Meet Copious, the eBay for a Social World

Everything online—from photo albums to music streaming—is becoming increasingly social and anchored by people's true identities. In the Web's most popular marketplaces, such as eBay and Craigslist, however, anonymity is still the norm. A new San Francisco startup called Copious is looking to change that.

Copious has built an online marketplace in which all buyers and sellers are linked to their Facebook identities. Users' profile pages can also include links to their identities elsewhere online, such as Twitter, eBay, and personal blogs. When a prospective buyer looks at a product page, she can see by how many degrees of connection she and the seller are separated. The user can also see if anyone in her networks has purchased, shared, or commented on an item from that seller.

"Being able to view and understand a buyer and a seller through the lens of their network changes everything," Copious co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Ehrlich, who previously worked as Facebook's head of marketing, told me in a prelaunch interview. "It makes me feel more comfortable that you are who you say you are."

Copious's online marketplace will be launched in beta form on Wednesday. The site decided to focus its launch on selling handbags, Ehrlich told me, since that's a market where trust of a seller is paramount to ensure the product's authenticity. The site plans to open more categories in the coming days.

Copious has no listing fees, and the company plans to make money by taking a 10 percent commission on each transaction. At launch, Copious will take a discounted commission of 3.5 percent.

Venture Backers

Copious was founded in January 2011 by Ehrlich and his two co-founders, former Mobshop Chief Executive Jim Rose and Rob Zuber, former vice-president of mobile strategy at Critical Path. The company currently has eight employees and has taken on $2 million in capital from Foundation Capital, Google Ventures, BlackBerry Partners Fund, and a number of Facebook angels.

Watching Copious's demo, I was immediately struck with that feeling of "Wow, I might really use this." I've never sold anything like clothing or handbags online, since the barrier to entry on eBay always seemed way too high. Once buyers would see that I was a first-time seller, they'd probably be reluctant to purchase anything from me. Now I typically take those things to consignment shops, where I can get maybe 30 percent of their value. But with Copious, I could actually see myself listing and selling a few things a year—say, a nice sweater I received for Christmas but don't plan on wearing—without much hassle at all.

But an online marketplace is only as good as the products people list and how quickly it can respond to user behavior. Ehrlich says he and his co-founders have constructed Copious's culture to address just that. "We wanted to ship a minimum viable product, and we believe in iterating rapidly. When you start building a company, you're always wrong in some way, so you want to find out how wrong you are as fast as you can."

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