OfferUp has more than doubled its employee count in the last year and is reportedly set to raise $120 million in a round that would give the company a valuation of $1.2 billion, making it one of the Seattle area’s rare “unicorn” companies.
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Bellevue, Wash.-based startup, which is taking on Craigslist with a marketplace for buying and selling everything from antiques to automobile parts.
OfferUp co-founder Nick Huzar detailed the highs and lows that brought the company to where it is today at a Startup Grind event Wednesday evening at the company’s headquarters.
At one point, before the company landed Series A funding, OfferUp was down to its last $350. In those days, many of the early employees were asked to “code for equity.”
“Equity, it’s worth what it is on paper until it becomes real,” Huzar said. “But, if people believe in it, it can be something that’s really meaningful.”
The early team did everything it could to help the site get traction, from buying and selling a ton of stuff on the app themselves to intricate branding initiatives. A couple years ago, Huzar said the team hatched a plan to blanket a neighborhood in the Issaquah Highlands with more than 1,000 OfferUp-branded balloons. The branding was cool, but it did little to drive activity on the app. In addition, one of the team members got hurt after the truck used to hold the balloons started rolling down a hill and Huzar hit the brake, causing the person to fall.
“That was one day where I thought maybe I want to give up,” Huzar said. “We didn’t have a lot of traction, and I almost just killed someone.”
But they did not give up, and now OfferUp is a leading — and very valuable — mobile marketplace.
The company expects to do more than $14 billion in transactions in the next 12 months, and the team has just cracked the surface of what they want to do. Its backers include the Silicon Valley powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz and financial titan Warburg Pincus.
“Our advantage is we haven’t even gotten close to the things we really want to build; we are just trying to keep up with the growth right now,” Huzar said. “There’s so much innovation we’ve been talking about for years, we haven’t even gotten to that yet.”
What they are doing now seems to be working pretty well.
Founded in 2011, OfferUp was started by Huzar and co-founder Arean Van Veelen after they struggled to find ways to unload household items that had accumulated in their homes.
Huzar had never really sold anything before, and he wondered why there wasn’t a simpler way to sell things than Craigslist, where issues with unreliable buyers and sellers were well known. Huzar thought there had to be another way, but for the most part, there wasn’t.
“I believed there was a dormant market that no one could see because there was too much friction and really a lack of trust in the experience,” Huzar said.
Since then OfferUp’s free Android and iOS apps have grown well beyond the Seattle area. It is available in every major city across the U.S. and ranks No. 32 overall in the iTunes store, above other free apps from brand names like Yelp, eBay and Lyft. OfferUp’s growth was highlighted by Mary Meeker in her annual ‘Internet Trends’ report earlier this summer and the company won App of the Year at this year’s GeekWire Awards.
All this growth means a lot of hiring. One key hire happened earlier this summer, when OfferUp brought in Peter Wilson, site director for Google’s expanding Kirkland campus, to be vice president of engineering. Wilson will help scale the engineering team at OfferUp
Huzar said the company went from about 45 employees a year ago to approximately 100 now. And the company is looking for more people. OfferUp recently released this recruiting video.