Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Interview answers for student of the sharing economy, Roland Fink

  1. What was the idea behind neighborrow and when was it founded?

I was doing an interview for the New York Times recently (where the reporter used many of my sources but none of my quotes and blamed her editor for cutting me out of the article entirely) and it reminded me that neighborrow was “founded” about 10 years ago. I think we bought the domain name around Thanksgiving in 2005. The idea was a sharing platform for household items.

2.      Which experiences did you or one of the other founders have with regard to establishing a company? Do you mean formally establishing a company or general experiences starting a startup ?

     Which were the main challenges so far? Now that we are looking through a different lens, we can easily say that the biggest challenge is growing the number of genuine requests for items over 25 dollars and under 500 dollars -- in the beginning though we blamed the usual suspects… difficulties getting funding, difficulty finding a technical co founders, designers who hard coded text as an image and wanted to charge every time we wanted to change language. I realize now that those were all symptoms they were not the disease. Although that designer was actually a dick.

4.      What is neighborrow’s core business? (Sell, buy, rent?)

It started as borrowing. Now it’s TBD. The embarrassing thing is that now almost everytihng I stand for is about leanstartup and pivoting when necessary based on evidence. Not being open to change based on nothing more than a domain name is probably the worst offense in startup history.

5.      How do you generate value for the user?

The hypothesis for the user (the borrower) is that we are solving a problem of getting an item they need fast, and only having to pay for the portion that they use it. The dis proven hypothesis for the lender is that we were saving space for them and maybe creating a potential credit for them next time they needed something.

6.      How much competition does exist and who are you competing with? 

There are lots of people still trying to solve this problem. We are not competing with any of them. It’s easy for me to say this now that I am not counting on this as my day job, but I felt this way from the beginning. That's why I started a group called SharedSquared. If people in this industry cannot share lessons learned then no one can! My favorite company in the space right now is - they are like our cool younger cousin from Amsterdam.

7.      How does neighborrow differentiate itself from its competitors?

One of the quotes I now use in my enterprise innovation consulting is “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage." (ARIE DE GUES) So at this point that's my only answer. 10 years ago I would have said something annoying like “Our proprietary algorithm” or “first mover advantage”.

8.      How many users to you have atm?

We don’t track total users. We count incoming requests per day - which has remained steady at around 3. I reported the same metric to a different reporter from the same paper mentioned above. She didn’t cut us out of the article but she did report that we “closed our doors” because it fit her MO for the story - even though we told her we were still experimenting with new models and all we had done was stopped looking for funding and stopped treating it as a full time job. It was pretty awesome though when her boss made her write a retraction.

9.      Where are they mainly located?

Users are located around the world.

10.     What would you say are the main reasons why people join neighborrow?

No one really “joins” anymore. People either need something and they ask for it - or they express interest in starting a local chapter. Which we still allow on a case by case basis - we even give them free shit to lend out to their neighborhood.

11.     In your opinion, what is necessary for a company to be and also to stay successful in the sharing economy?

Depends on your own definition of successful. But one thing that is a must is solving an actual problem that people really have.

12.     Can you think also of smth. which is impedimental for success?

13.     Which are the major risks? How could you avoid or overcome them?

14.     How do you finance Neighborrow?

15.     Is Neighborrow profitable atm? Is it aimed to be?

It is not profitable. It was meant to be when we raised some modest funds from friends, family and profounder. I fund it myself -- The requests that are real, I go into my amazon prime account, find the item used and I buy it for the person if they promise to find another borrower or send it back after 2 weeks.

16.     Which are neighborrow’s main goals? (being profitable, reaching a certain number of users…)

Solving the same problem of waste but with a different solution. As you may read in a blog post for - I still think that you need the hole not the drill, and it is absolutely moronically wasteful to own a drill if you are one of the people who use it for 7 minutes a year. That said, I do not believe the solution is a peer to peer market place… it might be something more like a 3d printed drill that you melt down after you drill the hole, so you can print a camera.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Questions about or policy to send new users ANYTHING they want to borrow for 2 weeks!

Hello, I have just learned about neighborrow and am very curious about how exactly it works. How do you request an item? Who can vouch for you? Is there size or weight limits on items? Are any items available or only ones shipped and sold directly from amazon? What happens if you keep an item for longer than the two weeks? Thank you for your help, Jessie Rose
Sent by Adam Berk
great questions - you request an item on the public wall... you should see some examples, anyone can vouch for you as long as it is not pure spam... 25 pounds is the limit for FREE shipping... ANY item on Amazon that someone else could reasonably use after you... if you keep it longer than 2 weeks we charge you $25 for the first week $50 for the second week then the whole value of the item for the 3rd week... if you find a CONFIRMED borrower AFTER you, you only need 5 vouches

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What we are doing in the sharing economy in 2015

If you need to use something for less than 2 weeks and it cost less than $1,000 and it weighs less than 50 pounds, click here.

