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Get to Know SpreeConf DC Speaker: Eric Koester

Posted on March 28, 2013 by Lynne Brehmer

On Tuesday we introduced you to SpreeConf speaker, Chris Mar who will be discussing the new split shipments functionality that’s coming in Spree 2.0 at SpreeConf DC May 20th – 21st in Washington, DC. Today we’d like to introduce you to Eric Koester. Eric is the Founder of Zaarly and will be speaking at SpreeConf about capitalizing on the micro-prenuer revolution.

Eric Koester

Eric Koester

Founder at Zaarly
Eric Koester is a serial entrepreneur and most recently the founder of Zaarly, a leading online marketplace to discover and work with talented local service providers. Eric also serves on the board of directors of Startup Weekend and volunteers his time working with Steve Blank and others to teach and grow the NEXT entrepreneurial curriculum in more than 100 communities around the world in 2013. Eric is a well known writer and author, including the books Green Entrepreneur Handbook and What Every Engineer Should Know About Starting a High-Tech Business Venture, and was named one of the 40 Under 40 for Washington, DC in 2011 and the Tech Hire of the Year in 2010.

Capitalizing on the Micro-preneur Revolution

Entrepreneurship is hot. Perhaps it is the down economy, the popularization of the rich and famous rags to riches entrepreneurs, or maybe just a sense of wanting to “do your own thing”, but estimates predict that there are over 40 million members of the “freelance economy” – independent workers, contractors, small business owners or part-time workers. And an amazing opportunity has arisen as new companies rush to serve this new entrepreneurial class – from helping with website creation to accounting to billing to marketing – a new set of customers is coming online in need of help.

The team behind Zaarly spent months speaking with local entrepreneurs and small business owners to build a product to serve them better. The result was Storefronts, which were released in September 2012 as a tool for individuals, freelancers and small business owners to sell their services online. This exercise of speaking to this new class of entrepreneurs and hearing their thoughts about their lives, their businesses and the services they are using in their lives offered some fascinating insights into today’s new entrepreneurs. Eric will be speaking at SpreeConf about his learnings on what today’s entrepreneurs want and need as we build new tools to power this growing ecosystem.

Getting to Know Eric

We asked Eric to give us his thoughts on the latest happenings in the small business and entrepreneur communities and some of the interesting projects he’s working on right now.

What trends are most exciting to you right now?

The “Entrepreneur Next Door” trend is a really interesting one. What the 2008 financial crisis did was kick start many more individuals to go out and start their own thing – an Amazon or Etsy shop, a decorating company, a lawn care business, a catering company or any one of numerous “skill-based” businesses out there. And the result is that you’re seeing companies like Square, Zaarly, Etsy, Uber and dozens more emerge to support them. I anticipate seeing a real surge in local businesses with more and more consumers shunning the big-box stores to support local entrepreneurs.

The “Information Democratization” movement is something else I see really causing disruption. Any industry that runs on information asymmetry (with someone having information and someone else not), are ripe to be disrupted. That may mean pricing transparency in collectibles (eBay), busy-times for taxi rides (Uber), financial advising (Wealthfront) or dozens and dozens of more examples. I even love the Data.gov/Open Data initiative spearheaded by Todd Park – helping unlock all this valuable information for the general public. That may help create some really powerful tools for the general public. The term Big Data is overplayed, but the reality is that if done well we can start to put data to work for us to lead more efficient lives – which comes as we democratize information.

Any interesting projects you are working on that others might be interested in?

I’ve become really interested in what has happened to small business owners since the 2008 financial crisis. What many people aren’t talking about are the lingering effects of that crisis and the resulting regulations on small business banking and lending. Today, there is $100B less in loans being given out by banks to small business owners – a drop in nearly 20%. So as a result, I’ve teamed up with some people in the SBA’s Office of Advocacy to get out and start talking to hundreds of business owners to learn how they are dealing with this and what they need to succeed. If people know of small business owners (not startups, but businesses that are more traditional – not a fit for VC or angel funding), then I’d love to talk to them.

I testified twice before Congress about the JOBS Act – and was incredibly excited to see it pass. But now the rules are tied up at the Securities and Exchange Commission. This means that new rules around Crowdfunding and permitting advertising of fundraising are still on hold. It’s something we can’t forget and I’m continuing to find ways to put pressure on the SEC to move ahead.

What are you most looking forward to at SpreeConf this year?

Haha…to be totally honest, I’m most looking forward to people letting their hair down afterwards at the after-party at Lost Society.

What do you hope SpreeConf attendees remember about your talk when they get home?

It’s never been easier to “support your local economy”. If we would support our local small businesses and entrepreneurs the way that we support our NFL, MLB and NBA teams, we’d really be able to make a huge difference in our hometowns.

80% plus percent of people say they’d love to buy local, but less than a third actually do. This new micro-preneur revolution changes that – letting you support a business owner on a platform like Uber, a craftswoman on Etsy, a craftsman on CustomMade, a developer on Elance or a baker on Zaarly.

Do you have any interesting picks – blogs, technology, books, new companies to follow?

My wife picked up the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and “strongly encouraged” me to read it. I’m glad she did as it’s something everyone that cares about your industry should read – she nails it and offers some learnings that apply to a diverse thinking that men and women alike should read.

Come meet Eric and hear his talk about Capitalizing on the Micro-prenuer Revolution at SpreeConf DC, May 20th – 21st. The $199 early bird rate ends March 31st so register now and save!