Ruben sees this as an opportunity to supplement companies’ existing efforts to reduce waste in their products and processes. “When you look at the opportunity to reduce the waste of an item by 5 percent compared to the opportunity to get twice as much use out of it, we need both of those, but the big one sitting right in front of us is the one that very few people are taking on is to focus on. Let’s get two or three times the amount of use out of these things.”
Of course, getting people to accept sharing as an acceptable alternative to buying something new may be an uphill battle. After all, haven’t we trained consumers for decades to seek out the newest, coolest thing? Werbach contends that not everything fits into that newest-coolest mold. “By our research, 70 percent of retail transactions are less than $100, and not technology-dependent,” he ways. “They don’t need to be the newest thing. Those are the ones that we’re after. People will still buy their iPhone 5s, but there are a lot of things that don’t fit in that category.”
“The vision that we have is not only to make the existing products better, but to have a world that requires making 20 percent less things because we’re making better use of the things that we have,” says Ruben. “And the things that we do make get made and designed better so that they can be used longer. And the 20 percent becomes 30 percent, becomes 40 percent, and we become smarter and smarter and more and more efficient with how we’re able to make and use the things around us.”
It’s a compelling vision, to be sure. All of us have so much stuff sitting around — I know I do — that others could make use of. To the extent I’m keeping that rarely-used circular saw around “just in case,” I may find solace in knowing that such a device is now more easily findable from one of my friends. So, maybe I can set it free.
You’re probably wondering, as I did, how all this becomes a business for yerdle. Helping people share stuff at no cost — even with a magical experience — isn’t exactly a road to riches. Ruben and Werbach don’t seemed particularly bothered by this. Like so many online entrepreneurs before them, they believe that the revenue model will come, once you build a critical mass of fanatically loyal customers.
For example, some things are simply too nice to give away, and you’d prefer to sell them to someone you know. (Who likes selling things to strangers, anyway?) So, transaction fees could become part of the model. There’s also the potential to help manufacturers adopt their products to be more effectively shared, or to provide data to manufacturers and retailers about how people use certain products — all revenue opportunities. All that will figure itself out in due time, say the co-founders.
For now, yerdle is starting small. It’s currently available only in the San Francisco area — Ruben and Werbach’s home turf. Early next year, it will add a second market, Brooklyn, N.Y., with many more to follow. By Black Friday 2013, say Ruben and Werbach, yerdle will be available nationally, “and the question will be whether we’ll be international,” adds the ever-optimistic Werbach. These guys — both veterans of global companies — have global ambitions.
“We’ve both been in very large companies,” says Werbach. “This is obviously a small company at this point, but the opportunity that we’re talking about we see as that big. This makes so much sense for people, given the things that we all have access to and how we can put those to better use.”
Come to think of it, Walmart was once this small, too.