By Molly Hulsey
Reynolds Fellow Peter Meng says he discovered the inspiration for his entrepreneurial project, adFreeq, by “scratching an itch.” Always interested in starting a business, as well as the classified ad market, entrepreneur Meng approached RJI with an idea—a system that monetized streaming classified ads online.
The result was adFreeq, a business created within the University of Missouri that will soon launch in the real world. Meng discussed the experiences, research and final results of his project during RJInnovation Week.
The problem with online classifieds
When Meng first started his research, it was in response to a clear dilemma in the ad industry: where was all the ad revenue going?
- In 1999, 55 percent of Gannett’s advertising revenue came from classifieds. Now? Classifieds make up just 5 percent.
- Craigslist, eBay and other online services are the new classifieds for many people.
- However, about $6 billion in classified revenue is annually left “unclaimed” by websites such as Craigslist.
Meng was browsing Twitter when he got his big idea. He typed “for sale” in Twitter’s search box, and was amazed at how many people were using the site to post items for sale. The problem? Those posts were only being viewed by people who followed the user with an item for sale. This revelation led to Meng’s conceptual development of adFreeq:
- A cloud-based classified ad service that brings sellers and buyers together in real time.
- adFreeq would create new opportunities for online publishers, because it would be richer and safer than Craigslist, but easier and cheaper than eBay.
In his first semester as a Reynolds Fellow, Meng used a convergence team to survey 4,000 advertising directors across the United States, of which 380 responded.
He also used this semester to focus on the development of his concept and building a prototype of the site. His original idea was to provide a white label product for local news operations to include in their web or digital portfolio, typically inserted into their existing news website.
In the second semester of his work, Meng worked with the Missouri School of Journalism’s AdZou to create a marketing approach, based on the survey results that expressed a great concern for security among buyers and sellers. AdZou’s recommendation for Meng was to “build your brand.”
adFreeq was accepted into the annual Silicon Valley LAUNCH! Pitch competition– a group of 25 companies selected as up-and-comers with the most promising technology.
Why adFreeq is different
- As soon as someone publishes something, it’s posted to the network. Postings can even be sent in push notifications via email or text messages to mobile phones.
- adFreeq is socially integrated, allowing users to reach a greater audience, yet one with more specificity.
- There are elements of security and implied trust that sites such as Craigslist lack.
- Whenever someone has something to sell, it is announced via all social platforms that adFreeq uses.
- A site that’s run by a known newspaper in the community has a built-in brand image and its audience’s trust.
So, how does it work?
adFreeq’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for buyers and sellers to connect through channels, simplicity, platforms and context.
- adFreeq provides a livestream of classified ads on a sidebar on the newspaper site. It can sort through what users want, and sorts based on the page or story that is being viewed.
- Example: If a user is reading a story about Cardinals baseball, the adFreeq sidebar could feature Cardinals tickets for sale.
- Every adFreeq “channel” also has its very own Twitter feed – channels include sections such as real estate and auto.
- Pricing: adFreeq is free for the first 7 days, and then a convenience fee is charged-- $3 per month, while an ad with photo is $3 per week and $10 per month.
- adFreeq has finally reached its final funding level, and will officially launch adFreeq 1.0 in June.
- The company has forged relationships with several venture firms in St. Louis, who they will present to in the near future.
- They are also looking to implement adFreeq in China, a country with no history of classifieds but a huge market for resale, with the help of Mizzou student Ryan Tang.