Wheedle relaunch Monday

Trade Me rival, backed by Rich Lister Neil Graham, quietly comes back online ahead of campaign kicking off Monday. It's MD outlines what's changed since it imploded in October.

UPDATE / Sunday April 14: Wheedle has quietly come back online ahead of its official relaunch Monday.

The site went live yesterday, managing director and co-owner Carl Rees said when NBR Online contacted him this morning.

The auction site originally launched on October 1 last year, but closed for re-tooling just two days later after gaping security holes were exposed - including one that let you change the price on another member's listing.

The Christchurch company's backers include NBR Rich Lister and Mainfreight founder Neil Graham, who told NBR the project had a $10 million+ budget. The original launch was backed by high-rotate TV and radio ads.

"Throughout Wheedle’s endeavours we have retained solid financial backing and support," Rees said.

That includes the return of TV, radio and online ads tomorrow.

But don't look for shots of Rees trout fishing, a la Paul Reynolds' XT mea culpa.

The ads will feature the same creative as October, the MD said. The company doesn't use an ad agency. All its ads were developed inhouse, then handed to a production company (Orly Productions).

Wheedle Take I was developed in India. Wheedle Take II was developed by an un-named local crew, and Rees earlier told NBR it would be subject to rigorous independent testing before going live.

"The function inaccuracies [in Wheedle I] were caused by our own doing and they have since been fixed," Rees said this morning.

"Furthermore, we have rebuilt significant areas of our application and redesigned our database and server architecture to enhance the performance."

He added, "I would like to point out that our website security was never threatened or hacked and all member login and password information was fully encrypted and securely stored, we have since deleted all member information. Nevertheless, for peace of mind we have again contracted an independent internet security specialist to thoroughly audit our application and system infrastructure before going online."

While there was never a claim that personal or credit card details were accessed, I'm sure many would count listings being edited by other users as a hack.

In any case, Auckland software developer Ben Gracewood - one of those who publicised problems with Wheedle I - says his very early take on Wheedle II is that security is tighter, and functions like password reset safer.

The relaunch features a $1 reserve auction for a Ford Fiesta, with proceeds going to St John.

There are two other promotions: all listings are free until May 13, and there's the chance to win a smartphone a week (with a choice of iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S III) if you become a verified member.

Ahead of Wheedle's original launch, Mr Graham told NBR the site would be hosted on 40 servers at IBM's new state-of-the-art data centre at Highbury in Auckland. Today. Mr Rees said he couldn't comment on hosting "for security reasons."

ABOVE: The new-look Wheedle.

No market-cracking feature
Wheedle II has a cleaner interface, but not some of the front-foot features suggested after Wheedle I failed such as tight integration with a social media account, or the ability to import a Trade Me profile and reputation rating (something that sparked a threat of legal action from Trade Me when suggested by another action start-up).

Again, Wheedle will have to hope its lower fees will be enough to spark it toward a critical mass of users.

While many agree with Mr Graham that Trade Me needs some competition, the market leader's near-monopoly has only strengthened in the meantime with APN closing free-listing site Sella (which claimed 550,000 users, although its number of listings suggested a more modest membership).

The experience of Sella and others suggests you can't compete against Trade Me on price when everyone knows its huge membership guarantees more bids and a higher sale price.

Right now, the chicken-and-egg critical mass problem is glaring.

Many Wheedle II sections are thinly populated or feature no listings at all.

And of course this time Wheedle faces the additional hurdle of having to win back people's trust.

Still, you've got to start somewhere.

Again.

Rees said he's been in the office 7am to 7pm, seven days a week.

And life just more complicated with the birth of his baby daughter four weeks ago.

Good luck to him and the Wheedle team. Trade Me needs competition.

But the hard yards have only just begun.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz


Get ready for Wheedle, take two

Jan 17, 2013: Trade Me rival Wheedle, which closed for retooling on October 2, will shortly return.

"We are working hard to get things done and ready for a new launch," managing director Carl Rees told NBR ONLINE this morning.

"I have penciled in a new launch date. At this stage all I can say is it is not too far away ... we will launch within weeks."

The comeback will be supported by TV advertising.

The site was closed after a number of bugs were publicised via social media, including the ability to easily change the price on another member's listing.

Rees promised an independent audit, and improvements, before the auction site reopened.

Back in October, the MD told NBR, "The fixes are minimal compared to the size of our entire source code and development. We identified the areas where we had problems and we have engaged an independent company to do the fixes ... for peace of mind."

This morning he added, "We have made a number of good functionality changes and the design and layout has been improved."

New crew
Wheedle drew flak in some circles for hiring staff in India for its initial build, although Rees said the key problem was insufficient pre-launch testing.

Rees refused to identify the independent company implementing the bug fixes, or where it was located.

"All I can say is that it’s not the company that WINZ used of late," he joked.

A rash of contenders launched against Trade Me last year. Most were small time, quixotic stabs at the incumbent, but Wheedle, whose backers include NBR Rich Lister and Mainfreight founder Neil Graham had a $10 million+ budget (by Graham's account to NBR) and was backed by a high-rotation TV and radio ad campaign during its brief initial run.

How it could do better
I still believe doing the same thing with cheaper fees will not be enough to lure people attracted by Trade Me's scale, whatever the budget (if you don't believe my, read this excellent essay by Dylan Bland, who has been there and done that taking on the monopolist).

Let's hope Wheedle take two adds some spice to the mix. Bland, and various NBR commenters, have suggested features that would instantly address the chicken-and-egg scale issue, such as better social media connectivity, or the ability to import or otherwise quote a Trade Me community rating - a suggestion that drew a threat of legal action from Trade Me when it was mooted by another auction start-up, Geta.

Rees won't detail Wheedle's new features ahead of re-launch day.

But whatever happens, you've got to admire his Rocky spirit.

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