Ecommerce / Startups / Women in tech

Cir.cl: group-focused community classifieds backed by former Google CEO

Former Obama campaign data team stays together to launch P2P software for selling and swapping belongings.

Cir.cl sample page. Provided by Cir.cl
A previous version of this story cited the original build of Cir.cl in Confluence. It was first built in Clojure. 4/22/14 11:58 a.m.

After meeting on the campaign to reelect President Barack Obama in Chicago in 2012, the three-person founding team of Cir.cl thought that they could use some of the principles learned about leveling data for voters to level data for consumers who want to sell or trade their old stuff.

“It’s a classified system built around the concept that people organize in groups,” co-founder and CEO Carol Davidsen said during a demo of their project.

Cir.cl is looking for groups that sell items internally now to bring into its closed beta. If you’re a part of a neighborhood, special interest or other group that shares items for sale over an email list, blog or Facebook group, your users may like this new platform. Request an invite to Cir.cl.

We got a look at the startup’s initial interface during a visit to their downtown office as part of the Open Office Week component of Tech Triangle U. Cir.cl aims to catch selling online up with the social components that have evolved into the DNA of the current web. The biggest platforms for selling online today, Ebay and Craigslist, were some of the earliest successes of the early first dot-com wave and still reflect the sensibilities of those early days, said Davidsen.

Davidsen argued that most people don’t care so much about maximizing their price for selling a good so much as they want to make sure it goes to someone who will appreciate it and that they are comfortable doing business with — maybe not something the most price sensitive among us would say. So Cir.cl is working to build a way to connect people around social networks, regions , interests and give sellers control over who gets to see their wares and buyers control over what sort of goods the site features for them.

Some features that Davidsen highlighted at the demo:

  • Cir.cl can integrate with sites. So, groups that have a “for sale” thread on their WordPress or Drupal based site are losing attention for it as soon as more items go up. Cir.cl gives them a way to better display these products and share them with a wider audience (if they want).
  • Users can control who sees posts. So they can be posted publicly or limited so that only members of certain groups can see them.
  • Members can interact with posts without buying. By telling the site whether they like or dislike certain posts, they make it better at showing them future posts.
  • When looking at an item, buyers will see how they are related to the seller. Such as, are they in any of the same circles.
  • Users may eventually be able to exclude certain circles. For example, some users may not feel comfortable actually selling to people they are friends with IRL, so the system could hide products from those members at a user’s request.
  • Large groups may eventually have the power to charge a transaction percentage within the group. A particular use case cited for this ability is to support nonprofit projects by groups.

The revenue model for Cir.cl is still being sorted out. It depends on scale, somewhat, Davidsen said. It could simply be a fee for the biggest groups. It could also be a per transaction fee or a small annual subscription. The team has taken ad revenue, selling data and charging a percentage of transactions off the table.

The biggest problem for the startup is the empty room problem at launch. They plan to work over the next year to bring in groups that are already doing closed or semi-closed circle selling now (neighborhood groups, mommy lists, superfans) to onboard them so that when the site fully opens to the world it has content in place. Requiring users to join the site in order to make a purchase could also be a hurdle that keeps lower tech Craigslist out front in local sales.

Cir.cl is a team of three now. It expects to reach six this year, two more developers and a community manager. They are on the second version of the platform, having built it first in Clojure. They found that made it harder to hire developers, so they created the latest build in Node.js and MongoDB.

The startup has an initial investment from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt of an undisclosed amount, Davidsen said. The team connected with Schmidt during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Series: Brooklyn

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