Published: October 11, 2022
WorthPoint™ CEO Will Seippel, who grew up in a small Southern town, has been a reseller since he was 10 years old, having sold more than 43,000 things on eBay and another 2,500 on MaxSold. He has traded in everything from used golf balls to Civil War artifacts, at prices ranging from a $5 vintage coffee mug to a $27,000 turkey call. With a background in math and technology, he has created a company that is the world’s largest online resource for researching and valuing antiques, art and collectibles. We were delighted when he gave us the scoop on the exciting and innovative initiatives WorthPoint has rolled out in recent months, and what will be coming along in the near future.
What gave you the idea to start WorthPoint?
I looked back at my career and thought, ‘What haven’t I done in the corporate world?’ I’ve taken three companies public, won some Wall Street awards and had become disillusioned with the corporate world. Sometimes you were associated with people whose ethics didn’t align with mine. This culminated with being at the World Trade Center on 9/11; at one point, my family thought I had been killed there. That caused me some reflection, and events from that day made me decide that I did not want to go back to the corporate world. It would take a few more years to turn that into a reality.
I also had seen my mom taken advantage of while she was downsizing. I also saw a lot of family history and memories being lost in the process. She also tried to leave notes on things or build lists with heirs. I thought, ‘My whole background is tech and math, I could build something useful, which could save provenances forever, something everyone could use and afford.’ That was 15 years ago when I was 50.
At the time, leaving the corporate world and income was frightful. I still had five kids to send through college, the tech crash had not been kind to me, and I was in a very public large dispute with the IRS that was several years away from a successful conclusion.
At that time, I started using eBay as an early adopter. I credit eBay sales with funding my kids’ college accounts. Several of them received master’s degrees. Given my college and professional background it did not escape me that eBay had created a phenomenon that few people realized; it broke the supply chain in our industry. It allowed buyers and sellers of odd items and curiosities to find each other regardless of their location. It modernized our marketplace, but it didn’t take the same approach with data. EBay had created a new vast marketplace, and everyone was focused on the disruptions and also trying to mimic the marketplace or save the brick and mortar stores. No one was focusing on building a Bloomberg-like data knowledge system to support the emerging markets and replace the disruptions that were bound to happen in the publishing and price guide industry.
What was the initial mission at WorthPoint?
I had the audacious goals for WorthPoint to be the Bloomberg, Zillow and Ancestry.com for our industry. I laugh as, at this time, Ancestry was recruiting me as a senior executive for its company and I had the nerve to discuss the WorthPoint concept. After my second visit there they asked me not to come back as they did not think I was focused enough on their idea. Like Ancestry, we reach into the household and tie people to their items. Through WorthPoint, I hope we can touch people. We made an early point to focus on the household, trying to bring people into the domain, bring them into this world. Like Bloomberg, we are also developing all kinds of indices to track how a specific item or market has performed over time, how prices have risen and fallen. You can use these indices as a tool to predict where the value of things will go.
Has WorthPoint stayed true to its mission?
Neal McAtee, our chief financial officer will tell you the mission is eerily the same. At the beginning, we were supported by ads and advertisers, but we’ve switched the model to being supported by subscriptions. Not many companies survived that perilous journey in a business model. One of the crazy things is that while we’re a tech company, we haven’t taken any venture capital money. Friends made the contributions necessary to building the company but we’re self-funded and also supplemented our cash flow with traditional bank debt.
Can you describe the company’s growth?
We have grown by any statistic one could imagine. While we do not disclose precise statistics on revenue, we have grown that for 22 straight quarters. Our price database has grown to 700 million items. Our library database has more than 10,000 books. Our Marks database is at about 200,000 marks, symbols and patterns. Our dictionary that ties it all together is approaching 8,000 entries. All this was at zero 15 years ago. We have built hundreds of data partnerships and reached deeply into the charity communities. Our traffic on a given day is up to 300,000. There are a lot of ways to measure our growth and we stack up well by all accounts.
I’ve noticed something on the WorthPoint site called ‘The Vault.’ What’s that?
The WorthPoint virtual vault is a special place to make a record and store your items online. It combines all the facts and figures in a “bin” in your vault for as long as you want going into perpetuity. You can attach all sorts of information to it including the location, important papers, the emotions you have to it, where you bought it, who you may want to will it to or have the ability to move it to a marketplace partner for sale. You can decide to share the item with friends, a potential buyer or just keep it to yourself. You can pass the bin on when you sell it or give it away and if you decide to make it a permanent record with a high resolution image you can establish a permanent provenance for the item that can also be used for insurance. Most importantly, you can also attach the value to the item with our price guide and we are building the intelligence to keep the value updated as new items come into the database. Collectively we establish a WorthScore(™). It is fun to see this change in time as you add items. It really secures things in your house into one bundle. I would imagine it could also serve as an inventory system for dealers.
