By Ariel Schwartz
The first time I logged into Yerdle, a new platform that lets people give away and lend items to friends (and friends of friends) for free, I was overwhelmed in a way I never felt browsing the Craigslist "free stuff" section. One friend was offering free popsicles. A friend of a friend was giving away a Nikon N65 camera, lens included. How could I possibly decide what to claim--or what was worth giving away from my own apartment? This was all during Yerdle's beta testing phase; last week, the platform opened up to the whole San Francisco Bay Area. There is more stuff than ever.
Yerdle isn't aiming to be a Craigslist or Freecycle clone. It's trying to create a whole new model of sharing--one that resembles a traditional retail experience, and one that other retailers might actually want to get involved in.
Co-founder Adam Werbach says the idea for Yerdle first came to him after a trip to India, where he met women setting up "saving circles." They'd save up money to buy things that they could share amongst themselves. Andy Ruben, another cofounder, had an inspirational moment of his own when he noticed that the kids in his daughter's soccer league were buying new shin guards every year instead of trading with each other.
Yerdle's co-founders all have experience in the corporate arena. Werbach was president of the Sierra Club (the youngest president ever at age 23) before starting environmental consulting firm Act Now Productions, which later became Saatchi & Saatchi. Ruben was former chief sustainability officer and head of global strategy at Walmart, and Carl Tashian was part of Zipcar's founding team. But, says Werbach, corporate sustainability work "felt like it wasn't adding up to the radical substantial change that we needed to deal with the kind of planet we're living on right now."
That's not to say corporations won't get involved in Yerdle--the platform eventually plans on teaming up with retailers. "With greater technology and access to items, retailers are becoming more and more focused on adding value to customers' lives," explains Ruben. "With Amazon Prime, once you're a member, you get free shipping and Amazon Prime video for free. Players like Costco and Sam's Club have membership-type models."
If a retailer partners with Yerdle (itself a kind of retailer for free goods, and eventually used goods that come with a price tag), it could create value for customers by providing access to an expanded selecton of items. The retailer could then benefit from purchases that result from Yerdle sharing. Yerdle is already talking to a large retailer about the hurdles of going camping for the first time. Says Ruben: "It costs $500 by the time you've got a tent and basic equipment, but you don't know if you're going to like camping. [Yerdle] allows people to experience something like camping with a much lower hurdle. If it creates more people camping, that's a good situation for retailers as well." In other words, if you get your tent and sleeping from Yerdle and discover that you love the outdoors, you might be inclined to buy that fancy ultralight backpack from a traditional retailer later.
The platform is simple to use: post things that you want to lend or give away, and nab things that you like. If you don't see what you need, you can post a request. Everything is divided up into categories (electronics, clothing, etc.) and most items have pictures. Your network of available goods extends to friends of friends on Facebook.
In the future, Yerdle will allow people to connect outside their immediate network and sell items to strangers. The site will take a slice of the profits. This might, however, undercut the appeal of giving items to friends. One of the problems I found while beta testing the service was that I had items that I sort of wanted to give away, but knew could pull in a couple bucks if I sold them. That kept me from posting them at all.
My network today is filled with 1,128 items waiting to be claimed. In the electronics category, there is an iPhone 4, an older MacBook, and even a waterproof, rechargeable vibrator. The kitchen category contains items like a waffle maker, a pasta maker (to share, not keep), and a microwave. You could probably do a decent job stocking up a new apartment on this site.
For now, though, my experience is an exception; the average number of in-network items available for platform participants is 303. That will change as Yerdle expands--many of my Facebook friends were beta users, so they've had more time to seed items on the service. When I spoke to Ruben and Werbach on November 27th, they told me that membership had doubled in the past three days to 3,800 people.
Yerdle will launch in Brooklyn early next year and go national by November 2013. The co-founders are confident that their retail-focused tactics will take them far. "We understood why others in the past haven't succeeded. They haven't approached [sharing] as a top-end retail experience where all the powers from branding and intimacy were brought to bear," says Werbach.
Copyright 2012 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.