How a New Startup is Born: Inside the Beta Launch of Worth Monkey

  • September 28, 2010 by Corbett Barr
  • 8 Comments

One of the most rewarding and fun things I’ve taken on recently is advising startups. Essentially, I provide advice to new entrepreneurs on marketing and business issues that I have experience with in exchange for a little equity in the company.

These types of advisory relationships are fairly common among Internet startups (in Silicon Valley, at least), and you should seriously consider creating an advisory board for your company if you plan to grow beyond a one- or two-man operation.

I’ve watched one of the companies I’m advising make a ton of exciting progress recently, and thought this was a great opportunity to show you inside the birth of a new startup and find out what it’s like to start something online from the entrepreneur’s perspective.

Worth Monkey

Worth Monkey, founded by Tony Casparro and Fred Abler officially launches in beta today. Tony and the Worth Monkey service just won a couple of prizes at the TechCrunch hackathon this weekend, and we’re all really excited about the launch. The company is growing momentum and it’s fun to see the early progress.

I caught up with Tony and Fred to ask what it’s like to start a business like this and how Tony got things off the ground. Check out our interview and feel free to ask Tony or me questions in the comments about all things entrepreneurship.

Corbett: The beta Worth Monkey service launches today, right? Tell us a little about how the service works and why someone might want to use it.

Tony: We are stoked about the launch today and couldn’t be happier with this tool.

Worth Monkey aims to be an invaluable tool when it comes to finding out the current value of a used product and finding a place to purchase it from. It works by collecting asking and selling prices from all over the Internet and compiling them in to a product’s worth. Essentially, the midway point between how much people are asking for it and how much it’s actually selling for.

We aggregate and calculate values all day long, so when an end user comes to lookup a product’s value, we’ve got fresh data for them. In addition to offering up the product’s current worth, we show current, relevant listings of items matching the product your looking for, from sites like eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist. And rather than showing you anything matching that product name, we intelligently filter out accessories, cases, etc. We think it makes researching and finding the product you want a snap!

Where did you get the idea for a service like this?

I was in the market for used camera, but wasn’t sure how much I should pay for it. So I started my tedious research of looking on eBay and other sites to see what the “going rate” was. But doing this over and over again for each different model of camera was such a waste of time. So, I made a tool to make my life easier and want to share it with the world.

A lot of the readers here are interested in starting their own businesses. The idea of working for yourself and doing something you love is a common theme at Free Pursuits. Tell us how you were able to start the company. Did you raise investment? Did you leave “normal” jobs to pursue this?

There was a great internal struggle I went though in choosing to quit my normal job. On the one hand, I made a great salary, full benefits and loved the people I worked with. On the other hand, I wasn’t happy working on someone else’s ideas, rather than my own.

So I went to my family in search of support and the response was overwhelming. They were thrilled to be given opportunity to invest in my idea. This was all the encouragement I needed to let my current job know I would be putting in my two weeks to finally pursue my own path.

I know I made the right choice for me and for everyone else. Without new ideas and ventures from entrepreneurs, our society is destined to remain stale in its growth. I am happy to know be contributing to its growth.

What’s it like working for yourself day-to-day? What do you like about it? What do you struggle with?

Working for myself, I have realized what a taskmaster I really am. I strive for perfection and I am simply not satisfied with “getting it done.” So, I end up working 9-12 hours per day, building new features into the site and improving the core engine.

But even with the longer hours, I never complain. I love what I do and I love being in charge of what’s important during my day.

As far as struggles go, the fear of failing can occasionally be a blocker, but that happens with any job. “They might lay me off,” “They might close down,” etc. Putting off those thoughts and planning for success, make sure I stay on course.

What tips do you have for people who want to start their own companies?

If you’re planning on starting your own business, do things right from the start. We toyed with the idea of using “online legal” sites, to form our company and draw up initial paperwork, but decided to go with an actual law firm in San Jose that specializes in startups. They have been invaluable when it comes to legal decisions and getting the right paperwork done when we need it.

The other advice I would offer is, if you can afford it, find an office outside your home to work. Even if that means buying a cup of coffee and working at Starbucks. Separating your work environment from your home is crucially important for your work ethic.

When I was working from home, I tended to take more breaks and it became difficult to tell the difference between work time and play time. They should be distinct and separate, so you don’t end up burning yourself out and losing your friends. Balance is important in all aspects of life and especially when starting a new venture.

How do you think Worth Monkey can help people achieve goals of working for themselves, traveling the world or even living a minimalist lifestyle?

Well the first thing Worth Monkey can do is help people sell a lot of their unnecessary or no longer used possessions to make some extra cash and then they can then invest the proceeds in the “experience economy” (i.e. travel, etc.).

Selling things can de-duplicate your life, reducing the amount of televisions you need, reducing the amount of garage space etc. There are now 30,000 self-storage facilities in the United States. I think most people would love to stop paying an additional $100+ a month for their self-storage.

