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.”
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.