What are some of the things you’re working on at WorthPoint?
Visual recognition will be on the app in October combined with Marks and library access, traditionally only the price guide has been on the mobile app. It will be incredible to add visual recognition first to the price guide and a follow on later release to MAPS (Marks). You’ll be able to take a photo of an item and it will match it and help you identify what it is and what similar items have sold for.
Do you think visual recognition will replace the role of an appraiser?
Heavens no. It will make an appraiser much more effective in the gathering of information. WorthPoint saves the appraiser time. It gives them the quick reach to information they may not even find, and it happens quickly. Secondly, an appraiser often will need more than one price and combine them into a package. Lastly, there are many subjective items that go into an appraisal. This includes where the item was sold, shipping, condition and a myriad of other factors. WorthPoint gets them off to a quick start and by improving an appraiser’s efficiency they may also become more price affordable for the average person.
Anything else you’ve got in the works?
Technology’s efficiency improves at a fairly constant 40 percent a year. That theorem is called “Moore’s Law,” and it is why the pace is so difficult for all of us to keep up with. Each year, between changes in bandwidth, transmission, computing power, memory, storage there is 40 percent more available for the same price. WorthPoint and other technology companies use that to improve products we offer. What we can offer to the user was somewhat unbelievable 10-15 years ago and took a lot of change in technology to make happen at a reasonable cost. That will only continue with what we can offer to the consumer in the storing and accessibility of knowledge in our system.
This fall, we are using a new statistical software called “R” for the creation of indices to track pricing changes in different areas of our database. This will start with the coin market and track currency and different denominations of coins around the world. For example, we have several hundred thousand graded large cent values and can collectively tell the user how that market has tracked through specific transactions. It is now at our fingertips. We will soon be introducing an indices composite called the WorthPoint 100(™).
To do all this massive computing for visual recognition and indices we have introduced a new search engine core on Banzai Solr. Solr is the open source search engine we use. It is 50 times more powerful than our last Solr version. These are things we do that are totally transparent to the users but allow us to bring new or better features to the market.
Next year I hope to have a resource for the trade. If you are a homeowner and you have a lamp with a shade that needs to be repaired, I want people to be able to use WorthPoint to find a good place to have that done.
Our data partners’ live inventory may already be in our system for buyers to see by the time this publication is available. That is historic as traditionally we have only had realized prices. Our users also want to buy things and now they can find similar “Live Lots” from our partners and go directly there to buy. This service is free to our partners and another reason our data partners want an open market to their data. Transparency is good for the domain. With Geopositioning or tracking where the user is vs an item, we can tell you there is an estate or bricks and mortar auction on an item you collect, or are looking for, right around the corner.
Who are your partners?
MaxSold, eBay and Caring transitions on the household side. They are all great companies and slightly differing marketplaces. We have another household company in the United Kingdom as a partner that we should not forget about, called Cash Cow. MaxSold is in Canada and the United States. Caring Transitions is also in the US and of course eBay is around the globe.
We also have bricks and mortar auction partners. Hindman and iGavel have possibly been with us the longest. We have some big and small partnerships on the side that include the Salvation Army and the Center for the Blind in Las Vegas. Lastly, we have service partnerships that include Global Authentics for autographs.
We will be adding to our partnering over the coming year and usually add one to two partners a week on the price guide. The biggest advantage to the price guide partner is to gain the advantage of our reach for awareness and sales of their live inventory. They will also gain reach into the homeowners for supply of product through that awareness and the vault usage. They also are able to be on the calendar for events and show their customers they are for open and transparent data in the industry. Lastly, we do not permit nonparticipating companies to advertise on the site.
Do you have plans to go into the NFT game?
No, we have no plans to do so as I think that they are a fad and it is too early.
Are there things on the site that are popular searches?
We do not work on normal statistics and a normal distribution of traffic. This means we are “long tail” and work off of obscure terms and there are generally not a lot of people coming to one page or item. When they do, they generally are driven by media events that are outside of WorthPoint by cable channels or sites like Reddit. For example, a Taino vomit stick was a popular search one month as it was used as a murder instrument on a cable show. I had to look it up to figure out what it was, but it was apparently a stick a witch doctor uses to induce vomiting. You’d be surprised at what people are looking at; it’s not necessarily bad, just odd things. We struggle to keep some things off the site, but people get pretty creative.
Adult content and what is considered objectionable content by some. It is a tough line to draw and arbitrate as we like to allow on the site whatever history and people think has merit. Occasionally we will take things off, and we also have age appropriate tools or have to make pages unavailable for search engine crawlers. The latter would be in the case of things like firearms and alcohol.
-Madelia Hickman Ring
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