Don’t Sell It, Gazelle It: Electronics Recycling Firm Second Rotation Recycles Itself

7/28/08Follow @wroush

So, you bought a first-generation iPhone last summer, but now you absolutely must have the iPhone 3G. (Hey, I’m with you, man. I already got mine.) But what to do with your old, perfectly functional iPhone? You can sell it on eBay, if you want to go through the hassle. Or, starting today, you can just go to Gazelle, which will not only make you an instant cash offer for your device, but will send you a box and a pre-paid shipping label. It’s zero-friction gadget recycling—and if you’re feeling socially conscious, you can even have Gazelle send the check to your favorite charity.

If that all sounds familiar to you, it might be because Rebecca profiled Gazelle’s parent company, Waltham, MA-based Second Rotation, back in January. The 25-employee startup has been running a beta version of the cash-for-gadgets service at secondrotation.com since last July, and today it has rebranded and relaunched it under the Gazelle name.

The company picked the new moniker because it’s easier to remember than “Second Rotation” and has clearer, more desirable connotations, according to founder and CEO Rousseau Aurelien. “We want consumers to think of Gazelle as easy, elegant, and speedy,” Aurelien told me last week. “The name tested phenomenally well, and we think it will create a pretty strong household brand.”

It didn’t hurt, either, that “gazelle” rhymes with “sell.” The tag line “Don’t Just Sell It, Gazelle It” will be plastered all over the company’s bright-green shipping packages, which Aurelien hopes will become as familiar as Netflix’s red DVD envelopes.

Gazelle\'s product-finder pagesThe name isn’t the only thing that’s new about Gazelle. The company has also expanded the catalog of items that it can offer instant bids on, to include virtually any cell phone, laptop, digital camera, MP3 player, GPS unit, camcorder, game console, satellite radio, or hard drive you might own. (The expanded catalog covers 17,000 SKUs, or stock-keeping units, up from 5,000 for the previous site, according to Aurelien.) Navigation has also been overhauled; pictures of each item make it easier to locate the one you want to sell. And if your gadget isn’t in the catalog, the company will customize an offer for you, then add that item to the database, so that the catalog grows as more users participate.

Free shipping has always been part of Second Rotation’s services, but now 80 percent of transactions on Gazelle will now qualify for free packaging as well—in those bright-green boxes. “All you have to do is put your item in the box and leave it outside your door, and the Postal Service will pick it up,” says Aurelien. (You have to wonder whether that will be entirely safe, though, once it becomes common knowledge that bright green Gazelle boxes probably have valuable electronic gadgets inside.)

The company has also built some basic social-networking features into the Gazelle site. If you introduce someone else to Gazelle, you can get a cash reward the first time they sell something. Users can also set up fundraisers, with the checks for old gadgets sent directly to a non-profit organization such as a school or a scout troop.

Gazelle\'s green philosophyGreenness has always been part of Second Rotation’s pitch, and that will continue with Gazelle; the argument is that by selling your gadgets, you’re keeping them out of landfills. The company normally resells the devices users send in through eBay or other marketplaces (indeed, its whole business model is built around knowing how much it can get for each item and offering the seller a somewhat lower price), but if it determines that it can’t resell an item for a worthwhile price, it will dispose of it following “responsible recycling” guidelines like those set up by the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.

To go with its new site, Second Rotation has come up with a new label for the whole process. “We are calling it ‘recommerce,’” says Aurelien. “We think it goes beyond recycling and offers a very strong economic model that allows the consumer to get some cash and allows us to take these products and put them to re-use.”

It’s a clever way to position the startup, which raised $4.4 million in venture capital from Cambridge, MA-, New York, NY-, and Palo Alto, CA-based Venrock and a group of angel investors in January. The “recommerce” message not only offers consumers a responsible way to dispose of their unwanted gadgets, but could also ease their potential guilt about wanting to ditch their current gear for the latest, greatest product models.

Indeed, Aurelien says that one of the biggest revelations from the company’s first year of operations was that most of the products people were sending in were less than a year old, like those first-generation iPhones. “There’s a whole category of consumer we are calling the ‘serial upgrader,’” says Aurelien. “They have 24 gadgets in their house, and every month a couple of them become, from their perspective, obsolete. But they aren’t at end-of-life. They’re just at end-of-use.” And with Gazelle, they can bound back into action.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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