Philip Rosedale, the founder (and still chairman) of the company that made Second Life, is back with a new company in the hot consumer-to-consumer commerce space that TaskRabbit and Gigwalk are making popular. Coffee and Power is his creation. It is a little different from the other entries in this space, but conceptually not too far afield.
Coffee and Power is designed to be a marketplace for doing, "small, fast jobs," Rosedale says. He's proud that the service was built using itself (for the sake of this story, please ignore the chicken-and-egg problem). There are about 88,000 lines of code in Coffee and Power, and it cost about $200,000, "in little hundred-dollar pieces," to put the site together. Rosedale himself with the development manager.
So C&P is half TaskRabbit, half oDesk. Or at least, it was at first. Rosedale wants to build a more generalized task marketplace, more slanted at the TaskRabbit audience. He believes the challenge with this model is that, "You need buyers and sellers. It's easy to get providers to put things up for sale. The hard part is finding buyers."
Furthermore, he says, in a truly social marketplace like this one, pricing and payments get very loose, since "people will do things for each other for cheap if they're sufficiently motivated," meaning that there's a social or personal value that transcends the cash value of a deal.
There's a similar challenge with C&P as there was with Second Life. "The challenge is getting people to try it, and then meet each other." So C&P shows available sellers' services on its home page, instead of available jobs wanted. You can show for services like you do for crafts on Etsy. Indeed, you may find the same stuff: "I will crochet an octopus for you," was listed on C&P when I tried it out. The site encourages impulse buying.
But since it's about person-to-person service, where are you going to meet the person you're dealing with? Rosedale is trying a likely unscalable experiment at the company's HQ in San Francisco: There's a cafe in his building, with free coffee and workspaces for people who are working on C&P-facilitated projects.
Another way C&P is trying to get people to try the P2P commerce market: You can gift a service you see on the site to someone else. For the time being, C&P will pay for all services that are given as gifts.
The payment system on C&P is also unique: It's token-based, a "virtual currency." You can sell a service on C&P, receive payment in C$, and then use that system money to buy your own stuff. You can buy C$ directly (one dollar for one C$), or cash out -- but when you want to withdraw money, you only make $0.85 for every C$ in your account.
C&P could obviously make money on the exchange. It's a model that's worked for Second Life.
While it feels like there's a new P2P commerce play launching ever day now, this remains an interesting space. Dozens of companies are trying to find working formulas for growing their P2P markets into real businesses. There should be more than one model that works. I'm not sure if Coffee and Power will be one of the survivors, but it has a chance. The focus on making it fun and easy to buy is reminiscent of Zaarly, which has the grandest vision (if not the largest user base), and the use of a token currency makes the market feel more social and game-like. That works pretty well for fun little social projects, but perhaps not for serious work like programming tasks.