Can yerdle turn consuming less into the next big thing?

To be honest, it’s a bit underwhelming. But then again, I’m not looking for anything in particular. If, for example, I needed a high-pressure device to spray paint a fence, I would have found one for free, from someone not far away. If I’d wanted to buy it new, it would have set me back about 60 bucks. Not a bad deal for something I’d likely use just once.

According to Ruben and Werbach, when I spoke with them recently, it’s a big opportunity. “The informal economy dwarfs the formal economy for durable goods,” Werbach told me. “People are already sharing things with their neighbors and friends. It’s just never been connected to software. It’s never been connected to technology. And we can increase the efficiency of an enormously large informal economy that never touches eBay or Walmart right now.”

The missing link, he ways, has been finding stuff specifically from your friends. It makes sense: You trust them, and there’s a decent chance you share their taste or sense of quality. “That friend network, that friend connection, both loose ties and strong ties, allows people to give things for free to people they care about,” says Werbach. “And free is a pretty compelling way to get things.”

It’s also a compelling idea from the perspective of retail, which is Ruben’s domain. “In a world where houses are so much larger, where self-storage is up 1,000 percent, the idea that retailers would not only help you get new items, but would help you make use of the items your friends already own, is a somewhat obvious idea.” And yet retailers haven’t tapped into that opportunity.

Yerdle sees itself as a new kind of retailer — a budding, next-Gen Walmart, if you will — but rather than storing things in warehouses and stores, like Walmart and others do, yerdle’s warehouses are your friends’ closets, attics, and garages.

But it’s not just about facilitating sharing. Ruben and Werbach talk a lot about “customer experience.” Says Ruben, who helped launch Walmart’s grocery delivery service: “Think of a Costco membership, an REI membership, Sam’s Club, or Amazon Prime. Those retailers are able to be more focused on what you need, and it takes them away from the need to sell you more and more things.”

Werbach elaborates: “Yerdle will feel just like traditional retailer, only better. We see this to be more akin to Amazon.com in terms of high service, high customer satisfaction to the point of a kind of approaching a magical experience with people.”

As you might expect, there’s an underlying sustainability mission to all this. “Right now, every time you want something, something new needs to be made for you to get that thing, and that’s totally messed up,” says Werbach. He and Ruben envision a huge opportunity to work with manufacturers to keep their products in service longer. “For example, we’ve worked closely with Patagonia. Their baby gear is rated at a minimum of eight years of use, though things tend to last about 15 years, and no baby stays in that stage for that long. The question is how do you get more use out of the gear, and what is the premium to the manufacturer for that longer use before a product goes into the waste stream?”

Next page: Can sharing become cool?