As a child, your parents probably told you to “share and share alike.” Martin Wong (BASc 2006, MBA 2012) turned that sage idiom into a business plan by creating Rentything.com, a peer-to-peer marketplace for borrowing and lending goods.
A compound of the phrase “rent anything and everything,” Wong conceived of Rentything last July while helping his parents to move house. “We needed a ladder and a drill. It didn’t make sense to buy them and never use them again,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be convenient if I could borrow what we needed for a short time at a small cost?’”
Seeing a demand, Wong began tinkering with prototypes and launched Rentything across Canada and the U.S. at the end of April. The site has already attracted several hundred coast-to-coast members, from southern Ontario to New York and Los Angeles.
Free sign-up allows users to request or add rental items, along with details about price, location and rental period. Its searchable database filters by item and distance. Articles range from the pedestrian – camping, sporting and camera equipment – to the niche, including a tandem bike, 1960s VW Beetle and blood-pressure monitor.
Wong’s background in applied science and engineering fuelled his interest in startup development. He bandied ideas around with classmates at Rotman, but Rentything is his first web startup. Wong credits conversations with his career counsellors for catalyzing his self-employment strategies. “When I started my MBA, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he says, “but everything we talked about always came back to the idea of working for myself.”
Rentything joins a growing fraternity of peer-to-peer sites, sharing platforms for everything from music and movies to accommodation. Wong knew he’d latched on to a viable idea when he compared Rentything to Couchsurfing, a site he’d used to travel Europe. “If you told venture capitalists that you could make money by connecting travellers to unknown hosts, they’d think you were crazy, but the service thrives,” he says, “That made me believe in the power of the sharing economy and collaborative consumption. If people were willing to let strangers step into their homes, I knew they’d let other people borrow their stuff.”
Although Rentything does not currently offer insurance, users’ number-one concern, the site verifies users’ email addresses, and encourages them to create complete profiles and list their full names and locations. Removing some anonymity builds trust among members. Users can also review and recommend each other.
Wong views similar sites, such as the Finnish Sharetribe, as assets rather than competition. “I’m aware of other services,” he says. “The way I see it, the more the merrier. I’m really rooting for the sharing economy to blow up!”
Wong devotes the majority of his time to Rentything, focusing on marketing and user growth. He plans to introduce insurance options, a referral program and a WordPress plug-in, so users can post items to their blogs.
“A lot of people love the idea,” says Wong. “People often tell me, ‘I wish I’d thought of it.’ I’m waiting for the ‘you-changed-my-life’ response. If I get that, it’ll make my day. I haven’t gotten anything that epic yet.”