Selling the Experience

By Quincy L. Lewis

Have you ever thought about how life would be in someone else’s shoes? Ian V. Rowe has, and he thinks that others who have thought about it should have the opportunity to experience it, too.

Rowe is the CEO of iMar, an “insiders’ market” that brings consumers, experiences, and services together via the Web. These experiences include walking tours of Harlem, professional tango lessons, and access to popular night-clubs that are normally tough for the average person to get into.

The idea for this site came about because of Rowe’s interest in the service. Rowe was fascinated by the way the service brought buyers and sellers together online. “We wanted to create something similar,” said Rowe, but instead of selling products, he formed an open market for services and experiences. He, along with three fellow Harvard Business School graduates, launched iMar in October 2000 with $2.7 million culled from their savings and angel investors.

One of iMar’s experiences is a limo ride with Mob historian Paul Zukowski. This tour takes consumers through old gang territories throughout New York while Zukowski offers inside information about the sites and their notorious former inhabitants.

If the Mob is not quite to your taste, iMar also features a trip to New York City’s trendiest neighborhoods and restaurants with actress Marisa Tomei’s mother, Addie Tomei. This experience was one of the first iMar offered.

Because iMar is an open market, anyone looking to sell services or experiences on the site can do so by providing their credit card information. While the credit card information is now being used for age and billing-address confirmation, it will eventually be used to charge sellers fees for posting their experiences, which are free at this time. Currently iMar charges sellers a 20% fee for services and buyers are charged a $1.50 reservation fee.

Potential buyers can browse the iMar.com site for activities or services that interest them. They pay only for the services they receive. “Reviews are our main marketing tool,” says Rowe. “When people see what another consumer has said about the experience, then they will be encouraged to try it themselves.”

The services are currently available only in New York, but Rowe plans to offer iMar in other cities, such as San Francisco and Boston, as well. “It’s an endless inventory,” adds Rowe. Indeed, it is. A lifetime of experiences could mean a lifetime of business for iMar.

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