Carlos Cheung (MSB ’13) is at the center of a new and exciting start-up frenzy called Zaarly, an online service that allows users to post items they’re looking to buy and how much they’re willing to pay for them. From sofas to personal assistants to concert tickets, virtually anything can be found on Zaarly’s website, which is already active in 10 cities across the United States and is growing fast. the guide sat down with Carlos Cheung — who helped set up the D.C. franchise and is now the campus CEO for Georgetown — to learn more about this promising venture.

Can you start by telling me what Zaarly is?

Zaarly is Craigslist in reverse. You post what you want, when you want it and how much you want to pay for it. It’s in real time and is location-based. For example, I could post that I want amacroecon textbook and I’ll pay $40, and that I want it within two days. That’s a cool thing, because you can buy it for less than at a bookstore, and the vendor will sell it for more than what they would get when selling to [a] bookstore. … We’re going to be initiating a profile feature, kind of like eBay’s, so users can rate people anonymously. … Your profile, data and phone number are kept secure because we act as the middleman, the intermediary between sellers and buyers.

 

Are you D.C.-based or do you have national reach?

We started initially in May with seven cities. This fall we started out with 20 universities. We’re expanding to more universities and more cities in the coming months.

How is it different from the classifieds? How do you make sure people don’t try to sell things on Zaarly?

We have people going through each post, and if it’s a sale we’ll take it off. We have algorithms that take things off that are [sales] or illegal, … things with profanity, drugs [and] whatnot.

What is your role within Zaarly?

I run the D.C. and Georgetown franchises. I have a budget, I have a team, I have VPs on my team and people under the VPs that execute things. They call us campus CEOs. I started out running D.C. operations for a while because Zaarly needed someone to fill that role. The cool thing about this is it allows us to get experience as students. We’re practically running our own version of a small business. We get full autonomy. We can be as creative as possible.

How well has Zaarly been received within the Georgetown community?

We have a total of close to 500 people signed up at Georgetown. It isn’t too big right now, at 10 percent of the school. … I think if we keep pushing it and get maybe 20 percent of the school signed up people will be proactive in checking it out more. We’ve only been operating at the school level for a semester, so hopefully this semester we can get more people to sign up. We’re looking at starting a private hub just for Georgetown students to increase student security.

How are you raising awareness of Zaarly?

We’ve done a big social media push. The old traditional face-to-face contact has been the best way — tabling, really getting people to check us out, have been most effective. We’ve had a lot of giveaways like free pizza, shot glasses and iPhone cases.

How are you financed?

At first we got funding from Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. We got $1 million from them and others from Silicon Valley … back in February. With that money we ran a beta test at South by Southwest [a music festival in Austin, Texas, and within 48 hours we had about $10,000 worth of transactions. … After that we kept pushing with the money that we had. In October we raised over $14 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufieldand Byers, a venture capital firm. We also had Meg Whitman, who’s now the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, join our board. Basically everything has been going crazy.

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