Will Seippel, CEO and founder of WorthPoint, describes his startup as “Antiques Roadshow on steroids.” The company, which recently moved its headquarters to Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), creates an online environment where people can find the value and history of antiques and collectibles.
“Provenance – or the origin of a particular item – can create a worth that’s twice as much as the object itself is worth,” noted Seippel. “This is a huge market, but it’s fragmented. There’s no reporting system or NASDAQ for collectibles, but WorthPoint can help people understand what it is they are buying and selling and allow collectors to share information and knowledge.”
WorthPoint, a multimedia and database company, wants to be the only complete taxonomy on the Web for antiques and collectibles. Taxonomy is the practice and science of classifying items, usually in a hierarchical structure. Already, WorthPoint has created a database of nearly two million such items; Seippel’s ultimate data goal is hundreds of millions of items.
“If you look at ancestry.com, their objective is to make the birth records of every person ever born available. We’re trying to do something similar with all the stuff man made,” he said.
The process for WorthPoint’s taxonomy is a laborious and technology-intensive one. Beginning with purchased reference material, WorthPoint has the information tagged for data attributes and then catalogued. For example, the company has catalogued every known shape and form of Rookwood pottery, popularized in the 1920s and 1930s, and assigned digital barcodes to each piece.
Then, WorthPoint’s in-house experts – deemed Worthologists – put the catalogued and bar coded information into a semi-wiki environment in which users can make suggested changes to the Webmasters. Seippel eventually plans on incorporating visual recognition into WorthPoint’s database that would allow auctioneers and collectors to search via common words and photographs.
“If you look at the antiques market today, there are all these players and they’re in no way connected to each other. You have everything from grandma’s attic to insurance companies trying to figure out how to value goods to experts who try to withhold their knowledge from everyone else,” Seippel said. “We’re trying to create a common language and network between all those people, thereby creating a much more efficient market.”
According to Seippel, everyone collects something, and the numbers prove it. In 2006, there were 84 million active eBay users, more than 100 million worldwide collectors, 30,000 U.S. appraisers and 16,000 auctioneers worldwide. More than 500 million collectibles are sold on eBay and an estimated 100 million collectibles are sold by auctioneers annually.
Currently, WorthPoint’s primary competitors are paper price guides and magazines, traditional Internet auctions and first-generation Internet pricing sites. While those companies are limited by outdated technology and search capabilities, WorthPoint’s advantages lie in its taxonomy, its combination of collector, technology and domain expertise and its patent strategy.
“A host of small Internet sites exist due to their poor products. The user needs to go from site to site gathering information, and the same traffic sustains them all,” Seippel said. “WorthPoint’s strategy is to be the first in adopting new technologies, market directly to the consumer and build value for the auction house.”
The company’s revenue model is based on advertising, traffic to the Web site, subscriptions, brokering and fees for service offerings such as evaluations, appraisals. Indeed, user demographics are an advertiser’s dream: the average income of WorthPoint users is $80,000, average home value is $427,000 and the age range is 32 to 77. More than half of the site’s traffic comes from outside the United States.
In the future, WorthPoint will offer WorthPoint seals of approval and a Worth button (both patented technologies) accessible on different Web sites or via a personal digital assistant that will let consumers determine the value of an item they might be considering purchasing. In addition, consumers will be notified about the values of comparable items.
In March 2008, WorthPoint moved its corporate headquarters staff, media content and sales operations from northern Virginia to Atlanta. Seippel is excited about the opportunities Georgia Tech and ATDC will provide.
“Georgia Tech and ATDC have helped make Atlanta the technology capital of the Southeast,” he said. “The metropolitan area is progressive, affluent, home to a young, educated, tech-savvy workforce and is an active player in the global economy.”
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Writer: Nancy Fullbright