Dan Shapiro

Dan Shapiro got really frustrated trying to find a new laptop. So frustrated, in fact, that the Seattle entrepreneur decided to start a new company to attack the problem head-on. Sparkbuy, which is launching today at the Web. 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, is trying to change the way that people search for consumer electronics.

Using traditional search engines such as Bing and Google to search for laptops, TVs or other electronics is kind of like trying to find a “needle in a haystack,” says Shapiro. That’s why he thinks the consumer electronic industry needs its own search engine, just as the travel industry has Expedia or Kayak.

“I actually want to search data, but I don’t want to do it with some sort of really complicated interface,” Shapiro tells GeekWire.

Sparkbuy is designed to create a one-stop shop for those interested in researching products. And the site allows users to set up various parameters prior to the search, such as lightweight laptops from Dell that cost under $1,200.

Obviously, there are plenty of Web sites where people can go to get detailed information on laptops or TVs — from Amazon.com to Cnet to Best Buy.

But Shapiro, who previously co-founded Ontela, the mobile photo service which merged with Photobucket in 2009, thinks there’s a big difference.

“Amazon has a search engine for products, but it is really just a search engine,” he says. “When you type that you want a thin, lightweight laptop into Amazon, it doesn’t weigh the laptops for you, and it doesn’t check how thin they are. It just looks for laptops with the words thin and lightweight in them, just as Google does. It is a full-text search engine that happens to be searching for products.”

Sparkbuy is made up of seven people, including four employees and three contractors. The company is located in the TechDwellers incubator space in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, which speaks to the lean startup principles that Shapiro is employing at the new company.

That’s far different than Shapiro’s previous company, Ontela, which raised some $30 million. Sparkbuy is backed with $1 million from Benaroya Capital and Seattle angel investors Geoff Entress, Kelly Smith, Chase Franklin and others.

But building a new startup is taking its toll on Shapiro. The father of young twins discusses the challenges of kickstarting new entrepreneurial ventures at this stage of his life.

“People talk about work/life balance.  Here’s what I know.  Some days, I’m a great CEO.  Some days, I’m a great father.  Some days, I let down my investors, my colleagues, and my customers.  Some days, I let down my wife, my son, and my daughter.  My life is a zero sum game, and every day I wonder if I’m playing it right. It’s the worst part of my job.”

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews.

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  • http://www.duncanhaley.com John Haley

    Congratulations Dan and team! Light and tight…I love it.

    When my twins were young life was a blur. You bust your hump all day and then do it again at home. It’s amazing how little sleep a person can get by on when they need to. I am sure you have heard, it gets easier!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bryan-Starbuck/500012914 Bryan Starbuck

    Huge congrats to Dan. I’m sure SparkBuy will be a great success.

    SparkBuy’s UI of a great vertical search engine for electronics is exactly what people want and will use to buy.

    Without SparkBuy, people will miss out on the best product or the best price because the customer didn’t spend another hour looking for many more sites for any possible missing deals.

    Have a blast Dan and team as you grow!

  • http://www.facebook.com/brant.williams Brant Williams

    Been waiting for this to launch to get the new shiny TV. How about a link to the site JC?!

    • johnhcook

      Thanks for the comment Brant. Sorry about the lack of the link, must have gotten eaten in the editing process. I’ve added back in there.

  • http://twitter.com/craigfis craigfis

    Reminds me of the promise of CompareNet way back before Web 2.0. :-)
    Sucked into MSFT and killed.

  • Anonymous

    It’s interesting how GeekWire & its predecessor seem to give so much more coverage to some startups and not others. I think this is the 3d article I’ve read here about Sparkbuy with the same details, there’s no news here over those prior articles … Dan’s great and good luck to him, but he sure gets a lot of coverage of his idea. Same with cheezburger – they belch and it makes these pages. Meanwhile there are plenty of other startups in the area that are not mentioned even once.

    • johnhcook

      Thanks for the feedback. I think you’ll find there’s a diversity of content on GeekWire, from tiny startups to the inner workings of big technology companies to a little bit of geek culture.

      Just to be clear, this is the first time I’ve covered SparkBuy on Geekwire (I did reference the company in another post I did on TechDwellers in part because Shapiro’s company is the only tenant in the tech incubator). I covered SparkBuy today because they actually launched their service publicly.

      That said, I’d be happy to hear your suggestions on companies or news stories you’d like us to cover.

      We are in the early stages of the business, and we welcome your suggestions, tips and comments.

      Just send me a note: john@geekwire.com or @johnhcook on Twitter (or post here in the comments).

      Thanks for reading.

      • Anonymous

        Fair enough if you only count GW … searched the prior pub and found the article I remember from Nov 29, almost identical content. Then also similar on Oct 28. I guess I’m not saying cover SparkBuy less as much as saying please cover other local startups more! There are plenty of outfits doing interesting things who I see no coverage of at all.

  • Harry Dean

    understood why promoting him though

  • Anonymous

    I tried the site. Not impressed at all. I actually think the UI design is quite confusing and not convenient at all. Plus, why raised $1 million for something like this? It’s basically an affiliate site. A reasonably skilled developer should be able to make the site himself/herself. Why makes such a big deal about it? Is this what Seattle’s start-up community have to offer?

  • http://www.facebook.com/squadhelp Julian Flynn

    Congratulations Dan and thank you for using http://www.squadhelp.com. We are proud to share this success story of yours to other entrepreneurs. More Power

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