‘I think the best ideas are those that facilitate what we try to do anyway,’ says Andy Lenney, co-founder of Oborrow, an app just launched on Facebook that allows people to see what household items they can borrow from one another.
Lenney and his business partner Jamie Hutchinson were frustrated with the way in which society has become disconnected and how this impacts on waste: ‘There’s a sense that people want to go back to the way we were,’ says Lenney. ‘This throwaway culture is hugely damaging to the environment, and at the same time people are paying for self storage so there’s a massive amount of stuff just sitting around unused.’
Looking to combine this interest in sustainability with their love of all things technology, Lenney and Hutchinson were further inspired by American entrepreneur Lisa Gansky. Author of The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing, Gansky firmly believes that ‘access trumps ownership’ and with this in mind, Oborrow was born.
‘The site works through Facebook and is essentially a place to share everyday objects like a drill, tent or bike with friends,’ Lenney tells me. ‘You sign up and tick items you own that you’re willing to lend out. The more Facebook friends that join in, the bigger the collective pool of items available to share. And because it works through Facebook, everyone is already known, so there’s no risk of items not being returned.’
Something about Oborrow seems to have struck a chord as 500 people signed up in the first three days after it was launched at the end of April. By the end of the first week this number had tripled.
This seems to be part of a growing business movement where consumers have more choice and more peer-to-peer power. US company Zipcar, which rents out cars on demand, by the hour or day, grew by 222% over the last three years and bought UK equivalent Streetcar last year for an estimated £50m. Netflix, which streams films and television series instantly via the internet, was founded in 1997, has 26m subscribers worldwide and reached a total digital revenue of $1.5b by 2011.
Oborrow may not be there yet but it’s still very early days and its founders are certainly optimistic about the future: ‘We’re still working out how to monetise our idea,’ says Lenney. ‘But right now what we really want is mass adoption – and to make people re-think their purchasing decisions and live more connected lives.’