This article was published in the Spring 2021 issue
by Emily Haleck, PR Director, Yoodlize
Airbnb lets people rent out their homes. Neighbor lets people rent out their space. Now a new homegrown startup is letting people rent out everything else.
Yoodlize is a peer-to-peer rental platform where people can rent items to and from people in their local communities. Owners earn extra cash putting little-used things (think kayaks, power tools or costumes) to work while renters get affordable access to a limitless local catalog of items and experiences.
The platform has proven a great side hustle for many users but has been a full-time gig for founder and CEO Jason Fairbourne for the past two years.
Birth of a notion
Jason is no stranger to building companies from the ground up, thanks to several years as a microfranchising consultant. By conducting thorough, in-depth research with mobile teams on the ground, Jason helped create more than 30 sustainable, replicable businesses for the underserved in developing countries for organizations such as International Rescue Committee, Inter-American Development Bank, and the U.S. State Department.
But 15 countries in five years was taking a toll on Jason and his family. The constant travel and time away from his wife and three young kids was tough for everyone, so the family decided to make a major move: in 2013, they packed their bags and flew to Kenya where, a dozen years earlier, the couple had done a college internship with an NGO.
They knew the lay of the land, the people, the culture, and in just a few short years in Africa, the Fairbournes built two successful businesses: one a chain of small supermarkets and the other offering water pouches under a brand that became as ubiquitous in the area as Coca-Cola. Just as operations were starting to run themselves, the couple decided to make another move, this time back to their native Utah.
On their way out, Jason and Natalie challenged their kids, then 12, 14 and 16 years old, to come up with the family’s next entrepreneurial venture. While the boys’ ramen shop and donut delivery service ideas sounded promising, it was 14-year-old daughter Alta’s idea that stuck.
As she reflected on the family’s worldwide travels that were part of their homeschool learning, Alta asked her dad, “Remember when you were looking for a surfboard so we could hit the waves in Norway? Or that time we had to buy a skateboard for that one outing in Amsterdam? Or how about in Japan when you wanted a telephoto lens for skiing and said, ‘Somebody in Japan must have a Canon lens I could borrow for the day.’”
Alta listed off a handful of other things they had needed when traveling, things that, had they had the right connections, they could have rented from locals. “People use platforms like Airbnb to find homes or Uber to find rides---why don’t we create a platform where people can find stuff?”
The real angel investors
Back in Provo, Utah in 2018, Jason began his due diligence and found that he wasn’t the only one with the idea for a peer-to-peer rental platform. Almost everyone he talked to said they had thought of that idea and wondered why it didn’t yet exist.
But Jason didn’t spend his time wondering; he took action.
Jason connected with his developer cousin, Jeremy Robertson, luring him away from his director-level job at a prominent design and coding bootcamp.
“I never would have considered doing something like this before Devmountain,” said Robertson, now the chief technology officer at Yoodlize. “But I had made a real impact there and it was so rewarding. I saw Yoodlize as another opportunity to make positive change by reducing consumerism and our environmental footprint. Plus I love the concept of saving money by renting what you need and making money by renting out what you don’t need. The idea really resonated with me.”
It resonated with a lot of other people, too, including the company’s eight employees, all of whom are working for equity.
“Our employees are our biggest investors,” said Jason. “Some are with us full-time, others part-time, but they have all given up a salary because they believe in Yoodlize and how it fills an important niche in the broader sharing economy.”
Others are catching the vision and providing financial investments to prove it. The startup opened a crowdfunding campaign on Wefunder at the end of March and met 30 percent of its goal in the first week.
“Some of our online investors have given tens of thousands of dollars,” said Jason. “But many are just average people giving $100, $200 or $500 because they see the value in the business model and the massive potential for growth.”
These investors, like Jason and his team, understand that people want to own experiences, not stuff. They want to fulfill their recreational/party/project needs while supporting their local communities, and have the chance to make a few bucks along the way.
A paradigm shift
“During the Great Depression, our grandparents didn’t have many belongings; they didn’t have the luxury of having excess ‘stuff,’ said Jason. “As a result, they created a love affair with the things they did have and the things they added to their cache in following years. But as we move further from that point in time, our love affair paradigm is shifting from love of things to love of experiences.”
And what an experience it has been in the startup’s early years.
When the Yoodlize app launched in June 2019, it quickly gained several thousand users through word of mouth and some creative guerilla marketing. And by guerilla we mean their marketing guy showed up at a Silicon Slopes convention riding a segway in an actual gorilla suit wearing a “Rent this costume on Yoodlize” sign.
The company quickly exhausted its shoestring marketing budget but found that it was the utility of the platform that continued to result in growth (after all, its name “Yoodlize” is a play on the word “utilize,” which means to make practical and effective use of). The app has been downloaded more than 8,000 app times, and the platform has grown to 3,300 users and counting, mostly from the startup’s pilot in the Provo/Orem area. Yoodlize is now expanding along the Wasatch Front and throughout Utah, with plans to expand into other markets by the end of the year.
As this issue went to print, Yoodlize was putting the finishing touches on its revamped app, designed and tested largely by Jason’s wife, Yoodlize co-founder and chief product officer, Natalie Fairbourne.
“Our 2.0 app is so sleek, it’s going to help so many people really maximize their time and earnings,” said Natalie. “I have about a hundred items listed on Yoodlize, from an inflatable hot tub to a portable carpet cleaner to decorative plate chargers. I use these things a couple of times a year, but they otherwise sit idle. Now I can turn these depreciating liabilities into assets; I made $1,800 in a single month renting out my stuff! Our new app is going to make it easy for others to do the same.”
Natalie’s power-user status has helped her have a low-effort side hustle that she knows, like Jason’s previous microfranchising businesses, is replicable for even the least business-savvy person.
“This is a manageable gig and meaningful money for a stay-at-home parent or anyone looking to earn extra cash off of stuff they already have,” said Natalie. “And with item insurance, secure payment methods and dual-end user reviews, Yoodlize ensures that the community is safe and efficient.”
Skeptical users who have worried their items may return damaged have been pleasantly surprised that their stuff often comes back in better condition than when it was rented out. Bounce houses have been super sanitized, motorcycles detailed and missing mountain bike screws replaced voluntarily at the expense of the renter.
“We are truly a community,” said Jason. “When you pick up your rental and you meet the owner, their kids and their dog, and know you will see them again when you return the item, you tend to take better care of their stuff than things you rent from a store.”
Neighbors helping each other and users creating an extra stream of income, all in an eco-friendly way, have forged to create an important value add for society, allowing people--like Yoodlize itself--to do more with less. It’s been the literal embodiment of the sharing economy: the weekend warrior looking for a jigsaw tool, the college student needing an inflatable outdoor movie screen, the mom searching for a popcorn machine for her kid’s birthday party, the bride seeking a decorative arch, and the adventurer hunting for a canoe for a weekend getaway--and finding all of it for rent from their neighbors at an affordable price.
It’s that community---searching and finding, posting and profiting---that was, and continues to be, at the heart of Yoodlize.
“We’re so excited for where Yoodlize is going,” said Jason. “We’re grateful to have the support of so many and are looking forward to making a big impact in the sharing economy.”
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