Open Shed builds a better sharing world

Lisa Fox

Open Shed is part of the global collaborative consumption movement allowing Australians to rent, use and return all kinds of handy goods – whether they’re household tools, camping gear, electronics or anything in between. The peer-to-peer rental site recently partnered with OzHarvest and launched a donate-to-charity feature enabling people to donate a percentage or all of their rental fee to charity.

The startup journey: From inspiration to commercial reality

Lisa Fox stumbled across the idea of collaborative consumption in December 2010 after seeing Rachel Botsman’s presentation at TEDx Sydney. The message of sharing what we own with others in our local community inspired her to investigate the concept further, and she went ahead to read Botsman’s What’s Mine Is (Y)ours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.

“The book contains mainly US and European sites and I became very interested in how I could start participating in the collaborative consumption movement in Australia,” says Fox, Founder and CEO of Open Shed.

“I started researching Australian sites, but wasn’t able to find a peer-to-peer rental site with trust and safety features, that I felt comfortable using. So I convinced Duncan (my partner and a very skilled developer!) to help me create it.”

In March 2011, Fox and her partner Duncan Stewart quit their jobs, gave up their inner city apartment and started house-sitting around Australia to keep their living costs low and in October 2011, bring Open Shed into the online marketplace.

“Think of Open Shed like eBay, but rather than buying and selling, individuals are renting to each other. We ask “why buy when you can share?” and we give Australians an easy option to access what they need from people around them, rather than feeling like their only option is to buy or resort to more expensive rental options,” says Fox.

“We believe Open Shed taps into a growing consumer sentiment interested in environmental sustainability, rejection of hyper consumption and embracing resourcefulness. We provide an easy and secure way for Australians to access rather than buy.”

The size of the rental market in Australia is $1.7 billion; and Fox’s vision is for Open Shed to be the go-to platform for people searching to rent something online.

“We are also growing the rental market by unlocking a whole heap of inventory that has otherwise sat underutilized in storage cages, sheds and households. Inventory, that in a lot of cases, would be unavailable to rent or too expensive to rent,” says Fox.

Prior to launch, their major financial spend was on legals – terms and conditions, item hire contracts, and trademarks. Fox says trust and safety issues are “the major barriers to people participating in collaborative consumption websites like Open Shed.”

With a very small marketing budget, they’ve focused primarily focused on social media for marketing.

“We started building the site in April 2011 and we started a blog at that time as well. We shared what we were up to and our journey as the travelling start up. This helped us build up support for what we were doing before we even launched. We communicate with Open Shedders and build our community via Twitter and Facebook,” says Fox.

They also provide ways for their users to promote their own listings, so they can generate more rentals, such as the build your own personalised flyer feature.

Open Shed charges the renter a service fee that is the greater of 10 percent or $2. It also provides a product damage guarantee to the owner that’s charged at 0.5 percent per day or 1.6 percent per week of the supplied replacement value of the item.

Being Fox and Stewart’s first startup, they’ve had to learn the ins and outs of running a business while on the job.

“We have no major “I wish we had done that or not done that”. Each mistake we have learnt from!” says Fox.

“In the first 12 months we had to primarily focus on educating Australians about the possibility of peer-to-peer rentals, however, since October 2012 we have seen a nice hockey stick start to develop for many of our key metrics.”

Since launch, Open Shed has achieved many great successes: winning the Nokia In Hindsight competition in November 2011; being selected for Ignition Labs clean tech incubator in July to October 2012; winning the Small Business category of Green Living Awards in 2012; and licensing the Open Shed platform to Stockland Residential as a cobranded experience to be piloted in six of their communities across Australia.

Partnership with OzHarvest: Real-world impact

Duncan Stewart Ronni Kahn Lisa Fox for Open Shed and OzHarvest2

Duncan Stewart, Ronni Kahn, and Lisa Fox.

Now they’re pleased to be kicking off their new donate-to-charity feature with OzHarvest – a non-denominational charity that rescues excess food, which would otherwise be discarded.

“Not only will the new charity feature help feed people in need through OzHarvest, we hope to attract a whole new range of altruistic Open Shed users to the site – people who want to spring clean with heart, to share their stuff, foster their local community, help others – all without dipping into their pockets!” says Fox.

Ronni Kahn, OzHarvest Founder and CEO believes it’s a great match given both companies are about doing something useful with excess products and having real-world impact.

“Just as Open Shed is a great example of giving idle equipment in the home a new lease on life, OzHarvest is all about making the most of excess food by redistributing it to those in need,” says Kahn.

“OzHarvest is partnering with Open Shed because we support the concept of collaborative consumption, promotion of community relationships and environmental awareness. We love the idea that Open Shed renters can choose to support a good cause like ours while sharing what they have with others in their community. Every dollar that is donated to OzHarvest, allows us to provide two meals to vulnerable Australians.”

To try out the new feature, visit www.openshed.com.au, or see the demonstration on YouTube.

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