Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Fluid: A Marketplace To Help You Borrow, Not Buy, Stuff You Need
Are you tired of owning a bunch of “stuff” that you just never use, and is just taking up room in your garage? Wish you could borrow, not buy, those tools you just need for a single project or weekend? Or maybe you already have a lot of stuff, but you aren't using it most of the time. Denver-based Fluid (www.fluidmarket.com) has the solution for you—a community marketplace app, which lets you rent all those things you just need for the weekend from your neighbors, and helps you make a little extra cash from that stuff you have but never use. We caught up with Founder and CEO James Eberhard, who told us how his quest for a Ethernet crimper—which he used once, and is still in his garage—led to the idea for Fluid.
Explain to us how Fluid works?
James Eberhard: Fluid is a peer to peer rental market. The whole concept, is that we all own everything, and instead of having to go out an buy something you maybe might use only once a year, a month, or week, you can rent that item from your neighbors, and save money and time. Along the way, you can save from having to buy something that would eventually end up in a landfill.
What types of items you think make sense most for this service?
James Eberhard: I think it comes down to, what are all the things you use once a week, or once a month, or once a year, whether it's that circular saw you need to work on a project. Or, if you plan on going camping for the weekend, or even if you just need a pickup truck to go to Ikea to pick up a piece of furniture. It might be because you need something for your house—a shovel, or tools. Or, since it's just about Thanksgiving, you might need an extra table or some chairs, or a turkey fryer. All of those things you can get from our network and the community around you. We really see it as a great thing for tools, or even just things you want to try before you buy. That might be a drone you want to check out, party gear, bouncy castles and games, and lots of sports and outdoor equipment.
How do you handle all those issues of trust, of making sure you get your stuff back in one piece?
James Eberhard: Trust is the key thing. We validate everyone who comes onto the network. Second, we have insurance that comes across. Everyone has had that experience of where you lent something to a friend, and it comes back broken. We take the whole risk out of that situation. We have a mitigation team, which, if something happens, investigates both parties, talks to both parties, and the insurance covers everything that happens in the network. We want it so you never have that bad experience again of where you lent something to a friend, they broke it, they said it was already broken. You'll never have to end a friendship over something you lent again. At the same time, this gives people the ability to monetize what is in your closet. I had a really good friend who had a power washer—this amazing, gas powered, $2000 power washer—and everyone in the neighborhood kept borrowing it, all the time. He kept lending it out, and people kept on using and using it, and eventually it got used and abused so much the motor started to go out and had to be replaced. That problem was created by everyone using it, everyone borrowing it, and no one contributing back to help keep it up. When the motor did go out, he told me—why would he go do that again? He'd essentially paid for everyone else to use it. We enable an ecosystem where instead, he would have been able to rent his washer out to the neighborhood, and he would have had the money to go replace it, and money for his time. It creates an ecosystem where you don't have to worry about owning everything, and those things can be shared by the community.
How did the company come about?
James Eberhard: I'm always having to go buy stuff, and it ends up in the garage not being used. The time that really catalyzed this for me, was when we moved into a house in Ellington, Virginia, three years ago. My wife and I bought a house, which was a spec house, a brand new build. I was getting the Internet set up, and I really needed a CAT5 crimping tool for one wire in the house. So, I drove out to Home Depot, spent an hour there and drove back after spending $100 on this crimping kit, for something that literally took me 30 seconds to do. I still have that crimping kit today. The next weekend, I was meeting the next door neighbors, and they had done the exact same thing. Then, we talked with the guy across the street, who was an electrician, and he said—I have that tool, you could have used mine! Literally, within a couple of hundred feet, there were three people with the same tool, and all of us pretty much never used those tools afterwards. Fast forward, and I thought—wow, there really is no reason to buy everything. If you could just look around the community, you would be able to find other people who could lend you what you need. It actually used to be like that in communities, where you'd know who had a plow, who had a tractor, and where school was postponed to do harvesting and planting, and people would share their resources in the neighborhood in an efficient manner, because they had to. Now, we've come so far, we buy everything, but we don't buy quality stuff. Instead, we buy cheap stuff we use once or twice and throw away. There's a whole movement around not buying stuff that you only use once. I'd rather use it, pay someone money for it, and allow them to make some cash, rather than always driving to a store and over-consuming. That's the origin of where this comes from.
What's your background?
James Eberhard: I'm a serial entrepreneur, and have started tons of startups. The first that was successful was 9 Squared, which we launched in 2001, and we sold for $40M in 2005. I've started a ton of different companies. I'm most interested in stuff that hasn't been done, and which are challenging to make happen. I really like going out there and disrupting industries, and making sense of the economics and how to adopt technology to society.
So what's next for the company now?
James Eberhard: We have soft launched here in the Denver metro market. What we're trying to do, is to perfect the shared experience. We had our soft launch in July, and we had to figure out if people would actually rent from each other, and if people would go across the street and borrow stuff from each other. We've tackled some of the issues, including how you drive the experience, so that when you hop on the app, the inventory is right there, and they can figure out where it is. We've made huge strides there. We now have thousands of people on the application, and hundreds of dollars a day transferred across the platform, even though we're just in early release in the Denver metro area. People are posting a lot of stuff they they have not been using every day, sharing it with neighbors, and making extra cash. We're still in the early stages, and once we solve the core issues around end user experience in the Denver metro area, we'll export it around the world. If you look at srevices like Airbnb, NextDoor, Uber, and Lyft, we're taking a piece from all of those players, and bringing it together into a community like you see in NextDoor, the ability to monetize like you see with Uber and Airbnb, and figure out a mechanism where you can monetize your closet, your garage, and along the way help everyone else, by not buying stuff you don't need, and prevent stuff from heading into the trash.
Thanks, and good luck!