Ecomodo: Collectivism, the Capitalist Way

Painfully apparent to anybody who has ever had to move houses (I've moved around fifteen times!) is just how much stuff we all have. Bygone treasures emerge after years of disuse only to be stashed away in a new closet, never to see light again. My elders tell stories of a time not too long ago when neighbors used to drop by each others' houses to borrow stuff to avoid buying them. Such stories appear more myth than truth to me in today's age, having yet to ask my neighbor his name much less ask to borrow his canoe.

Removing the Barriers to Borrowing This is a shame as borrowing makes great sense economically and ecologically. Borrowing provides free utility at no cost to the lender. Better still it means one less thing purchased, reducing the impact to our planet. The three key issues I believe are preventing a wider adoption of borrowing are:

  1. A lack of trust prevents people borrowing between strangers, making your lending network only as large as your closest friends and family
  2. A lack of incentive prevents me from lending to strangers even if I did trust them
  3. A lack of information means that I have no idea what things the people around me have that I might want to borrow

Ecomodo, a new startup out of the United Kingdom is attempting to rectify all three of these to make borrowing a viable option for anybody who needs stuff they don't have. It is part of the hyperlocal movement (my recent article on SeeClickFix being another example), leveraging technology to organize local resources in a way that was previously too expensive.

Ecomodo users post items they are willing to lend to others, select who is allowed to borrow them, and set the fee they want to be paid for lending. Although the fee sounds more like renting to me rather than borrowing, it does provide a good incentive for people from all walks post as many things as they can onto the platform. In addition, several items are posted up to be borrowed without requiring a fee. Ecomodo profits by skimming a percentage off any monetary transaction.

Borrowing to End All Borrowing Over time, the platform has expanded to allow people to lend not just things, but skills and spaces too, thus attempting to become a universal hub for the “informal” economy. By attempting to expand laterally to these other sectors, I believe Ecomodo is diluting its core competency of being a hub for borrowing physical things. Websites like Elance and fiverr already allow people to pay for skills, and community centers already exist to offer people space.

In the world of stuff, however, Ecomodo is a visionary concept, potentially eclipsing hotshot startups such as Netflix and Rent The Runway which rely on centralized distribution systems to lend movies and designer dresses respectively. Would you still pay $9.99 per month for a Netflix subscription when a guy down the street is willing to lend you movies for free?

If I could come up with a new tagline for Ecomodo it would be “Ecomodo: Borrow Anything”, because that is essentially what it allows users to do. I see a world where everyday people start posting their unused assets on to the platform for collective use incentivized by the option of a fee, and consumers start checking to see whether they can borrow something instead of buying it. This would have positive ramifications all across the supply chain—from mining fewer resources to burning less carbon on transportation to throwing away less packaging. All this, of course, depends on Ecomodo blooming into the success it has the potential to be.