So, this is what happens when a Seattle tech executive gets mixed up with Startup Weekend in L.A.? He returns home, quits his job and decides to start hanging out with actor Ashton Kutcher to build a new startup company. That’s the wild story of Eric Koester who, along with Bo Fishback and Ian Hunter, today is unveiling that startup, Zaarly.

This almost sounds like an episode of Punk’d, with Koester the unsuspecting victim. But Zaarly — described as a proximity-based, real-time, buyer-powered market– is no practical joke.

In fact, the company has raised capital from some prominent investors, including, none other than the That 70s Show star Kutcher. Other backers include Angel List creator Naval Ravikant, Y Combinator’s Paul Buchheit  and San Francisco angel investor Bill Lee.


Koester — who helped create the idea at the Startup Weekend event in L.A. just two weeks ago — said that the deal is moving at “warp speed.” As a result, he has decided to leave his post at Seattle-based Appature after five months.

“Things are great at Appature and (I) wasn’t even considering departing with all their traction, but this was just too big of an opportunity to pass up,” Koester tells GeekWire.

So, what’s the new company all about? And why is Ashton Kutcher involved?

Zaarly is attempting to create a new local marketplace where buyers and sellers can meet in person to conduct transactions. Think sporting events, concerts and conferences.

“The way it works is fairly simple: a buyer uses our platform to post an offer: what they want, what they’ll pay and when they want it, plus how far they’ll travel to get it,” explains Koester, who is serving as COO of the new venture.  “Then we use Zaarly platform and various social channels to push these offers to the community, and we use some help to identify and pull potential sellers in.”

Kutcher has been dabbling in various social media projects in recent years, including building a massive following on Twitter of more than six million followers. (You may recall that Kutcher recently listed his Hollywood home for sale on Zillow.com). Koester described Kutcher as a “very insightful businessman”  who “connects the dots on things quickly.”

Koester, who previously worked as a corporate attorney at Cooley Godward, is not sure whether he will relocate as part of the new venture.

“This has all happened so fast that we really haven’t settled on things like where we’ll be,” he said.  “I’ll be staying in Seattle and doing a fair bit of traveling for the near future.”

Zaarly plans to begin testing the service later this week at the SXSW conference in Austin, with a city-by-city roll out planned in the coming months. Koester said the company has raised capital into the “seven digits,” but he wasn’t more specific than that.

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire, a technology news site in Seattle. Follow on Twitter @geekwirenews.
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  • http://marcnager.com/ marcnager

    I couldn’t imagine a more deadly team to take on such a cool idea. These guys are going to rock it!

  • Anonymous

    Awesome. Awesome. Also why more people should go to StartupWeekends

  • Ken Kamada

    mr schuester is going to reinvent e-commerce while singing “don’t stop believin!”

    • http://www.daniellemorrill.com Danielle Morrill

      I’m not the only one who thinks Eric looks like Mr.Schue!

  • Zippysmugdust

    Uh, did Charlie Sheen check in here today? I think he’s got the market covered on the trite and painful Rock Its and Awesomes.

  • http://www.bluebox.net Jesse Proudman

    Congrats Eric! I look forward to seeing the results. I count two wins for you coming out of Startup Weekend!

  • Anonymous

    Hot damn!!! Congrats Eric, you are seriously kicking ass and taking names! I was impressed with the TED talk and now this! Good job!

  • http://www.marinamartin.com MarinaMartin

    Eric, you are awesome. Congratulations and I’m excited to hear more about Zaarly!!

  • RiverHorse

    Way to find a way to ditch Appature after 5 months. I’m sure there will be another abrupt departure from Zaarly as soon as they also figure out Koester brings nothing to the table.

    • Nathan Kaiser

      Obviously you have no idea what you are talking about.

      • RiverHorse

        In that case, please let me explain my humble opinion a little further then. Maybe in the VC and tech startup world moving between four jobs in as many years doesn’t raise an eyebrow, but in the several other circles it wouldn’t be unreasonable to question someone’s staying power based on the same.

