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New Zealand's original start-up, Trade Me, celebrates its 20th birthday

Time moves swiftly in the start-up world, and looking back from 2019, 1999 is practically the Jurassic. But it was that year that Sam Morgan acted on an idea he’d had while trying to buy a secondhand heater for his chilly Wellington flat and created Trade Me.

Chief executive Jon Macdonald says like any new business, nobody was certain Trade Me would succeed at the time of launch.

“What we were asking people to do was very strange at the time: buying something you’d never seen off someone you’d never met. In the early 2000s, viewing a car or a job or a property online was a foreign concept to most New Zealanders. Now it’s as normal as fish and chips.”

“There was a combination of a great idea, New Zealanders’ inherent skill at picking up new technology, tons of hard work and a bit of luck that got us here today. We grew as Kiwis got more and more comfortable living online and we’re stoked to be a big part of New Zealand today.” 

Macdonald says the company has come a long way since Morgan’s idea. While Trade Me initially focused on secondhand goods, it has now branched out into real estate, vehicles, insurance, holiday home rentals, business directory services, personal loans and even dating.

In recent years, Trade Me has also pivoted to include provision for those making a living out of selling new goods on the platform, rather than just selling secondhand items casually. Its Trade Me Stores initiative offers professional sellers an ecommerce-style shopfront and additional tools within the platform.

It has also faced competition from Facebook’s Marketplace and a host of smaller free classified listings sites such as Allgoods and Post a Note.

Macdonald says as technology matures, advances in the likes of voice search, AI, machine learning and more will create more opportunities for Trade Me to create new tools.

“What’s important to us is making sure we keep delivering the things that Kiwis need, there’s limitless potential with what we can do, online classifieds and ecommerce is still in its infancy in New Zealand and we want to be here for another 20 years.” 

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