In the land of vertical Craigslists, the familiar is king

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on May 6, 2014

From The News Desk

If Airbnb could strip business away from Craigslist for housing, why can’t other verticals follow suit?

That’s the thinking behind NextMover, an online marketplace for finding someone to help you move. The founders, Alex Kehaya and Max James, are hoping to win customers away from Craigslist by building a safer platform that focuses solely on finding movers.

Local providers — everyone ranging from professional movers with giant hauling trucks to the dude next door with a pickup truck looking to make a little extra cash — can apply to list themselves on the site. Consider this the "supply side" of the marketplace. NextMover vets them, running DMV and criminal background checks and facilitating the payment process in advance of the move. That way customers – aka the demand side – can use the site with the comfort of knowing their movers didn’t come from the darkest corners of the Internet to potentially rip them off.

As we've reported, background checks can run the gamut of quality and reliability -- Uber's have certainly been found to be lacking. But a shoddy background check, it would seem, is still better than no background check at all.

“It’s a level of quality control. Our customers are tired of using Craigslist. You don’t know if this person is legitimate or not,” James says. The company is based in Santa Barbara, with hopes of expanding to another market this summer. The service has on-boarded more than 100 movers to the site and raised $85,000 in seed funding.

At this early stage, NextMover isn’t all that interesting in-and-of-itself, but its existence poses a compelling question: Can other Craigslist verticals exist — and thrive — separate from the site? Airbnb has proved that renting a room from and to a stranger is a much more compelling prospect when there’s a company offering a $1 million insurance policy to back each transaction.

Other verticals, like errand runners, have faired less well. TaskRabbit and Zaarly, the most famous of the bunch, have flipped and flopped all over the place, pivoting, pivoting, and pivoting again. Even with the company vetting such assistants, people weren’t comfortable with — or, perhaps, didn’t have a great enough need to — hire strangers for menial tasks.

At the same time, companies like Homejoy (for housecleaning) and Thumbtack (for local services like handymen or tutors) appear to be thriving. Homejoy just raised $38 million Series B in December and Thumbtack has been quietly building steam since 2008, enough so to raise a $12.5 million Series B led by Sequoia in June.

The vertical classifieds that have fared the best are the ones that meet a need people already have instead of inventing a new one. The public had already used services like Craigslist to find cleaners and handymen and housing. But they hadn’t used it to find someone to wrap their co-worker’s desk in cellophane or pick them up 120 beers in 29 minutes. That might be part of the reason errand marketplaces like Zaarly and TaskRabbit struggle while more traditional, boring plays for housecleaning and home services have grown.

Given that trend, NextMover may also find a large and willing audience. Finding movers through classifieds has been a popular method since the caveman days of moving...or something like that. But the private nature of the process — giving someone access to the inside of your home and having them handle your private possessions — isn’t well-suited for Craigslist-style anonymity. Given the sensitivity of the job, the additional value of a service that vets said movers beforehand – without going all the way toward being a commercial moving service – is huge. This is particularly true, since it's movers, rather than customers, who pay to use the NextMover platform, forking over a 20 percent cut of each transaction facilitated through the platform. What impact this will have on pricing remains to be seen.

The primary challenge for the company, although there will be many, will be achieving network effects. Kehaya and James will need to onboard enough movers in each new market to make it worth customers’ while. Then they’ll need to market the hell out of it to make customers aware, thereby making it worth the movers' time and energy.

It's a long way from sleepy Santa Barbara to the mean streets of America's largest markets. Still, if we look at the overall trend in these vertical task-based marketplaces, NextMover may have more promise than initially meets the eye.

[image via thinkstock]