On demand access to seldom used items is something that will continue to grow huge, but the answer is not exclusively tied to peer to peer online marketplaces. Photo credit
  1. We are still running experiments to learn more and more about what is important in the sharing economy. 
  2. These experiments run on and
  3. We are SHARING this data and the collective learnings with our peers, starting with a team in Spain, 
  4. We still believe in the vision of a world where less stuff is wasted for no reason, but we are not sure that the solution is a peer to peer platform. Lifetime fitness is a perfectly reasonable solution for people sharing a treadmill, in fact it is a superior one to one person buying it and lending it out to a neighbor when they are not using it.
  5. We believe in competition, but the founders in the "stuff sharing" space that has unquestionably struggled more than other areas, do not SHARE best practices enough. I see teams making the same mistakes over and over again. I want to fix that. 
  6. Trust is not the issue, and even when it is - third party trust sites are not the solution. Companies in this space who are big enough to worry about trust will have a competitive advantage solving it themselves. 
  7. Supply is not really the issue (especially for items below $1,000 that are seldom used), our experiments are all focused on demand. 
  8. Some solutions may be as simple as optimizing pricing for the amount of time the item "should be used". If you need the hole not the drill, maybe that's what people will start paying for. Or maybe the hole itself will disrupted and everyone will start using 3d printed tape to hang pictures on the wall and 3d printed fasteners to build things. 
  9. All of the experiments we run this year will be available to students and researchers free of charge as long as they help us collect and interpret the data. Founders in the space can pay (a little) for it. Investors in the space can pay (more) for it. 
Things we learned last year:
  1. not only is it not an issue to get people to return things...
  2. even when 25 people vouch for someone on facebook it does not generate a new request on its own 
  3. People are still creating these marketplaces at a furious pace. At Startup Weekends, during my workshops, etc. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Hey Londoners... You owe Harry a pint.

I just ran an experiment with my new (brilliant) friend Harry. In exchange for his help he got a copy of all my analytics and if his experiment leads to revenue in the UK he gets to keep (most of) it. Add him on LinkedIn.

The London Pilot Experiment
Greetings from the UK! I got in touch with Adam a few days ago to see if we could test out neighborrow in my fair city of London. He gave me a call in between his workshops in Paris, and threw down his own lean challenge:
“Run a one day experiment to see if you can get one person to successfully borrow anything on neighborrow”.
I asked people I knew (~10), targeted freebie and tech forums (100’s of eyeballs) and broadcast outreach on Twitter/LinkedIn (1000’s people). After 24 hours, 3 people (all already known to me) said they’d give it a go, of which 2 actually posted, and of which 1 looks like it will reach the target of Likes and comments. Here’s what I really learnt:
  1. People are suspicious of ‘free’ – 5/10 that I spoke to directly said they thought it was a scam, and I suspect others did but were too polite to say. Perhaps us Brits lack the audacity of Americans; perhaps we are not as familiar with communal concepts as mainland Europeans. Regardless, anywhere you go, the concepts of ‘buying’, ‘ownership’ and ‘no such thing as a free lunch’ are deeply ingrained.
  2. Don’t let Lean make you lazy – in hindsight, there are some very easy steps I should have taken in the first half hour to improve the user journey, thereby improving the level of learning from the experiment (as many users didn’t get past the ‘shady’ website and ‘outdated’  facebook page). This was a reminder that the MVP does not mean the minimum that is workable; it’s the highest return on investment (learnings) vs risk (effort spent setting up).

  1. It’s easier to get people to give than take! 4/10 people offered me items for others to borrow – even though I didn’t ask! This confused the economist in me, but rang true with many of the crowd-based projects I’ve been involved in before. I’m planning to experiment with this phenomenon further, and will report back!
  2. “It’s not free if I can’t keep it” – I love this piece of feedback (the highest rated comment from my forum posting) as it demonstrates the predominant view of ownership that the sharing economy is challenging – and highlights that there is a long way to go!
I like to think of consumer behavior and the sharing economy as a ‘turning tide’ – a) it seems to be changing direction (slowly), and b) is changing under our feet while we test, which makes experimentation here all the more fascinating!
If you’re interested in collaborating on a future experiment (or want to hear about my next ones), add me on LinkedIn.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Someone broke the drone (and we are pretty psyched about it)

We started an experiment a few months back, offering to lend out anything that costs less than $500 for up to two weeks, no matter what. Meaning that if a neighbor (or someone in our community) does not offer to lend it, we will buy it for you on Amazon and ship it to you - IF YOU GET 25 people to comment on a Facebook post. Sure the experiment says that the comments should be vouches that you will return it, but we all know the real reason we are doing it:)

Anyway- one of the items we lent out was a drone. The first person posted footage that he took on youtube. That was pretty awesome because it showed us he got it, showed us he was using it, etc. The second person got sick and couldn't use it but someone else in their office borrowed it (with 25 fresh likes). She couldn't make it fly. My friend in KC borrowed it next and he couldn't make it fly (and he's a nerd). He didn't have the right camera though, so I didn't think it was broken. But 3 times a charm, and now I am pretty sure, as My Cousin Vinny says, that "The fucken thing is broken".

Here's why that is kind of awesome.

