As two Tufts alumni powered through the last few miles of a snowshoe marathon in Vermont, they were reminded of their friends who wanted to participate but couldn’t. Why? Because they didn’t have snowshoes.
Mike Brown and James Rogers wondered how many people weren’t competing just because they didn’t have the right gear.
“We thought, well, that’s a shame,” recounts Brown, “We know a bunch of people who have snowshoes who could have lent them out.”
And GearCommons was born.
The weekend following the snowshoe marathon, Brown, Rogers, and Joel Weber started coding the website for GearCommons. The goal? To get people outside by giving them access to gear.
Launched in August 2013, GearCommons is a peer-to-peer sharing website for renting outdoor gear. From kayaks and tents to skis and bikes, anything human-powered is available to rent on the site. Gear owners can list their items for a daily fee and prospective renters can browse the listings, choose an item, and arrange a pickup.
Brown says that GearCommons is leveraging some of the trends seen in the sharing economy, which he’s researched in-depth while writing for Shareable. With people today sharing apartments, office spaces, and even power tools, the mix of Maine and New Hampshire natives noticed an important part of their lives—outdoor recreation—wasn’t yet available.
"The outdoor industry's business model hasn't changed in decades, and we think that what we're doing is going to really shake things up,” says Rogers, “This is a huge opportunity to help people gain access to exciting new activities."
The founders explain that the outdoor industry has always relied on retail, both in-store and online. By incorporating elements of the sharing economy into the model, people who wouldn’t normally, for example, go kayaking, can do so without actually buying a kayak.
GearCommons won second place at the Tufts 100k Business Plan Competition in the classic entrepreneurial venture category on April 8, and founders Brown and Rogers aren’t strangers to the startup world. Brown won first place at the Tufts 100k Business Plan Competition in 2010 for Proximity Health Solutions, a device which detects hospital acquired infections. He’s a Mass Challenge 2010 alumnus and a successful crowd funder—raising over $40k on Kickstarter for his product the Alpine Hammock. Rogers created a mobile app company called Junctions which provided experience mapping through photos, and Weber formed a drag and drop animation software platform called Animajig.
“We’re fusing technical challenge with our outdoor passion which is great,” says Brown.
The biggest challenge for GearCommons so far is being unable to reach enthusiastic renters.
“We get emails from people all the time saying ‘Why aren’t you in my city?’ or ‘There’s no gear in my area!’” says Brown, “There’s a big demand but we have to grow to catch up with it.”
This not-so-negative downside comes with an unexpected positive: unsolicited fan mail. People across the country send e-mails and Facebook messages expressing their excitement about the site.
“With our previous startups we had to convince people we had a good idea, but with GearCommons, we’ve come across something people understand,” says Brown.
GearCommons has its highest concentration of renters in the Boston area, and has begun meet up groups and in person events in and around the city. The site has made a home at Brooklyn Boulders, a rock climbing gym in Somerville. Brown says having office space directly where GearCommons’s user base is located is unique and exciting.
The site plans to expand beyond Boston, aiming for gear sharing across the U.S and eventually around the world. An ultimate goal is for a user to be able to rent a surfboard from a local in Thailand and learn how to surf from them.
Until then, Brown says, “We’re starting in Boston and we can’t think of a better place to start a company.”
“People here are friendly, outdoorsy, and technologically forward-thinking. This combination is proving to be perfect for sharing outdoor gear with others,” says Rogers.