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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 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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