Get to know a Toronto startup: Kiinzel

People are always looking for a way to make a quick buck on the Internet. Depending on your level of desperation, you can offer yourself up for rental to someone who wants a companion to go to the movies with, or even rent your dog for some small pocket change. Due to the success of sites like eBay and craigslist, online marketplaces have spread to nearly every type of industry.

Kiinzel, which recently launched in Toronto, is trying to become our own local version of a community marketplace. With a focus on identity, Kiinzel is trying to bring credibility into the historically anonymous local online marketplace. To most people, turning your gently used items into cold hard cash is a slightly less creepy and potentially more profitable approach to make some extra money on the side.

I was invited to spend some time with Marlina Kinnersly, Kiinzel's founder, to better understand how Kiinzel is trying to reboot Toronto's online marketplace.

Where did the idea behind Kiinzel originally came from?

Kiinzel was an evolution of my personal experiences and research. I've been selling and buying new and gently used products for over a decade. I've used popular marketplaces and they haven't changed at all. they still suck! From no shows to poor online user experiences, there are way too many hassles to deal with. Even when I tried the Facebook buy, sell and swap groups, I still had a terrible experience. I assumed there would be less friction but you still have to list multiple times to get exposure. It's surprising, but the amount of disrespectful language and lack of accountability is just as bad on Facebook as it would be on craigslist.

Looking for something better, I came up with the concept of a marketplace that was more swapping centric that would incorporate social media. However, without a tech background or experience in building a startup, I let it slide for a number of years. In late 2011, during the end of my marketing contract at Toronto Eaton Centre, I started conceptualizing Kiinzel, drawing inspiration from eBay and social networks like Pinterest and Facebook. The company's mission is to build thriving unified communities that benefit the environment and society. Our hope is to encourage that timeless feeling of people helping people while inspiring positive impact within communities.

How did you come up the name?

We get this question a lot and I love it! Kiin comes from the root word of 'kin', meaning a person having kinship with others. Zel represents the playful, fun and social side of the platform. We consider our user community family and we want them to have fun!

How does Kiinzel actually work?

Using Kiinzel is easy and free! Simply, browse local listings and users can discover what their friends and neighbours are selling. When a user finds something they want, need or love they can make an offer to either buy or swap the item. The seller can create listings in under a minute all within one page. Buyers and sellers can vet each other through ratings and reviews as well as their social identities in the near future. Once a seller receives an offer or offers they can choose who they deal with. Kiinzel makes selling a lot less random!

Users also get to have some fun with 'Wishes' - they can wishlist listings on the site for items they want or create original wishes like a spa day for mommy or weekend getaway to Niagara. By allowing users to create wishes, essentially their want list, sellers can pre-search buyers. We are really excited to see how our users will use wishes in the future and what exciting stories will come from it.

Making our marketplace social was important for our users, so they can 'like', 'wishlist' and share their own or their favourite listings on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Shopping has always been a social experience and we want to make sure we deliver that experience with a little dose of fun!

Why would people use Kiinzel compared to the other more typical classified and auction sites?

Kiinzel provides a friendly and enjoyable community with an enriching and simple user experience. Whether you are the buyer or seller, it's faster to search and list on Kiinzel than eBay, Craigslist or Kijiji. With a personal virtual store front for everyone, there is a focus on transparency and identity validation that builds trust in the community. Safety is a top concern for our users, especially moms. With personalized shops it's easier for a user's friends and neighbors to see what they have to sell as well as their wishes, reviews and ratings.

What are some of the interesting listings you have on Kiinzel right now?

Some of our most interesting listings are our one of a kinds and vintage or collectible pieces. As an example, Weronika Szanczuk up-cycles local genuine leather from sofas and turns it into handmade earrings and bracelets. Marina, who brands herself as Marina Rocks Toronto, is currently selling a Justin Bieber inspired purse and wallet made out of high quality duct tape - it's truly impressive!

As for the vintage pieces, you won't believe it but we have a working circa 1979 Atari 800 computer! A couple other cool items currently available on Kiinzel is an original Street Fighter Slot Machine and a signed Derek Jeter Replica Ash Bat.

What's next for Kiinzel?

There's lots in the pipeline. Right now we're focused on raising the awareness of Kiinzel, showing people just how different we are relative to the popular resale or classified sites and Facebook. In terms of the product, it's all about optimization, figuring out how to make Kiinzel even more desirable to our community. Once we found that optimal fit for our users we will launch across Canada and start working on our mobile app!

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