Daan Weddepohl created Peerby.com–a site for borrowing stuff–after a series of traumatic experiences. First, his apartment burned down. Second, his girlfriend dumped him. Then, his mother became seriously ill.
He was forced to stay with friends and get by without all the things he had normally. “At first, having nothing was terrible thing, but after a while I started accepting it and realizing that it was okay. It helped me create very strong human connections. People were happy to help me out, and they felt really good when they shared.”
Weddepohl, who has worked on startup companies before, had been thinking about creating a “location-based messaging service” for a while, and realized that helping people borrow things from their neighbors would be as good a reason as any to create one. Peerby lets users request items in their neighborhood–a power drill, a tent–then puts them in instant contact with people who have them. Through making the exchange, neighbors also get to know one another.
Today’s sharing economy is mostly known for sites like Airbnb and RelayRides, which let neighbors share high-value and frequently needed items like hotel rooms and cars. But a growing number of companies like Peerby are expanding to encourage for items large and small. Many cite the environmental benefit of making it easy for people to buy (and throwaway) less. “It makes you realize that a lot of things that you have you don’t really need. Why would you want to own a power drill if you only use it once?” he asks.
Weddepohl launched Peerby last October in Amsterdam, and it’s since branched out to cities all over Holland and further afield. There are now growing communities in Berlin, Brooklyn, Barcelona, Madrid, and London. The most commonly exchanged items are household tools, kitchen equipment, and camping gear.
It’s free at the moment, but Weddepohl hopes eventually to charge a little for using the site. As a first step, he’s planning to add an insurance option. At the request of lenders, borrowers will pay a small daily amount–say $1–to cover damage and losses. Peerby would take a small cut.
Weddepohl emphasizes the importance of the request-based messaging system. The site is not a list of stuff people have to borrow, like many sharing platforms. When you sign up, you can start asking for things immediately. Peerby then sends out notifications to people in your area, gradually building up a picture of who owns what.
“You have to make it easy and match existing behavior,” he says. “If you borrow a cup of sugar, you knock on your neighbor’s door and ask for it. The neighbor doesn’t come to you and say ‘Hey, here’s a bag of sugar, do you need some?'”
Crucial to success will be to get people used to borrowing and lending more frequently than they do now. “I hope to create trust in the fact that you don’t have to own things. My vision is that we’ll go to an economy where [borrowing] is more common. It won’t really matter who owns what, as long as you can use it.”