        This isn’t to play to role of consummate comment troll or dog on Koester, but I’m just not won over by tweets, facebook posts, and direct emails with self-promotions, many about moving to a new job. I’m very much looking forward to the next story from Koester being instead about a long-time achievement at one of these ventures.

        • Nathan Kaiser

          Fair enough. Though, I would say in this space there is quite a bit of turnover. Strike while the iron is hot, if you will.

          Eric is a guy of extreme character and capability. I am sure the decision was difficult to leave Appature for him, and I am sure he didn’t make it lightly.

          • Zippysmugdust

            Horse is dead on here. This guy has 8 eyes covering 16 exits at all times. Larry Brown thinks he needs to relax and finish a gig for once.

          • Anonymous

            Eric is a born entrepreneur with a leadership role. He’s been filling up his tank with a wide breadth of knowledge and application. As with most people with a distinct purpose, until you get to where you really should be, the previous ventures are but puzzle pieces.

            You can look at it as not finishing what he started, or more realistically as he knows that he hadn’t found what he was meant for yet, has an insatiable drive to do what is necessary to find his place and in his gut acknowledged the opportunity. Knowing Eric, he’s just that much closer to finding and fulfilling his calling.

            Proud of you Eric!

          • Bingo

            Eric is a smart guy but will need to prove that he can stick to something and get it done, not just focus on building his personal “brand”. Hopefully this is the thing.

          • Bingo

            Eric is a smart guy but will need to prove that he can stick to something and get it done, not just focus on building his personal “brand”. Hopefully this is the thing.

        • Sarah Johnson

          “Four jobs in as many years” is incorrect. Eric worked as an attorney at the law firm Heller Ehrman LLP for 2 years (10/2006 to 10/2008) before the venture law group in the Seattle office of Heller Ehrman LLP was ACQUIRED by the law firm Cooley LLP. Eric worked for Cooley LLP for 2 additional years (10/2008 to 10/2010) before transitioning to Appature. Which means that Eric worked for the same law firm partner with the same group of co-workers for the entire time (4 years) he was practicing law.

          So that’s ONE job in four years, Mr. Horse. Please get your facts straight before you trash someone in a public forum.

  • Bill

    Your reference is off. Ashton Kutcher does not run Felicis Ventures. Aydin Senkut, ex-Googler and one of the best regarded but slightly lower profile angel investors runs that fund.

    • johnhcook

      Thanks for that. I must have misread how that was phrased in the press materials. Changing now.

  • http://kickstand.typepad.com jordanmitchell

    Zaarly I get … and I think it could have some legs.

    King of the Web? I don’t get it either, and nor do I think I’m awesome enough to make an effort!

    • johnhcook

      LOL… Best comment of the day.

  • Anonymous

    I love the idea. The sporting event/concert scenario could really use this. In particular (1) I’m standing outside an arena, and scalpers are charging a fortune, and (2) Someone else is sitting at home, an hour’s drive away, desperately looking to unload them at the last minute even though they couldn’t meet at the stadium in time. Would be fantastic to connect us, and send tickets digitally.

    • Hols

      Agreed. At the Sounders game this Sunday, my brother and I showed up without tickets. The 1st scaler wanted $30 each, and we got him down to $15. Walking to the stadium, the next scalper was offering just $10. Would have been good to just find motivated sellers online.

  • http://twitter.com/adamloving Adam Loving

    It seems like it will be a challenge to build such a broad marketplace, but it sounds like the idea has a lot of backers. From what I know of Eric, he’ll go all out!

  • Zippysmugdust

    JC… You whacked my scalping app comment? Entirely benign and full of truth.


  • http://treemolabs.com brentbrookler

    Zaarly is a good idea, but they will need a critical mass to make it work. we built something quite similar for tickets only – Qwikets – our partner lost their funding… Having Ashton Kutcher or others to promote might make it go.

  • Radocu

    Sounds like a crappier version of AirRun

    Everyone check out this App……way more features


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