be aggregated.
Glyde charges sellers a 10% item when an item sells, with no upfront fees. The seller also pays $1.25 for the mailing envelope. Sellers are expected to ship items within one day.
Another interesting wrinkle is that Glyde isn't depending on eBay-style feedback from buyers to assess the quality of sellers. It can track whether the seller actually did ship on time, for example, and its algorithms can favor faster shippers in product listings.
The company has filed for a number of patents on various of its features and processes. So while its buying and selling processes look easy, Glyde is attempting to stake claims on them to build up a competitive advantage.
Whether all that's enough to attract people who don't buy much online, and the many more who never sell anything online, is hard to predict. Amazon's success has proved that reducing friction in the buying process works, and eBay (and more recently Amazon as well) helped many thousands of people sell things online much more easily.
Even with considerable improvements in the buying and selling processes, Glyde has a big job ahead first convincing people it's better enough to give it a try. And if it does get some traction, it must scale up the business on many fronts that have tripped up others in the past, from trust issues to payment processing. Still, it's one of the most interesting attempts in years to attempt to take e-commerce to the next level.