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Zaarly CEO Bo Fishback is waiting for his tipping point

Zaarly is hoping to be KC's next great tech company.



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"L.A. has screenwriters," he says. "San Francisco has startup founders." But when he heard about Zaarly, he saw something that other startups didn't have. Like Fick, he can't really define Zaarly's mission or how precisely he fits into it. Like his boss, though, he knows what he likes when he sees it. "You can't help believing in what they're doing," Morris says. "Their conviction is just really infectious."

Josh Coleman, 35, among the few locals in the office, came to Zaarly after working in the telecom industry. The CEO infected him, too.

"Bo is just one of those charismatic people who comes in the door and people take notice," he says. "Not just for the fact that he's 6 feet 8, but he just has a presence about him. He influences people easily. In a good way."

Starry-eyed they may be, but nobody involved with Zaarly thinks success will come without difficulty. But Fishback's hires are mostly young — 20-somethings — as any good garage myth demands.

"What youth helps is that you probably don't have to sleep as much, or don't even want to sleep," says Hofmann, 24. And a young staff, he points out, helps the company's push to attract young users.

Ryan Sauter, a 23-year-old who graduated in May from Miami University, sits in a corner, planning Zaarly's upcoming push into colleges. The company is hiring "campus CEOs" at 20 schools on the coasts and in the Midwest (including the University of Kansas and Kansas State University) to spread the gospel of on-demand commerce.

"One day you could have someone using it to get food delivered to the library if they're sitting there late at night," he says. "Then the next day, they could use it on the other side to make $20 ... to sell a textbook they have from a class previously."

Schools, Sauter says, should be rich with people willing to do odd jobs for beer money or grocery cash. "There's always those hustlers on each campus, those scrappy, entrepreneurial students that are willing to run around," he says.

With the college effort under way, a sustained effort at building a strong Kansas City market (the third-busiest Zaarly city in the country) and major marketing operations in what Zaarly calls its seven core cities, Fishback says his brood realizes how busy they're going to be.

"We have a shitload of work left to do," he says. The immediate goal: $1 million a day in posts over the next year. "If we get to $1 million a day in posts to the system," he says, "with decent fulfillment rates and all that stuff, that would mean that we're probably going to get to $10 million a day. And that would mean we have a good chance of getting to $100 million a day at some point."

Even with Fishback's palpable enthusiasm and a staff of uprooted believers, failure is as likely as massive success. That's the nature of startups, he says.

"EBay facilitated $100 billion in transactions last year," he says, "$100 billion. Not everybody uses eBay. A lot of people don't. A small percentage of the population actually does. But we have a shot of being bigger than that, actually. We also have a shot at being out of business in a year. It's a binary shot, in some ways. I think it's going to be one or the other."

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