By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Every night, one minute before midnight, they hunch over their computers, this crazed lot of 10,000 from across the world, hoping to be the first to buy the next day's Woot, or, barring that, the first to post an opinion about it.
And then the clock strikes 12 in Dallas. And the Woot of the day is a DVD writer.
From "gobanjoboy" at 12:00:03 a.m.: "Man this woot is just in time. I needed a brand name DVD writer. Woot rocks!"
Eight posts later, from Cyberlore: 12:00:20: "dude I totally wan't [sic] ready. seems like I could find a much faster drive for not too much more with rebates and such, but still not a bad price."
Eight posts after that, this, inexplicably, from jmeier: 12:01:04 a.m: "bitches on my ding dong...First page, in for 3 Bitches! Booyakasha!"
Welcome to the strange, caustic, funny and ultimately ingenious world of woot.com, a Dallas-based Web site that sells only one item a day.
"We anticipate profitability by 2043," Woot's FAQ sheet says.
But it's bluffing. "It's kind of like eBay meets Wal-Mart," says Dan Noyes, the president of Zephoria Inc., an Internet marketing firm with offices in D.C. and New York. Zephoria doesn't have Woot as a client but is fascinated nonetheless. "This will revolutionize what more traditional Web sites do."
Here's how it works: Woot buys items at drastically reduced or even discontinued prices--but buys just enough to stock them in its Dallas warehouse. At midnight, woot.com features a new item for sale. Now, it isn't just one item Woot's selling. It's "x" number of units of that item--say, 600-some units of one digital watch. And all of the units for the same, are-you-sure-I'm-not-stealing-this price.
The beauty of the business model is this: Woot never tells the potential buyer how many units remain to be sold that day. Hence the crazed lot of about 10,000 from across the world, the number estimated by Woot that visit the site at midnight Dallas time, when the next day's item is posted and, if it's really good, snatched up before the rest of the world can get to it. Once, Woot sold out of units for the day at 2:30 a.m.
"It's quite original," says John Lee, vice president of marketing and sales at Hostway, the fifth-largest Web hosting provider in the world. "I really haven't seen anything like it on the Web...Who's behind it? Who is this guy?"
Thirty-three-year-old Matt Rutledge, who, at 22, started his own wholesale company in Dallas and in July of this year launched Woot, the Internet offshoot of it. "How cheap can we buy the items that we sell? This is the business model of both companies," Rutledge says.
The site is a combination of the words "wow" and "loot" and gets about 80,000 visitors a day. Items sell, on average, for about one-third of their retail value. Sponsors now appear at the top of the home page. Academics and business analysts alike call Rutledge a wonder-boy CEO, but Rutledge doesn't think so. He doesn't even approve of his title. "CEO may not be appropriate for the business [Woot] is," he says.
He's right. CEO is too stodgy. Woot's fun. Take the "Bag O' Crap."
One day in August, instead of featuring a technology-based item, as it normally does, Woot featured a bag with a mystery item inside. For $1, people bought the mystery bag and received a toilet bowl brush, or a cement monk to place in one's front yard, or a "car charger battery thing," Rutledge says. "Or other completely randomized items."
You should have seen the posted comments on the community board that day, Rutledge says.
That's the other thing. The posts. They're funny, informative or just plain weird. But they give Woot credibility, because it doesn't offer customer service. It just has the posts on the community board, where past customers are encouraged to praise or vilify anything they've bought on Woot.
Rutledge loves it. There, for all to see, are the ugly truths about his company. Which, truth be told, aren't that ugly.
"The service has been good," says Mark Ross, who lives in Irving, works for a packaging company and checks out Woot every day. From the time Ross buys something--say, a computer speaker set for $24.95 that retailed for $60--it usually takes Woot two days to get the item to his door. "And it's in good shape," he says.
Molly Savage is 33 and lives in Dallas. "I've got some Christmas shopping done already," she says. She's told her friends about Woot, too. One of them was Rob. "God, every time there's a watch on there," Savage says, "he's got it." And her husband, Chris, found a guy who offered a Woot paging service. So now, every night at midnight, Chris' pager beeps and tells him what the Woot of the day is. And Molly's mother? Charlotte Purcell? Well, she doesn't admit to staying up that late, but she is more and more, Molly says.