Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Parasites 3 Whales 0

Two years ago I set up a funding panel at the eBay Developer Conference with folks from the Angel's Forum and Brand X Ventures (name withheld to protect the innocent). At some point at the end of the panel, a brave soul asked the guy from Brand X if he would ever consider investing in a 3rd party developer integrating to the eBay platform. His response was "I'd rather invest on a whale, than the parasites on the whale" or something to that effect. Surprisingly there weren't many follow-up questions...

So with that outstanding vote of confidence, I want to introduce you to a few up and coming developers that I think could have a significant impact to eBay and online commerce as a whole. What's important to realize is that sometimes a parasite can get quite big, especially when its not one or two, but an entire ocean of whales it's targeting - resulting in quite a whale of a parasite (i'll shut up with the Orca references now).

First up is a company called Virtual Iris. I've been working with Adam Rubin from VI for the past two or three quarters. The technology takes enhanced picture services to the next level (maybe two levels) by combining extreme zoom, with picture carveouts and embedded measurement. Check it out on www.virtualiris.com. I liken the experience of using their zoom application as actually looking at something at a store. The VI application turns the visual experience into a tangible one -- not something that I've seen on any website to date.

Second company to check out is the newly launched MPire (www.mpire.com). Mpire is a hosted mini-ERP/CRM application targeting the eBay seller community to start off. Think Netsuite (another company that I have huge props for) for the hundreds of thousands of mom and pop sellers on eBay. I would venture that eBay sellers have a lot in common with the millions of small businesses out there trying to make a buck - using excel to manage inventory, Quicken to close the books and wasting inordinate amount of time doing so. Mpire takes care of all of it with one console and has about as sexy an interface as I've seen for a price point set for the SME market.

Finally, look out for Hosted Support (www.hostedsupport.com). Real interesting take on a hosted CRM application, with a specific focus on solving a nagging issue on eBay - massive quantity of emails taking up time better spent on other things (things like sales, marketing, managing, etc). Hosted Support combines some very cool algorithmic, natural language querying of incoming emails, with automated email response based on seller FAQs. They've seen online sellers using their tool reduce email response time up to 80%, which means hella more time to build the business than respond to the 100th email asking if you ship to Nigeria (because the former aide to General Abacha apparently has a ton of money to spend from all those emails I get from him - hope that $10K I sent works out). Again, while this could be great for eBay sellers, its just as good for numerous online channels beyond the Bay.

Many of the other great ideas/developers I've worked with this past year I can't mention yet (www.receller.com ;)) since they're still in 'silent' mode or don't have a direct tie in to eBay/Paypal (www.waysystems.com) yet... but I promise there's a lot of stuff about to explode on the scene like Shamu over the next couple of quarters from the eBay developer community. Stay tuned.

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