Remember the "good old days" of the Web? The days when folks like Pierre Omidyar were starting up sites like AuctionWeb (which later became eBay) just for fun? People put merchandise on their Web site just to see who would stop buy and browse. Making a fortune wasn't the primary goal.
As a Carly Simon song once said, these are the good old days, at least for Darren Bock. A year ago, he decided to create an auction site called Wensy.com. He now has 3,000 registered users on Wensy, and not one of them pays a penny in fees, whether they are a buyer or a seller. Instead of an income, what Darren gets out of it is a peaceful oasis in an otherwise stressful work life.
"I'm the director of an intensive care unit in the cardiovascular wing of a hospital," says Bock, 43. "It's a relief to come home after taking care of heart patients and a staff of 71 employees, while abiding by all the state and federal regulations. I log on to my auction site, and have people say, "Thank you for a wonderful site,"" sighs Darren. "It is very relaxing."
That's the kind of thanks that are not likely to be directed at eBay any time soon. Bock and his brother-in-law started out selling coins and stamps on eBay. They did pretty well for themselves, but it was their irritation at having to pay eBay's listing and transaction fees that made them switch to Yahoo's ill-fated auction venue. "When Yahoo Auctions closed it was either go back to eBay or just build our own site, and it was cheaper to build our own than go back," explains Bock.
So in June 2007, he and his brother in law purchased a ready-made auction platform and made modifications to it. "We wanted a free site, and we wanted a platform where we could sell our stuff. But we didn't know if it would take off," he says.
Obviously there was no need to worry but, aside from the total lack of fees, what else makes Wensy.com different? It's the fact that the site focuses on coins and stamps, as well as other collectibles. (General merchandise - such as art, clothing, and jewelry - is also bought and sold.)
Bock gets satisfaction out of being able to offer a venue for those interested in unique collectibles, especially since that's what made auction sites so popular in the first place and is exactly what longtime sellers have accused eBay of ignoring in recent years.
Yet he emphasizes that competition is not one of his driving forces. "We never thought of beating eBay. We thought, 'Can't we just sell online and not have people burdened with all the fees?'"
And the techie side of running an ecommerce marketplace isn't what floats his boat. He's the first to admit that he isn't a programmer. "I know just enough to get in trouble with it," he says with a smile. He manages the site from his home in Mesa, Arizona, and pays programmers $125 per hour whenever he needs an upgrade. That's added up to about $7,000 that has come out of his pocket to get the site going and keep it running smoothly.
Instead of spending his time keeping track of profits, he gets pleasure out of knowing that at least one seller has made $12,000 from sales on Wensy.com. And the number crunching that makes him really happy is watching membership increase. "We started with 26 registered users on the site, then 250, and then 500. When we broke 1000, I thought that this place is doing really good. Alexa Internet measures the traffic that comes through, and we keep getting better and better Web site rankings. That is the enjoyable part for me, to see how well are we doing," he says.
Bock is consistent about his goals and his unorthodox ecommerce management style. "We aren't going to do any advertising. We plan to grow by word of mouth. We don't have plans for ads or anything to make money. I looked at the other sites and the fees they charge; we are the only one that charges nothing, and yet we expect the site to be paid for in three and a half years," he says.
Bock is eyeing improvements in other areas, such as the incorporation of video into the site. "It would be nice to add a feature where the member can take a video of a coin or something, like they do on TV or the home shopping network. When a person clicks they can see that," he says.
But what he looks forward to the most each day is dealing with members of his site on a one-to-one basis. "I check emails every 12 hours and try to fix problems, or get programmers to fix them, within 24 hours. I get all the members' emails and answer their questions; most of the time people didn't get a password or are having trouble uploading pictures. It's a lot of fun," he says.
Even the name Wensy.com itself speaks to Bock's desire for individual interaction. "I wrote down a list of domain names that were available and that had five letters or less. My son is a teacher; he took the list to school and asked the kids which name they liked. They picked Wensy.com. I wanted to make sure the site had a real personal touch," he says.