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Putting Half.com on the Map

If you're an entrepreneur in training you ought to be taking notes. EBay announced plans to acquire Half.com yesterday in a blockbuster stock deal valued at roughly $350 million. It's a win-win move for both companies; but for one serial entrepreneur, it's a four minute mile in front of the home crowd.

Joshua Kopelman is the 28-year-old co-founder of Infonautics . The firm is best known for its innovative Company Sleuth service, which grabbed headlines by the bushel last year when it started publicizing recently registered domain names from publicly traded companies like Amazon and Dell .

After serving his tour of duty as executive vice president of Infonautics, Kopelman got the itch again. He announced his departure this time last year to start a new Net venture named Half.com. His old company funded the new start-up with a quarter-million dollars in exchange for a five percent equity stake. And it's been off to the races ever since.

With a group of hand picked IT buddies, the business savvy Kopelman set out to make his mark the old-fashioned way. With a great idea. Crossbred between Amazon and eBay, Half.com is a person-to-person e-marketplace for used goods. EBay focuses on those hard-to-find items and lets user bid on them. But unlike the online auctioneering giant, Half.com focuses on non-scarce items, allowing users to sell used books and CDs on its Web site at a fixed cost.

On Half.com people don't bid on items, and there's no cost to list old junk from the attic. The company makes money by taking a 15% sales commission on items sold, and it takes just a few seconds to list sale items using the UPC code. Half.com gets two thumbs way up for escrowing credit card transactions. A fantastic policy that a billion dollar dot-com like eBay desperately needs to consider.

Amazon sells plenty of new books and CDs, but there's little in the way of an aftermarket for plentiful used goods. Although, that hasn't stopped analysts from comparing Half.com to the king of e-tailing since day one.

Armed with a modest war chest, Half.com came to a fork in the road. With all the dot-coms scrambling over one another to stand out from the crowd, how could Half.com create a buzz over its Web site? Cooked up in-house, the company unleashed the most clever publicity stunt we've seen this millennium. The idea was to get the sleepy town of Halfway, Oregon to temporarily change its name to Half.com in exchange for some free computers and $75,000 cash.

It would mark the first time a town ever named itself after an Internet upstart, and the media howled with delight at the genius of the marketing move. In a time of million dollar Superbowl ads by penniless newcomers, Half.com managed to parlay pocket change into a king's ransom worth of free publicity. Every major news media outlet across the world picked up the story and ran with it. And overnight, Half.com was put on the map.

Despite waning enthusiasm in the online retailing industry, venture capitalists weren't about to pass up on the next Amazon.com. In its third round of funding, Half.com netted $17 million from a who's-who list of deep pockets that included @Ventures and Safeguard Scientifics .

Rocketing to the 18th most trafficked e-commerce site on the Net in a New York minute, Half.com attracted more than just curious onlookers. EBay was so impressed with how fast the company landed in its backyard, that it decided to extend the brass ring to Josh Kopelman less than a year from his departure from Infonautics, and before the start-up has a chance to grow into a fearsome ancillaryc