Keeping an unbiased eye on online bargains

16:00, Feb 23 2014
BETTER BIDDING: Kevin Doran, left, and Tim Grunshaw of Christchurch start-up PriceOwl, which estimates prices on Trade Me.

Two budding Christchurch entrepreneurs aim to reduce the time and guesswork involved when buying on Trade Me.

"If you're anything like me, you start out having no idea what an auction is worth," Tim Grunshaw said.

Researching prices on the auction website could be "time-consuming, tedious and often inaccurate", he said, as users placed items on their watchlist, waited for auctions to end and then averaged a price in their heads.

His new software and website, called PriceOwl, searches Trade Me's historical database of successful auctions for similar items and returns users a free estimate of an item's worth. PriceOwl is a "personal evaluator", he said.

Users type a Trade Me auction number or URL into the website and the software returns a suggested value. Users then decide whether to bid or buy now.

Grunshaw, 23, conceived the idea with business partner Kevin Doran, 22, and the pair further developed the idea in The Hatchery, the University of Canterbury summer start-up scholarship programme.


The software is still in beta - experimental and incomplete - and Doran and Grunshaw want to add features, including an automatic deal finder that would email users when wanted items are going at good prices.

Another idea is an evaluation function - when users view an auction, the PriceOwl software gives an estimated price based on historical sales of similar items. The evaluation would appear on a user's Trade Me page. The pair have a licence agreement to use Trade Me's data.

Next month, the pair expect to take PriceOwl to Wellington's Lightning Lab, a 14-week accelerator programme for good ideas.

Accelerators are a specific type of business incubator that concentrate the start-up process. Lightning Lab puts up seed money, mentors and hopes to get business ideas flying within three months.

There is no accelerator in Canterbury, although Power House incubates people, typically academics, with a research record and owned intellectual property.

"We don't have anything in that [accelerator] space," Jamie Cairns, manager of the Canterbury Regional Innovation System at the Canterbury Development Corporation, told a Ministry of Awesome event last week.

He was disappointed that entrepreneurs like Grunshaw and Doran have to go to Wellington.

The Press