David and Goliath stories are always compelling, but all too often, David loses. When it comes to e-Goliaths, eBay is one of the biggest giants. What does it take to challenge eBay at its own game? What kind of entrepreneur would consider starting an online auction site in a field dominated by a single big player?
Dimitar Slavov doesn't intend to directly challenge eBay. His eCrater marketplace (http://www.ecrater.com) isn't intended to compete directly with the "big dog" in the field. But it does provide an alternative venue for both online buyers and sellers.
"Taking on eBay has never been my intent," says Slavov, 31. "In fact, I'm not even familiar with their selling model. I had a vision of a nice, clean marketplace - a place where buyers could easily buy and sellers would happily sell. I focused on that while building eCrater."
Slavov got his vision five years ago, and his impetus came not from visiting eBay but from another big ecommerce marketplace.
"Five years ago, I ordered a book from Amazon.com," he explains. "I found the Web site a little hard to navigate. I knew there was an easier way."
One of the ways Slavov streamlined the site is also one of the most radical - the elimination of any fees charged to buyers and sellers. "I thought that I myself would really enjoy selling in a marketplace with no fees. Selling online should be free, just like searching. Sellers already pay enough in transaction fees and advertising." Thus, the idea of a free marketplace was born.
A native of Bulgaria, Slavov is no stranger to ecommerce. Back in 1999, he and a friend launched one of the first online stores in Eastern Europe. He also started a Web-based store for marketing cell phones.
Slavov, who is married with a baby girl, emigrated to the U.S. in 2003. His background is as a programmer, and early in 2004, he started putting eCrater together, working alone from home. "It took me about four months to put all my ides together and code the initial version. I had the idea of what the marketplace should look like. It was quite overwhelming and time consuming at the beginning, coding module by module from scratch. At the time, I had lost my job, so my wife and I decided that instead of looking for a new job, I would stay home to work hard on the marketplace and launch it as soon as possible. "
eCrater first went online on September 27, 2004. The first item that sold was a CD by the rock group Motorhead, which went for $10.99. The strangest thing that sold was something called the "Royal Screw." It was literally a metal screw that someone could send to a person who had done something wrong to the purchaser. The most expensive item sold on eCrater to date: a 2005 Chevrolet Corvette.
As described in previous AuctionBytes articles, eCrater is known for its ease of use. In a matter of a few minutes, you are able not only to sell individual items, you set up your own online storefront. The site's revenue comes from premium advertising sold on the site's home page or at the top of main categories, as well as other advertising: because more than 50,000 stores have been registered since it opened and nearly 34,000 are still open, there's plenty of traffic to attract advertisers.
Currently, Slavov plans to add features such as a larger community, as well as shipping and tax utilities. He plans to expand the site to other countries as well.
When I asked Slavov for some perspective on the state of ecommerce and upcoming trends in the economy, he just shrugged off my question. "Honestly, I am just focused on eCrater," he said.
Slavov is particularly happy with the eCrater user community, which is filled with friendly and helpful individuals. But the most satisfying part of being an ecommerce entrepreneur is seeing the business grow, he says. "eCrater is becoming more and more popular and is being noticed," he says. "There is nothing better than grow by leaps and bounds."
"eCrater Provides Alternative for Online Auction Sellers"
"eCrater: Scratching an Ecommerce Itch"
Editor's Note 3/9/08: This article was edited to correct the impression that items could be listed on eCrater in an auction format. Sellers may only list items in a fixed-price format on eCrater.