Most New Yorkers are pretty O.K. about renting things, at least when it comes to our living spaces. As for those living spaces, we’re pretty resigned to them being on the small side — so small that we might have to rent additional storage space for, say, our skis or summer wardrobes or collection of whatever it is we happen to collect. But would you prefer to just rent that stuff in the first place? RentStuff.com, founded by 29-year-old twin brothers Chris and Robert Jaeger, thinks you would. Chris Jaeger describes the site as “a eBay for rentals, or an enhanced Craigslist for the rental marketplace.” There’s a social component, too, a/k/a, “eBay meets Facebook for the rental market.”
Jaeger lived in New York City for 6 years and says the idea for the site came from his own frustrations about living in the city, in a small apartment shared with four roommates. He says, “I’m an avid outdoorsman, and I wanted to rent equipment for a mountain bike trip. The process of finding a bike was one of more frustrating experiences I’ve had — I had to leave work early on a Friday, go across the city to get it, and then I had to do the same to get it back. I realized that the bike I wanted was probably in my own building, and if I could just connect with people in my community, this would all be so much easier.”
RentStuff.com, then, incorporates the Craigslist power of rental listings with the eBay element of bidding for what you want. In addition, the social networking component (you can sign up using Twitter, Facebook, Skype, or Linked In, for instance) allows you to identify degrees of separation with other members — renting from a friend of a friend generally being more comfortable than renting from a total stranger…depending on what you’re renting, of course.
The Jaeger twins have been working on the idea, based on “getting back to a sharing economy” since 2008 — they developed it in California and then launched it in Nashville. But, Jaeger says, “It’s really meant for a city like New York. We just soft-launched there, and we’re already seeing some cool items: Jaegermeister tap machines, high fashion items, sporting goods, surfboards, kayaks, bikes, things that are bulky and expensive.”
Without becoming a member you can search by city (RentStuff.com is also available in Chicago) as well as by key word, focusing on a distance or geographical area. In order to complete a transaction you have to sign up and become a member, which is free; like eBay or Amazon, RentStuff.com takes a percentage [10%] when the transaction occurs. There’s no charge to post items, and if you sign up using a social network and/or invite friends, you’ll get a credit on the site.
The point of membership and incorporating social networks is to help create real relationships, says Jaeger. “The difference between buying and selling and renting and lending is, with renting, I want the item back and in good condition. And, I don’t want to meet people I have no information about. We have features like, we call it, ‘the Kevin Bacon number’ — you can see the degrees of separation between you and a contact.”
In terms of security, RentStuff.com addresses some of the issues you might run into on Craigslist. They do credit-card based security deposits that put a temporary charge on the renter’s credit card until the item is returned and agreed to be in good condition. Further, the rental isn’t paid for until it’s received (and deemed to be what the renter wanted, confirmed via text message). In cases where agreement can’t be reached, there’s a system for filing disputes.
In addition to getting what you need, without having to buy (and store) it, Jaeger says, “A big thing for me is the environmental factor. You’re really helping with the problem of overconsumption.” Excluding the normal blacklist items — no bongs, guns, or weapons, please — he says, “We built the platform to be flexible enough to rent almost anything from anyone. Get creative, because people around you are creative too.”
Upon a recent perusal of rentables in the New York area, we found a digital camera, an array of dresses, that Jägermeister Tap Machine everyone’s so excited about, a smoke machine, and a variety of kitchen appliances, among other things. Bikes and surfboards, too.
What does Jaeger himself, who’s in the process of relocating back to the city, use the site for? “For me, it’s all sporting goods,” he says. “I really don’t own much. I rent what I need.”