Rewarder's a startup that works in reverse of most online markets — it facilitates payments for buyers who are willing to pay for a unique expertise.
"Most ecommerce is based on what people are selling, or listing things that they want to sell. We are reversing the model. The people who are creating the reward or payment are the ones who are offering to buy," says Kendall Fargo, the CEO of the San Francisco-based Rewarder. Earlier in his career, Fargo was one of the founders of StepUp, an early Internet marketplace that allowed retailers to sell in-store products on the Web—it was later acquired by Intuit.
To use Rewarder, buyers select a category or type of reward, such as diet plans, car information, clothing, antiques and travel information. The buyer then shares details and an offer of a payment "reward" for delivery of that service. Members of Rewarder's social community browse available rewards and offer solutions.
The buyer then chooses a winner. Rewarder accepts card payments from the buyer, collects a 15% fee, then pays the winner in the form of an Amazon.com gift card or a transfer to a PayPal account. About 40% of winners take the gift card, Fargo says. "People may be surprised by that, be we often have people tell us that they have never won anything before," he says.
Rewarder just launched a mobile app, which enables users to browse and win rewards while away from their PC.
"The mobile app will make the process that much quicker, we can have reward creators and winners interacting all of the time," says Fargo.
Rewarder is designed to be a more focused and controlled social community than the online venues in which people ask questions and get answers for free. Rewarder also offers risk controls, such as asking users to validate their identity, and requires that buyer's rewards are at least partly funded before being made public.
Fargo likens the payment to a finder's fee. Recent offers on the site include an $80 reward for someone who's looking for where to buy a type of designer shoe, $50 for someone who can locate a retro 50's dress, or $200 for someone who can help find a civil engineering job in London, or $100 to arrange a Skype chat with Emma Stone.
"It's not so much that people want to buy something, they usually want to solve some sort of problem or have a need. … A lot of people want help forming a workout schedule that fits with their work schedule, or they have goal to run a half marathon and want help developing a training schedule," Fargo says.
In less than seven months since its founding, Rewarder has signed up about 500,000 members.
The concept of "reverse auctions" is not new, but has not worked at scale, says Arkady Fridman, a senior analyst for Aite Group.
"However, we are entering a new era with mobile and I suspect traditional experiences and expectations will change over time," Fridman says.
There are similar companies already. Flattr, for example, operates a micro donation site that allows people to make donations to creators of content that they like. Another company, called WishCast, allows people to request items they want, and merchants offer bids in return.
"I do believe mobile can help drive more usage for these concepts, but we are likely three to five years out before consumers really start to view mobile as a universal contrail of everything in their life," Fridman says.