Yerdle, a San Francisco startup that’s been helping people share their little-used stuff with their Facebook friends, is broadening the reach of its online swap meet.
The company released a new mobile app for iOS devices last Friday that allows anyone to browse through the gadgets, banana-seat bikes, crockpots, outgrown Crocs, and other possible offerings pulled from the storage nooks of Yerdle members.
Yerdle co-founder Andy Ruben says the expanded access will help find new homes for all those goods that may now just continue to clutter up the attic, if the giver’s friends and family don’t need them.
“We will allow all people to see all items,” says Ruben, a former Walmart executive who launched Yerdle late last year with Adam Werbach, former president of the Sierra Club and former chief sustainability officer of the consulting and communications firm Saatchi & Saatchi S, and Zipcar veteran Carl Tashian.
|The Sharing Economy—A Sampling|
Their ecology-minded goal is enough to make many traditional retailers quail—they want to eliminate 25 percent of new merchandise sales by making it easy for people to find what they need from others willing to lend it or give it away.
“These items exist within our networks,” Ruben says. “They’re in someone’s closet or garage.”
Yerdle’s updated mobile app maintains the option of a free exchange of goods within social networks, and Yerdle members can even earmark a gift for a particular friend. But the wider network also sets up a system of credits earned when users offer to give something away. The credits can later be used to claim posted items, or to bid for those that raise interest from more than one Yerdle user. People who join up during the initial release of the free mobile app are given 250 credits to start with.
Visitors can browse all offerings, or search for a specific thing they want. Like online merchants, Yerdle has also created a shopping cart feature called “My Bag” where users can track their exchanges.
Yerdle, a for-profit private company, is part of a sharing economy aimed at reducing unnecessary individual consumption and waste. It was launched in 2012, on November 23—also known as “Black Friday,” the mammoth shopping day after Thanksgiving—and has raised $1.8 million from angel investors and venture firms. The co-founders’ track record of business experience, combined with their environmental goals, drew some startup money from the San Francisco cleantech venture fund Greenstart.
“They looked at the trillion dollars a year that gets spent on just, stuff, and asked, ‘Does it need to?’ ” says Greenstart founder and managing partner Mitch Lowe.
The sharing sector includes mobile-based services such as Airbnb, which connects travelers with people renting out rooms for short periods, and ZipCar, a car-sharing network. The “collaborative consumption” movement also includes opportunities to share excess stuff, including Craigslist, Freecycle, and Roonga, which links non-profits with donors of things like school supplies and blankets. After a spring cleaning, people can also sell their overflow goods on eBay. But Ruben says a large portion of useful items remain stashed away in storage, because there’s little incentive to take the time to dispose of them. And when the impulse does strike, the easiest route is just to put it out on the curb, he says.
Yerdle began with the idea that social networks are the keys to releasing thousands of closeted items into productive use. Friends will gladly unearth an old keyboard or stored baby clothes when a visitor mentions a child who needs them, Ruben says. Gifts like this strengthen friendships and weave family stories, he says.
“We’re wired for this,” Ruben says. While Facebook users could always offer their attic finds to friends by simply posting about them on the social networking site, Yerdle makes the exchange easier, Ruben says.
“A social network is not optimized for social commerce,” he says. What Yerdle has been offering Facebook and Google+ users who sign up is a click-through process to make arrangements to get an item to a friend who wants it, Ruben says. The friends can agree on a pick-up time and place, or the recipient can send the donor a paid mailing label through a service like PayPal or Amazon. The donor specifies whether the item is a gift, or on loan. Yerdle also encourages members to post stories on the site about the fun they had helping a friend while freeing up space in the house.
At this point, Yerdle has 20,000 members, and about 1,000 items are exchanged each month, Ruben says. But with its new mobile app, Yerdle now seeks to scale up the digital marketplace by opening up its “socially connected garage sale” to users outside Yerdle members’ personal networks.
The expansion was an inevitable step for Yerdle’s growth, says Greenstart’s Lowe.
“They had to open it up,” Lowe says. “The marketplace needs a certain amount of supply and demand, and more supply makes more demand.”
The system of Yerdle credits was also needed as a form of currency for the larger marketplace, Lowe says. But it also reinforces the social motivation to offer new items and invite friends to use the platform. The credits are a form of recognition for being generous to friends and strangers while reducing the onslaught of newly manufactured goods into the environment, he says.
“Social capital is really, really powerful,” Lowe says.
At this stage, Yerdle is focusing on building its network and encouraging engagement with it, Ruben says. Yerdle is trying to make giving and trading as easy as possible. “Posting on the new app is two clicks,” Ruben says. Among the demographic groups most attracted to Yerdle are mothers of young children whose needs are constantly changing as they grow, and “an asset-light group of tech-forward individuals in the city who are proud not to need to own a house full of things,” he says.
On the revenue side, Yerdle is experimenting with a members’ “pay-what-you-want” option for the service. During Earth Week in April, Yerdle supplied a sharing platform for NBCUniversal, which encouraged fans to exchange their used goods. The entertainment conglomerate also offered its own items, such as Tonight Show mugs and props from shows on Chiller, the monster and zombie channel.
Ruben says Yerdle has a natural affinity for companies such as outdoor gear makers REI and Patagonia, which sell durable goods that can be handed down for many years of useful service. Yerdle could be used to help such companies build long-term relationships with their customers, by featuring stories about the enduring quality of their products, he says. An outfitter such as REI could encourage customers who want to try a new activity to look for, say, an experienced white-water rafting enthusiast who might lend them gear, or even teach them how to use it, before they spend hundreds of dollars on their own equipment.
Companies with growing networks, such as Instagram, can become acquisition targets for social networking giants like Facebook. But Lowe, an investor, says he isn’t trying to predict any path to profits from Yerdle. If the company develops a major marketplace, Lowe says, there will be a way to monetize it.
“Social networks are such a valuable thing right now,” Lowe says. “Everybody’s looking at what’s next, and this is such an obvious next step toward, ‘What can we do with each other?’”
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