Entrepreneur’s time in Prairie Village informs local roll-out of online marketplace

Bo Fishback, at work in a 39th Street coffee house.

Before he was on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine and had Ashton Kutcher leading fundraising efforts for his latest tech company, Bo Fishback lived in a 69th Street Prairie Village Cape Cod with his then-girlfriend (now wife) Shelby.

“I loved it there,” he said, “because you knew everybody on your block. It’s perfect. People talk to their neighbors. That’s something you don’t get everywhere.”

Nearly a decade later, Fishback sees that tight-knit, community-focused culture as the perfect proving ground for his newest venture, Zaarly, an online marketplace where local artisans, cooks and craftsmen sell goods and services. Zaarly launched its Kansas City portal this weekend — the initial roll out of which will focus on the residential communities that hug the state line, including northeast Johnson County and Brookside/Waldo, where Fishback now lives.

Since launching a year and a half ago, Zaarly has opened online Storefronts in New York, San Francisco and LA with significant success. Those sites have tended to feature artists and food-oriented sellers. But Fishback says he thinks the platform’s true potential will be tested in Kansas City, where home services like yardwork and construction projects are expected to dominate.

“For a tech company, New York, San Francisco and LA are the places you sort of have to start,” he said. “But I think Kansas City is the kind of market where Zaarly will really shine. You have families and homeowners with deep ties to their communities, and the services we offer are a good fit.”

So much so, in fact, that Fishback has a $10,000 bet with a member of the Zaarly crew about whether KC or Seattle — the next market they’ll be launching in — will become the company’s most successful roll out.

The key behind the Zaarly experience, Fishback says, is creating a trusted online environment for online buyers and sellers. The company thoroughly vets all of the sellers that work on the site, making sure they’ve got excellent reputations before helping them build online “stores” featuring professional photography and copy. It’s a high-touch model that differs significantly from traditional online marketplaces, like Craigslist, where virtually anyone can offer almost anything.

“We don’t just let anyone sell on the site,” Fishback said. “We want Zaarly to be the place you go to find talented people who live and work right in your area.”

For instance, Brookside-based Tom Dubbert, the “Yard Barber of KC,” is among the first sellers featured in the Kansas City Storefront, offering services like “Total Holiday Light” installation ($288), “Turf Winterizer Application” ($58), and “Fall Lawn and Landscape Clean-Up” ($198). Each online store features professionally crafted descriptions of the items for sale, as well as the seller. The goal, says Fishback, is to help people who do good work present themselves online in a way that captures their personality and talent, connecting them with local people who could benefit from their offerings.

“We want this to be the place to go to find amazing people offering things that will make your life better or easier,” Fishback said.

Zaarly’s initial roll-out in the KC area features northeast Johnson County-based service providers and artists, like Prairie Village’s Kelly Aaron, who works in mosaics.