July 5, 2012
RentStuff is a marketplace for renting anything under the sun, from bikes to Star Wars light sabers to power drills. It handles the whole process, including payments and security deposits, rental agreements, and reviews. As founder and CEO Christopher Jaeger explains below, RentStuff hit the ground running by letting not only individuals but also local rental shops post their wares.
Before RentStuff, Princeton graduate Jaeger worked in finance and investment banking for 6 years at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York.
Tech Cocktail: What do you enjoy most about working on RentStuff?
Christopher Jaeger: It empowers communities to connect in a meaningful way while making a positive impact on the environment by reducing overconsumption. RentStuff allows people to get back to what we did for thousands of years – sharing resources with others. It’s really a shift back to a smarter way to consume goods; a transition from an Owning Economy to a Sharing Economy made possible by technology. Less waste, more interaction – that’s very cool.
Tech Cocktail: Who is your greatest competitor, and how do you differentiate yourself?
Jaeger: Honestly, the biggest competition is not from other companies but really it is fighting people’s indifference to renting from other people nearby and changing their set patterns of consumption. “Collaborative Consumption” is a movement that is gaining momentum, with companies like ZipCar, Airbnb, RelayRides, and SkillShare leading the way….
Tech Cocktail: What is the biggest advantage and disadvantage of starting up in Chicago?
Jaeger: We are new to Chicago, having relocated just a few months ago from Nashville (where we went through an accelerator program), so we are learning more each day about how great this city is.
The biggest advantage of starting up in Chicago is access to a huge market of target customers. This is the third largest city in the country with one of the highest population densities, which equates to a lot of people that could find RentStuff very valuable to them. Another big advantage was relocating here to be a part of 1871. An amazing opportunity for us to be in the middle of Chicago’s burgeoning startup scene in a location that is a magnet for digital awesomeness.
The biggest disadvantage to starting up in Chicago is losing the amazing talent that should call Chicago home to the coasts. Great engineering talent is the key to a healthy startup ecosystem, and like all of the companies that surround us at 1871, we want more developers to join our team. Luckily, I feel as though this is changing quickly. In just the few months I’ve called Chicago home, I’ve seen the startup scene organizing and coming together rapidly, and it’s on its way to being as prominent a place to start a company as New York and San Francisco. All of the ingredients needed to be a mecca for entrepreneurs exist here; that’s what attracted us to Chicago and hopefully many more follow us.
Tech Cocktail: Describe a challenging moment or a crucial decision for your startup. How did you deal with it, and what did you learn from it?
Jaeger: A crucial decision was to listen to our mentors, who were telling us to evaluate rental shops as a key piece to making a viable marketplace. Originally, we were only pursuing a peer-to-peer marketplace, where only individuals could connect with one another to rent items. Our mentors made us examine the total market and find the best strategy to try and crack the chicken-and-egg problem of creating a two-sided marketplace. After talking to rental shop owners, we realized that giving them sophisticated tools to manage their business and put their large piles of inventory on our marketplace would help us to build supply much faster – this provides more value to all of our customers.
I learned that in order to stand any chance of being a successful entrepreneur or team leader, you need to find mentors and listen to them. You don’t always have to do what they say, but there is a reason they’re telling you something – absorb it, evaluate it, and test it; nothing great was ever built alone.
Tech Cocktail: What’s one quirky fact about you, your team, or your office culture?
Jaeger: Well, one thing people find unique is that my co-founder, Robert, is also my identical twin brother. The Winklevoss jokes and comparisons coming from friends and family after the release of The Social Network were hilarious. Our office culture is one of casual diligence. We work hard but keep things relaxed and fun at 1871; I’ve worked in a cubicle in a big corporation before, I don’t want to do it again. Here is a photo of Adam, Robert and me at the 1871 launch party; pretty decent ups for a couple of startup guys!
RentStuff was a showcased startup at our Tech Cocktail Techweek mixer.
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