From securing a parking spot to finding a not-too-repugnant place to pee, the sharing economy has solved more than a few urgent crises. Without the myriad peer-to-peer apps and websites that have sprouted up over the past few years, we’d all be driving around in circles and waiting in endless bathroom lines at Starbucks. In other words, we’d all be wasting a lot of time and energy — and money.
On the topic of cash, monetary compensation comes into play when using many peer-to-peer services. Collaborative consumption may be more convenient, trendy and do-goody but it isn’t necessarily free (or cheaper) than the traditional alternatives. The individual providing the service in question, be it giving someone a place to rest their head for the night or to stash some stuff for a few months, benefits from the transaction through supplemental income.
Peerby, a Dutch stuff-sharing app and website launched in 2012, functions like the numerous popular peer-to-peer apps and websites that have come before it. There is, however, one significant difference: Zero funds are exchanged. Instead of generating a few bucks, the service provider — in this case, the lender — is made richer simply through the knowledge that he or she has helped out a neighbor in need.
By focusing on neighborly bonding and sharing instead of buying, Peerby brings the suburban/small town tradition of knocking on a neighbor's door and asking to borrow something — Marilyn, mind if I borrow your hand mixer, telescope and electronic foot file for the night? And while I'm here, think I could get my overhead projector and ouija board back? — into a 21st century urban context. Many city-dwellers don’t even know their immediate neighbors’ names, so why in the world would they ask the guy who lives down the hall to borrow his power drill for a couple of hours?
With Peerby, the potential awkwardness involved with borrowing a household item from a stranger is replaced with a distinct friendliness and ease. No knocking on doors or asking around is required as Peerby performs the legwork by connecting desperately seeking borrowers with local lenders. Once a Peerby user puts in a request for a specific item through the app or website, community members within the target neighborhood are alerted. If users within the immediate neighborhood don't have or are unable to lend the requested item, Peerby casts its net a bit wider to adjacent neighborhoods while staying within "cycling distance, of course."
Peerby lenders won’t be put out by a request to borrow a staple gun for the weekend … they want to help.
Reads the Peerby website:
By establishing contact with your neighbors, you not only save time, money, and storage space yourself, you can also explore your neighborhood in a fun way. Most people feel an attachment to the place where they live, but not always to the people who live nearby. By using Peerby, you actually get to know your neighbors a bit better in a safe and fun way. Who knows, maybe there are a lot of neighbors around you that would love to help you, despite the fact that they do not know you yet? (Remember, all your friends were strangers once!) Or, the other way around, you can actually help you neighbors effortlessly just by lending them a ladder, which someone might need so that he can light his new place! An electric drill is used for 13 minutes during its lifespan. Why not share it if it is just lying around somewhere collecting dust?! One-eighth of all CO2 emissions in the world are due to the production and consumption of products. We hope to do our part to decrease that number by encouraging our visitors to use products in a more efficient.
On its community guidelines page, Peerby makes it clear that the app is for borrowing/lending stuff and stuff only. Selling/giving away/renting possessions is verboten as is offering services a la TaskRabbit or short-term accommodations a la Airbnb. Looking to share a ride? That's what Uber and Lyft are for.
Amsterdam-based entrepreneur Daan Weddepohl dreamt up Peerby after experiencing a bout of brutal misfortune — he lost his job, his girlfriend left him and his apartment burned down — and he found himself borrowing items from friends and family as he got back on his feet.
He explains the altruistic — not pecuniary — mission that drives Peerby to NPR:
People are social animals. We like to help each other out. Borrowing things is probably one of the oldest behaviors in nature, and we are just making it easier through technology. We created a platform that makes it easy for people to find that neighbor that's willing to lend what they need.
A bona fide hit across the Netherlands and Belgium as well as in London and Berlin, Peerby was named the winner of the AppMyCity! urban mobile app competition at the New Cities Summit in Dallas this past June, beating out "social ridesharing" app Djump and bike route recording app Social Cyclist for the top prize. Weddepohl and his team have also received awards from the Postcode Green Challenge (2012) and Ben & Jerry's Join Our Core competition (2013).Following the victory at the New Cities Summit, Peerby announced in October that it had raised $2.1 million in funding from investors, including XAnge Private Equity (France) and SanomaVentures (the Netherlands) to help expand the company's presence in the U.S. from eight pilot cities to 50 urban areas.
Currently, Peerby boasts around 100,000 active users. In my own Brooklyn neighborhood, there's a small smattering of registered Peerby users who have borrowed/lent items including a Dutch oven, a barbecue grill, a muffin pan, a soldering iron and, of course, a power drill.
"We believe in a sharing city where you have instant access to everything in your neighborhood,” explains Weddepohl in a press statement announcing the latest round of funding. “A place where we can make the best use of modern technology by fostering human connection, building communities and highly improving the efficiency of the limited and yet abundant resources that cities host. With this investment, we are going to take the next steps towards this goal."
Adds Herman Kienhuis of second-time investor SanomaVentures: "Peerby has undergone significant developments in terms of team, product and reach, not only in Dutch and Belgian cities, but also beyond. We believe Peerby will develop itself into the leading global platform for local stuff sharing and we are glad to help make this possible, this time in cooperation with international investors."
But will Peerby, a "temporary freecycling" startup with a friendly-looking gnome as a mascot and an anti-consumerist slant, stick in America, a nation where city-dwellers may be a bit more suspicious, misanthropic and hesitant to lend out a stepladder to a stranger than their European counterparts? Based on the startup’s aggressive stateside expansion plans, Weddepohl is confident that anonymity-cherishing American urbanites will lower their defenses and be merrily borrowing from each other in no time.
Would you join the Peerby community if/when the app (available for both Android and iOS) launches in your city?
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