Keeping Your Eyes Open for the Amazing People You Might Meet: The Story of Zaarly's Beginnings

by Eric Koester, Founder of Zaarly

"Sounds great," he said. "We'll go to LA for the weekend, hang out with some friends at Startup Weekend and celebrate your birthday. It'll be a blast."

Those brief words between two friends and eventual business partners launched a whirlwind that would wind up becoming a new company, a new product, and most importantly - a team of incredibly talented individuals trying to build a new peer-to-peer platform for amazing entrepreneurs and small businesses. That was the start of Zaarly.

But let me back up just a bit. How do you go from a weekend birthday celebration to building a company powering a community of thirty-thousand entrepreneurs and over 500,000 users, raising funding from some amazing partners and investors, launching at South by Southwest in Austin, and convincing the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Meg Whitman to buy into your dream? Turns out that this weekend birthday celebration at Startup Weekend at CoLoft in Santa Monica was the perfect cocktail for a small team (and Zaarly's three eventual co-founders) to stumble onto a way to power peer-to-peer commerce and catch the eyes of the broader startup ecosystem.

The reason this weekend in Los Angeles offered an amazing launching pad for our founding team of Bo Fishback, Ian Hunter and I to create our own jobs - and get the privilege to launch a company designed to help others build a business doing what they love - came down to people. In some ways the fact that the three of us were even in LA that weekend was the biggest miracle in the founding of Zaarly. None of us actually lived in LA. Ian had recently moved from LA to New York City and was only back that particular weekend to pick up his car and drive it back to NYC (ironically, he and his car never even made it back to New York.) Bo and his wife (who was pregnant at the time) had planned to spend that particular weekend in Madison, Wisconsin - but a last minute scheduling change at the hospital where Shelby was a Radiologist, opened the door for Bo to head to LA. And therefore, just one day prior to the fateful weekend, Bo booked his plane ticket to Southern California. The only reason I'd decided to jet down to LA for that weekend was that my wife was on the road interviewing at Universities for professorships and I was left alone on my birthday weekend to fend for myself - and where better to spend your birthday than with a bunch of other 'startup people.'

Three individuals with more reasons not to be in LA found a way to meet and work together on a simple concept for that weekend for the first time. This shared bonding experience building something important together was perhaps the best interview for a cofounder you could have. Without any expectations and just a few short days to create something, we focused on what truly mattered - doing something we were proud of. And that's what has taken Zaarly from a weekend project led by three basic strangers to a full blown company and team of nearly fifty people focused on helping other local entrepreneurs pursue their own dreams.

That's the power of entrepreneurship - you create a place you want to work and want to be, and work with people you enjoy. And in a small, windowless conference room in Santa Monica surrounded by a hundred other entrepreneurs, we found that place, that problem and those people that would become Zaarly. Turns out, sometimes you find a way to create your own job just by showing up - and keeping your eyes open for the amazing people you might meet.

In the end, my friend and cofounder Bo's words were quite prophetic: that particular weekend definitely was a blast. But what he could never have known was that that 'blast' was really just getting started.

Eric Koester is a serial entrepreneur and most recently founded, a peer-to-peer marketplace to discover hand-curated local service providers. Eric is also a board member for Startup Weekend. You can read more at