TechStars Startup Peerby: It's All About Sharing
Tina Amirtha meets Daan Weddepohl, co-founder of Peerby, a Dutch startup and TechStars London first cohort member funded by Sanoma Ventures.
Peerby, which Daan founded with Jonas Matser and Eelke Boezeman, is a platform that helps people borrow and rent stuff from others nearby with a unique system that actively creates supply by asking around through social media, smartphones and e-mail. The product was launched in beta for Amsterdam in August 2012 and the network is rapidly expanding, with 15,000 members in Holland and active communities in London, Berlin, Spain and New York.
Tina talks to Daan Weddepohl about the Peerby business model; what he learned from building some advanced but pointless software; and how losing everything in a fire inspired the creation of Peerby.
Daan Weddepohl immediately recounts the story of a woman in need when asked how his company’s business has helped the community. “She was in a wheelchair and had a helper dog, but she couldn’t walk it outside and play with him,” he said. All that the woman wanted was to give her favorite companion the attention he deserved. When she signed up as a member of Peerby, she asked if there was anybody, a babysitter that she could borrow, Weddepohl said through a hearty laugh that accentuated the smile lines around his eyes. Sitting back in his chair, he let out a content sigh and said that through his site, she found one.
When you register with Peerby, you become a part of these stories that range from “simple” to “very big human stuff.” You let the site know where you are located and list some of the things that you are willing to lend to people in your neighborhood, like a ladder, hammer, or camping equipment. Every now and then you receive an email in your inbox that notifies you if what someone in your neighborhood is looking for matches what you’ve listed in your profile. Then again, you don’t have to list anything.
The give-and-take is the basis of Weddepohl’s business model, where the user takes on the dual roles of consumer and supplier. In what has been called the new sharing economy, Peerby falls into a class of websites like Airbnb and BlaBlaCar. But Weddepohl’s site takes sharing to a whole other level since the currency of the market is general satisfaction through the act of giving. Your neighbor neither pays you for your hammer nor is legally bound to return it to you. As he was getting ready to roll out the English and German language versions of the originally Dutch site, Weddepohl discussed life changes, expectations and sharing with us.
TA: So tell me what makes your company unique.
DW: Peerby.com is a website that enables you to borrow the things you need from people in your neighborhood. What makes it unique is that it actually works!
There are a lot of sites trying to do this but we are the only one that has an average response time for 80% of the requests of 30 minutes, so it’s really fast and nearby.
TA: Is the culture of sharing a global trend?
DW: We are now starting to do pilots in other countries because we’re so successful in the Netherlands that a lot of people are saying well, this must be a cultural thing; must be something Dutch. So we said let’s see if that’s true.
TA: If everything is free, what is your business model?
DW: So we haven’t implemented our business model yet! Borrowing something is always free, but we’re going to offer an additional insurance that will be optional, so if something breaks or something’s missing, then the person that’s lending it will get a replacement or repair. So it’s a nice extra security that you can add.
TA: What inspired the idea for Peerby?
DW: I was in IT and had a quite successful job and house and, you know, everything was kind of perfect in a pre-financial crisis kind of way. Then, a lot of stuff happened. My house burned down, I lost my job, I lost my girlfriend, and my mom became very ill. One of the things I remember about my house burning down was that while I was going to the hospital in the ambulance and saw the smoke coming from the window, I remember thinking, “Let it burn, let it burn, I’ll start from scratch, I’ll start with a clean slate.” In the months after that, I had a hard time adjusting to having lost so many things.
I started to accept it and noticed that all I needed in life was, probably, to connect to a couple of people around me. I didn’t need to be defined by my job or the stuff I owned.
Now, I’m creating something that’s bringing people together and allows them to own less stuff.
TA: Who works for you at Peerby?
DW: We are three web developers, one iOS developer and two people on community management. One person does design, and one person does support. I think I really try to find people that love what they do, and, really, we try to have fun. We work really hard but I really believe that work should be fun. Everybody’s passionate, and I really love that. I never really check whether people work their hours or whether they’re really doing what they’re supposed to do because they just do it because, you know, I try to look for that spark.
TA: Any advice for managing people well?
DW: I’m not sure if I’m a good manager. I mean I hope so. I think I’m quite critical in the way that I really want to deliver something that feels good, is beautiful and works well, but I’m not a perfectionist. I don’t mind failure as long as it’s part of learning. I don’t like things that go wrong time after time.
TA: What’s the biggest failure you’ve experience at Peerby?
DW: I would say that we built very advanced software for really no purpose because it turns out that no one needed it. People told me that they liked it, so I guess they did. But in the first version that we built, we had all of this technology. You could use it on your iPhone and your laptop and make it easy to communicate with each other in real-time. None of that stuff was necessary at all. We spent a lot of money building it, and then we spent a lot of money getting rid of it. Keep it simple would be the main lesson I learned.
TA: And your biggest accomplishment?
DW: What really gives me energy is to actually see people connect through our website and meet each other. That amazes me every time. It really sparks; it gives me energy. I love it.
Tina Amirtha spends part of her time developing software and the other part writing. Based in the Netherlands, she has covered female affirmative action efforts in Dutch higher education. As a female engineer, she is interested in how women can gain more visibility in male-dominated fields, like STEM.
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