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RealTime IT News

Imandi's Online Bazaar: Painting A Picture Of Consumer Convenience

Raghav Kher never had much trouble making big deals when he was Microsoft's director of strategic business decisions, engineering many of that company's high-profile acquisitions such as Hotmail. But Kher found himself thrashing about for solutions when his wife asked him to get their two-story, three-bedroom house near Seattle painted.

"It was very frustrating," Kher said. "I spent weeks in phone tag with painters I had contacted via friends and the Yellow Pages. When it came to decision time, I had bids ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 and no really good way to decide which one was best. That was when the light bulb went off."

The result was Imandi, a consumer infomediary Web operation founded with fellow Microsoft alumnus and software guru Eric Johnson who agreed there needed to be a better to connect consumers with a wide variety of services and products, get the best prices and establish satisfaction ratings to assist final choices.

Imandi, which is a Hindi word meaning "bazaar" or "marketplace," was launched by its 35 employees in late May, backed by a startup round of $1 million from angel investors. According to Kher Imandi has generated more than 5,000 purchase requests from consumers, this despite a "soft" launch phase with little publicity.

To use the system, a consumer logs on to Imandi.com and selects from one of the five categories they currently offer: travel, finance, automotive, home and garden and moving. From within these broad categories, a specific selection, such as painting or roofing is selected and a detailed questionnaire filled out which is sent out for bid to the site's nationwide network of 100,000 contractors and merchants.

To weed out unsatisfactory experiences, Imandi uses an eBay-type user feedback system to report their experiences. And unlike many other buying sites, Imandi doesn't sign exclusive agreements with any of the merchants or contractor, allowing them to offer vendor-neutral service. With other online auto sales sites, for example, a consumer gets a quote from just one dealership in a carefully carved-up geographic territory. Without the same contractual handcuffs, an Imandi user could get multiple quotes on a vehicle from several dealerships in their area with potentially lower prices.

Forrester Research e-commerce analyst Seema Williams likes Imandi, but thinks they are better off focusing on services rather than products.

"In the services area, they have a really good chance of succeeding because no one has managed to crack the services marketspace." But, she emphasized, autos and other merchandise have a lot of competitors with far more experience. "I don't think they will go very far with that."

Imandi's biggest challenge, according to Williams, is the ability to sign up contractors.

"This is a local market and it remains to be seen how many local contractors will sign up."

A company spokesman would not say how many of the 100,000 businesses in their database have formally signed up, but added that Imandi is offering an incentive by not charging any commission on completed deals for the first six to eight months. Kher says Imandi also anticipates revenue from advertising and, perhaps, subscription revenues. Williams also suggested Imandi might consider wholesaling these services to local city sites which are desperate for good content.

And Kher's house? He finally accepted a $3,300 bid from a painter with good references who did a fine job that he and his wife are happy with, even though it took a lot more time and hassle than they would have liked.



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