  1. We learned a shitload. We learned that p2p shipping is super easy. We learned that people are more likely than we realized to share our site with colleagues than friends. And of course we realized that highly technical items require more than just good intentions. 
  2. We proved things we already knew like the risk of outright theft, for items low in relative value - especially when asked for on FB is close to zero and not nearly the PRIMARY risk. 
  3. The best thing about it though.. is that we are having "better problems"  a term taken from Zingermans 12 Natural Laws of Business. We are still not scaling as fast as I would like - but our old problems were proving demand in the first place. We could not GIVE SHIT AWAY FOR FREE if we tried, and we tried hard. We are slowly starting to see real demand, a real need for the service we are providing. We are also starting to fulfill that demand well. Maybe not with hand held flying robots controlled by iPhones... but hey, we aimed high:) maybe a little too high...
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BORROW FREE FOR UP TO TWO WEEKS? REQUEST IT HERE (even the drone - but that now comes with a disclaimer... the last person could not get it to fly - some assembly required)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

If you need to borrow a crankshaft balancer puller, all you have to do is ask!

Hi I'm going to need a crankshaft balancer puller, for replacing a Crankshaft Position Sensor, this week. Thanks.
LikeLike · 
  • Seen by 6
  • Adam Berk If none of your neighbors has one, you can go to and request it - there, all requests are guaranteed in stock if you get 25 comments on your request. We have a fund and as soon as you have 25 comments and we have your address, we go on amazon and ship it to you (we have prime so it usually takes 2 days)
    ANYTHING YOU ASK FOR, WORTH UNDER $500 is available to you for free if you return it in less than two weeks and have 10-25 ppl vouch for you.
    Internet/Software: 873 like this

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

We finally did it! We annoyed 2 people!

For years and years and years everyone LOVED neighborrow. They loved the idea. They loved the idea of the idea. The never really used it the way we wanted them too. I have been vocal of the fact that I too still believe in the idea of the idea but that a supply side "platform for a pooled inventory of stuff" is not the solution and "waste" in general is a pity but it is not necessarily a "problem".

I am positive that generating an inventory of stuff, even a community for that matter, is not our biggest challenge. Getting people to ask for stuff, and believe that they will receive it is the challenge.

One solution outcome experiment I am running now has to do with replacing a security deposit with "Facebook vouching". It is not binding by the person vouching for you... but it is an interesting social experiment none the less.

While the face of the experiment is to make sure that the borrower returns the free item in two weeks or less, I am actually testing a few more important variables than if vouching will actually lead to better return rates (which, contrary to what they wrote in DataFox) are flawless, we have never had an issue.

  1. I believe that vouching will actually lead to more initial conversions - I think that by asking users to "invest" something into the free item, they will be both more likely to believe it is real, and feel less guilty about asking.
  2. I also believe that there is some freebie virality built in here... and while I hate to call it a growth hack, it will be nice if 1/25 people vouching actually become new borrowers themselves....
We will let you know how the experiment goes... In the mean time, I am sorry to the folks who think the old deposit system is good enough. We think it can be better. Better for them and better for us as a company. We hate to be polarizing just for the sake of being polarizing... but after years and years of everyone saying how awesome we are and not using it - I am confident that we may be on to something. 

    • AndRE-dacted-w  Away I go.
      Like · Reply · 12 mins
    • Jennifer Phelan Saved by Leslie-ann!
      Like · Reply · 1 · 21 mins
    • since you have some carry over from the other thread - and since we are normally doing 25 for the drone... 14 more and it is yours! including Amanda Cohen - tell us more than "vouch" tell us why you know she is going to return it within the 2 weeks and without breaking it - she pays no deposit at all and you are not financially responsible if something does happen... we just want to see if this works
      Like · Reply · 1 · 1 hr
    • Leslie-Ann Kirijian Btw I leant Jenn my car to drive to newfoundland and back to Toronto. She returned the car. On time and in the same cognition she found it.
      Unlike · Reply · 2 · 32 mins
    • Leslie-Ann Kirijian Jennifer is the most responsible person I know. She has NEVER been late. EVER. She also never made an excuse. She is her word. She worked for me all through college and is still one my favourite people on this earth. You can't find a better person. VOUCH!!!!
      Unlike · Reply · 2 · 34 mins
    • 4 down 11 to go:)
      Like · Reply · 18 mins
    • Andy Mahase I agree with Andrew. A security deposit and ID should be sufficient. As for Jennifer Phelan, I can trust her with my unsigned winning lottery ticket and know it will be safe until I'm ready to cash it in.
      Like · Reply · 47 mins
      • you guys are funny... I should be able to stay at the Ritz every night for $1 - but the fine folks at that company have a policy. We have a policy - this is it:) No one is forcing her to get a drone for free and no one is forcing you to participate in our "misguided" crowdfunded insurance experiment. @jennifer - if you prefer to give us $1,000 for the rental and deposit / happy to listen to the crowd, just have a 3rd friend tell us how stupid our idea is...
      • Jennifer Phelan Andy you are also not helping!! 
    • Tammy Phelan vouch
      Like · Reply · 1 hr
    • Amanda Cohen vouch!