Lucas Lu | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Lucas Lu

Background:  

The 5miles app was launched more than a year ago as an online garage sale where people can sell just about anything. The Dallas-based company counts 7 million downloads and just launched a new version that automatically translates material into Spanish.

The Mistake:

People will try to sell anything online. Whether it’s spam, fraud or illegal activity, you never know what to expect.

When we first launched in January 2015, we had a wide variety of categories with users attempting to sell everything from swords and firearms to drug paraphernalia and pets.

Selling animals through the marketplace often resulted in complaints that the pet was sick or had other problems. Selling weapons online brought up a host of liability and legal complications, so did drug-related products.

I had set out to create an alternative to other online marketplaces that are flooded with spam and I was determined not to let 5miles end up the same way. This required a high level of diligence, awareness and monitoring to keep the items we wanted and get rid of the stuff we didn’t.

We’ve had to adapt to what’s introduced into the marketplace that we didn’t anticipate.

Some users will go to the other marketplaces...the tradeoff is that we have a clean marketplace.

The Lesson:

For the first six months we stayed busy tweaking the app to stay ahead of the curve. I learned early on that certain categories needed to be dumped altogether.

That means some users will go to the other marketplaces with their products. But the tradeoff is that we have a clean marketplace. It also means we have to stay vigilant to make sure nobody is hiding anything in any of the transactions.

There’s still work to be done and we’re always innovating. We plan to add online payments so customers don’t have to use cash, checks or credit cards to complete a transaction.

And there’s still the issue of meeting up to exchange the items being purchased. Many cities are setting up designated safe areas where customers can meet to physically exchange the products. It’s typically a public place that’s well trafficked like a fire station, city hall or courthouse.

For the 5miles app, we’re working on a new feature that automatically populates safe meeting zones on the app. 

Follow 5miles on Twitter at @5milesapp.

Pictured: Lucas Lu. | Photo courtesy of 5miles

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