This seems like a great way to get yourself killed, or at least seriously injured. Replyboard founder Steinar Skipsnes and friend Nick LaPratt spent their weekends over the past four months armed with a hidden camera as they recorded bizarre interactions with people they had agreed to meet through Craigslist ads. (Editor’s note: LaPratt was misidentified in this story originally. See comments below for more clarification).

The point of this oddball video exercise? Skipsnes, who resides in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, said they wanted to “show how risky it is to deal with strangers on Craigslist.” Of course, they also wanted to promote Replyboard’s new rating and review service, a new offering that’s designed to help users of Craigslist communicate with strangers without providing personal information.

The stunt appears to have worked. At last count, the four videos below had received a combined total of more than 35,000 views on YouTube.

Some of the videos felt a bit staged to me, especially the one in which Ellis asks to use the bathroom of one of the “victims” and then proceeds to jump in the shower. Check that one out here:

Skipsnes tells me that none of the videos were scripted or staged.

“The typical game plan was to go in with an overarching idea, have Nick provoke a reaction and then I would confess when it reaches a tense moment,” Skipsnes tells GeekWire.

In the footage, Skipsnes steps in right after the camera cuts off and tells the Craigslist sellers that they are on a hidden camera show. In order to get permission from the sellers, Skipsnes would usually toss in an extra $50 beyond the purchase price of the item they were supposed to be there to purchase.

“Only one time did it get very uncomfortable and nearly escalate into a confrontation. A waiver was not signed,” said Skipsnes, adding that about $2,000 was spent on idea.

After watching the videos, I am not sure what to make of this “marketing” effort. It seems highly intrusive and downright dangerous, but I guess that’s the overall message that Skipsnes is trying to convey.

In fact, he came up with the idea after his wife wanted to sell a couch on Craigslist and requested that he be there for safety reasons.

“You know absolutely zero about these people you are meeting and that to me is flat out ridiculous,” he said. “The Internet is this amazing tool that brings transparency to nearly everything, yet buying and selling through classifieds is still dark. You have no idea who you’re dealing with.”

Steinar Skipsnes

For example, you could be dealing with a pesky entrepreneur and his buddy as they look to promote their new service.

In terms of the service itself, Replyboard has been in development for 15 months as the creators hold down day jobs and bootstrap the operation.

“Our goal is to get some traction and leverage that to raising money to work on Replyboard full-time. The day we can get a salary to work on Replyboard full-time will be a glorious one,” said Skipsnes. “None of us have a $100 million acquisition to point to. The only way we will raise money is through showing use of Replyboard.”

Skipsnes and technical founder Daniel Suskin met at the University of Washington and worked together as interns at Seattle startup Others Online.

Here are the other three videos, and I am told they have a lot more in the file and plan to take the concept to other cities later this year. What do you think of this market tactic?

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  • Anonymous Grammar Nazi

    C’mon John.  You’re supposed to be an experienced journalist.  None is a singular pronoun.

  • Anonymous

    Twisted maybe, but I haven’t laughed this hard in days.

  • Guest

    Congratulations to Replyboard! This is a brilliant viral.

  • David Beitel

    Steinar, congratulations on the launch. This is an interesting idea and I hope you get some traction on this. These videos are hilarious, but help make the point that any of us who have bought or sold something on craigslist have experienced. Having a random stranger pick up a bunch of DVD cases a while back had us thinking we should have met him some place away from our house.

    • Steinar Skipsnes

       Thanks David.

  • Mark McLaren

    Skipsnes: “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.” Um. Yes. Very true. “For example, you could be dealing with a pesky entrepreneur and his buddy as they look to promote their new service.” :) Getting in the shower? This is nuts.

  • jsatgs

    These guys are CLASSIC!  I loved the videos and think the idea is great.  I would love to see these stunts go viral and see these guys get the results for their company.  Nice work, great idea and huge market.  No one can say these guys dont have creativity or courage to getter done.  Bravo!

  • tsupasat

    The videos were compelling, no doubt. But I felt kind of pissed on behalf of the people who invited these guys into their houses. I understand they were compensated and gave permission to use the footage, but still … I would have been seriously upset if someone pulled this on me, but then again I never invite Craigslist buyers inside my home.

  • Joshua T Cowan

    John, you’ve got Nick’s name wrong.  It is Nick LaPratt.  Not sure where you got Ellis.

    • Steinar Skipsnes

      No, John did not get his name wrong. He used the name I provided him.

  • Joshua T Cowan

    Oops apparently he’s a lookalike to a Nick I know.  Nm.

  • Steinar Skipsnes

    Sorry for any confusion with the comment below. Just to be 100% clear and open. I was asked by Nick LaPratt to use the name Nick Ellis for him, as he had concerns using his real name with this project. To respect his wishes, I did. Nothing to do with John reporting inaccurately.

  • jordanmitchell

    Loved working with Steinar and Daniel back at Others Online, and was hugely pleased to see them working together on this. It’s a great idea, and I laughed really hard. Best of luck, gentlemen!!

  • edoceo was doing CL-user reviews in like 2009 ?

  • Pannjjd

    Id have called the cops if theyd have made their way in undet false pretenses. They didnt prove ppl were bad on craigslist they proved they were assholes.

  • Lynnnoname

    Your marketing won’t go far if you don’t fix your video link.  Or if you were denied permission to show them just delete the broken link. I was really looking forward to seeing how the different situitations panned out.  I am new to Craigs list and would like to know what to expect in this kind of sales deal.

  • Your dumb as a rock

    I live in Ballard , right around the corner from the old Gob Shop! If we ever run into each other you’ll know it, because you’ll be picking your sorry ass off the ground you F-ing CLOWN!

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