Less Shop, More Share: Yerdle One-ups Freecycle With Sharing Circles
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That shabby couch on your street with a paper "Free, Take Me" sign. A "You Haul It, You Keep It," Craigslist post. Barely used baby gear on Freecycle. These are the sorts of things that might come to mind when you hear about a new "sharing marketplace." But Yerdle is the grown-up version of these types of exchanges—the slick new site, launched with a giant giveaway day on Black Friday, enables friends and friends of friends to share quality goods and services easily amongst themselves without fear of inheriting useless junk or meeting with an unreliable stranger.
Yerdle is the brainchild of Andy Rubin, former chief sustainability officer for Walmart, and Adam Werbach, who you might have heard described at various points in his career as the youngest executive director ever of the Sierra Club, the guy who helped green WalMart and pissed off the environmental movement in the process, or the founder of Saatchi & Saatchi S, the green-focused arm of one of the world's largest communications firms.
"For a long time I've been having this nagging feeling that we're winning some battles, but not the war, when it comes to consumption, and I've been having a lot of conversations with Andy about how you get to the next level of change," Werbach says. "Not just something that's a little better, like stuff made out of recycled plastic, but something truly better."
Those conversations were the seed from which Yerdle grew, and Werbach watered the idea with a recent trip to India. "I took a trip to Mumbai and I met with these women who were setting up sharing circles—
these beautiful block-by-block communities where 20 families would save money together, share goods, decide together on what new things to buy, and commit to spreading the word and the ideals of local self empowerment and resource sharing," he says. "I was so blown away by this, I was like how can I help you? And they said well, you should start a sharing circle."
Meanwhile Rubin was noticing that all of the kids in his daughter's and son's soccer leagues were buying new shin guards practically every season. "He had this realization that there really was no need for new ones, the kids could just be passing them down."
The two started talking about a different way for people to get the things they need—not searching for deals online, but looking for free items from their friends.
"We’ve been preaching ethical shopping for a long time and that’s still really important but the best thing you can get is something you didn’t have to buy at all," Werbach says. "It's important that we’re reaching the end of a peak—at one point there were a lot of greenwashed products, then there were more truly sustainable products, and now we have to figure out how to exist in a world where we probably have enough stuff made and don’t need to buy or make very much new stuff."
Yerdle enables people to share durable goods with their friends and their friends' friends. By limiting it to a close community of people who already know each other and have some level of trust, Yerdle automatically eliminates many of the problems inherent to other sharing marketplaces. There are no strangers, so it's easy to move goods between members, and there's a good chance you'll find what you need in the sort of style you want since you're looking at items from people in your social circle. "Starting with already-established friend groups makes Yerdle different from the way other people have approached this," Werbach says. "We don’t have to spend a lot of time on trust building. You know your friends, right?"
Most importantly, Yerdle enables friends to trade goods and services online in much the same way they do in the offline world. "One thing we’ve noticed about sharing networks is that the trading of money between friends is weird," Werbach says. "Friends don’t rent things, they share things. If you loan me a tent I might buy you dinner. If you borrow my surfboard, maybe you’ll drop off beers later. It's not a one-to-one trade and it doesn't happen at the exact same moment; that’s how friends help each other."
So far, Yerdle is doing a brisk trade in baby gear and, since it had an early following among the technoratti, iPhone 4s. But there are less expected trades happening as well. One woman gave away a bunch of Meyer lemons from her tree, and then the guy who grabbed them gave away some of the lemon meringue pies he made with the lemons.
Werbach is now 100 percent committed to working on Yerdle, although as the official founder of Saatchi & Saatchi S, he still consults on the occasional project. In so doing, he says he has heard various companies talking about dematerialization as well. "They're looking at sharing and collaborative consumption as a way of changing the way people access goods," Werbach says. "There's an enormous opportunity there for product manufacturers if they embrace it. Or a huge threat if they don’t."
"We have to build the capacity to build more durable products that will be sought after because they last longer," Werbach continues. "We want the thing that can be shared three times, has a warranty for its lifetime, and doesn’t fall apart.
When asked if Yerdle might one day pose a threat to other types of sharing business, such as car sharing, Werbach says no. "But you know who should be scared? Retailers selling cheap things and competing for the lowest price. Because we’re gonna beat them on price."