The other way Worth Monkey can help people achieve goals is for us, the founders. Because we have an internet-based business, we are not limited to a regional market size… the whole world is our potential customer base. This is important to helping us live in a beautiful, but still relatively remote part of the world like California’s Central Coast.

My readers are already somewhat familiar with the concept of affiliate marketing. Worth Monkey is a free service, so tell us a little about how you use affiliate marketing to make money.

We want to provide a great free service to our users, without spamming them with ads. So we’ve taken advantage of eBay and Amazon’s affiliate programs to help monetize the site, by providing relevant links to products on the search results page. This gives the user access to a wealth of intelligently chosen and useful product information, while also supporting the cost of the site.

You decided to launch the service at a the TechCrunch hackathon and Disrupt conference this week. How has that experience been so far?

We’re all fired up for the launch of our site during Tech Crunch and to make the whole thing even sweeter, I’m happy to report that our team competing in the Hackathon, affectionately labeled Green Zone, won Best Business Model.

In the course of about 18 hours, we built a tool using the Worth Monkey API’s called Worth Monkey Deal Pulse (Pulse for short). What Pulse does is find ending auctions on eBay, where the current bid price is below the product’s current used worth. It then tabulates those results and gives the end user a birds-eye view of items that are ending, the current bid price, the known worth, and the amount below margin.

Now keep in mind we built this tool in a matter of hours, but it’s fully functional and is located at pulse.worthmonkey.com. Oh and be forewarned, it’s addictively fun.

A big congratulations on the launch! Do you have any other advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? Cheers!

Thanks! The most important thing about being an entrepreneur is to start. Most people procrastinate until conditions are “right”, and therefore, they never get started.

After that, live life with no regrets and always strive for perfection. Our ideas are the future and you do the world no good by stifling them under the protection of a “safe” job. Show the world what you’re made of. Cheers!


Do you have questions for Tony about Worth Monkey, or what it’s like to launch a new online startup? Feel free to ask us below. I’m also happy to share how I got started advising companies and how it works.

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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TimB September 28, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Corbett (and Tony),

This is a really inspirational post. Great ideas and great marketing can obviously pay huge dividends. WorthMonkey is a phenomenal idea. Corbett, what’s your part in all this?

Very intersting to see the support that Tony got in the startup stage as well.

I’m sitting here racking my brains to see what I can come up with!

Thanks, Tim

Corbett September 28, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Awesome, Tim. Glad you found inspiration in the Worth Monkey story. They’re doing really well. My part is just as an adviser, which means I help guide them on marketing and startup issues in exchange for a small piece of the pie. It’s a great relationship for both of us. Thanks for the comment, and good luck coming up with ideas.

dustin September 28, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I love the way the idea for Worthmonkey was created. It just appeared during a normal activity like pricing a camera. I wonder how many great biz ideas we pass up every day. It really makes me think about being open to the possibilities in the most mundane situations and daily tasks. Thanks for such an interesting post.

Corbett September 29, 2010 at 3:08 pm

That’s where lots of the best ideas come from, Dustin. “Scratching your own itch” as they say. Thanks for reading.

Luis September 29, 2010 at 10:16 am

I have two questions. I get the sense that Tony is a programmer of some sort, is a background in IT necessary to design a site like Worth Monkey? Would you never consider outsourcing the programming side of the business?

Thank you both for the insight.

Saludos,
Luis

Corbett September 29, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Hey Luis, Tony can answer for himself as well, but you’re right, Tony does have a background as a software developer. He’s currently the primary developer of the site. For the design aspects, he relies on an outside designer.

It helps to have a software background to start a company like Worth Monkey, but it isn’t the only way to go. Pat Flynn from The Smart Passive Income blog has been developing and selling iPhone apps recently by using developer’s he pays through services like Elance or Odesk.

Tony Casparro October 1, 2010 at 9:54 am

Hey Luis,
I’ve been building websites with huge database back ends for 8 years now, but I don’t think a technical background is required for any great idea. My business partner is full of fantastic ideas, and when I first started working for him (before Worth Monkey), I helped create and design his dreams. What it really took was: a great idea and someone with the necessary skills and passion for the idea. For my new venture, it just so happened that I had the idea and skills to create the site myself.
If you’ve got a great idea, find someone who is interested in your idea and wants to work on the project. Having a partner/programmer who is passionate about your idea will make the end product all the better and you’ll enjoy collaborating on ideas. In contrast, it would be rare that I would hire someone who simply had the skill set I was looking for and no desire to work on the project. You will have to work extra had to bring your idea into fruition and the lack of passion will ultimately bring you down.
Best of luck!

Ahmed August 29, 2012 at 9:30 pm

When you hear about a start up , you hear about it’s success and what it has become, but you never hear about how it was built or done. I want to know if the founders of worth monkey programmed and algorithm to come up with prices , who built the website , all the little behind the scenes things that we don’t normally get to see.

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