We love to talk to local startups and we’ve seen more and more well designed products (sites and apps) are doing great in the local market. But, we have to admit that it’s still not easy to find a product whose business model is kinda unique even in the global market. TradeSparq is one of the exceptions which I don’t know any western service to compare with.

Social eCommerce is the trend. Now you buy stuff online because you trust its advertisement; but it should make more sense that you buy something because your friends recommended it or somehow you notice they have bought it. We’ve wrote about the local service like Duitang, Taojianghu, Meilishuo etc. TradeSparq is also doing social ecommerce, but instead of doing social shopping like Taojianghu which is Taobao + Social Network, TradeSparq is doing so-called Social Sourcing which is like Alibaba + Social Network. And to be more accurate, as Micael Kleist, founder of TradeSparq described, it’s Alibaba + Linkedin.

Why people sign on Linkedin? One of the reasons is that they want to be connected with guys from their partners, sellers or customers. And why Alibaba has been popular for years, because it enables an easy way for buyers to discover thousands of manufacturers which are mainly from China. However, when you are on Linkedin, usually you don’t know what products your contacts’ companies are actually selling; and on Alibaba, as a manufacturer if you want more exposure, you should pay certain membership fee which is not cheap (~$3,012 per year for Gold Suppliers membership). As a buyer, you can be easily got lost as you don’t know which supplier you should trust more. These are the issues TradeSparq wants to solve.

TradeSparq is co-founded in 2010 by Michael Kleist, Brian Hager, William Hund and several other foreigners who are now based in Shanghai. As one of the key guys behind TradeSparq, Michael, the ex-manager of GlobalSources in SEA has been working in the global trade market for years.

Here is how TradeSparq works. Basically, you can set up an account for free then fill up your profile. If you are a supplier, you can add your products with detailed description, images, price etc; if you are a buyer, you can fill up your company information and search for the products. If you find anything good, you can message the person who listed this item and send request for connection which is just like how you build your networks on Linkedin. Through the social connections, you can also be aware of who your contacts are doing business with and got introduced to each other by the shared contacts.

Because it’s Social, TradeSparq has its own metrics to list the search results in certain orders. The products which are supplied by the people who are connected with you or with your connections are listed first. “Because they are the people and suppliers you trust more” Michael said. “We also offers VIP membership which starts from only USD$15 per month, which means the VIP members who are in your social network will have more exposure than those non-VIP members. But we also ensure the suppliers who are linked directly with you always have the privilege than others, meaning your direct connections are always listed on the top of others even they are VIP members.”

TradeSparq has now <10 staff in Shanghai and 50,000+ registered users with 170,000+ products listed. “The great thing about social sourcing is that we don’t need that many of customer support like Alibaba as TradeSparq is dealing with the real persons who can directly communicate online.” Michael said, “and unlike other online global trade business for which more transactions are always the top priority, our goal for this year is to acquire more users. Users come to TradeSparq are always ready for sell and buy.” TradeSparq is self-funded and is now closing to an angel investment.

I do believe that as the ecommerce goes social, Alibaba’s model is dying. But it will take some time until more young generation take in charge of the global business.

Dr. Gang Lu - Founder of TechNode. He's a Blogger, a Geek, a PhD and a Speaker, with passion in Tech, Internet and R'N'R.

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