January 20, 2013
Rentabilities Creating Order Where Before There Was Only Chaos

If you somehow end up in
the back corner of RunKeeper’s headquarters on Canal Street, chances are high that you will
stumble upon a scene that doesn’t quite jive with stand-up desks and mid-day
stretches commonplace in the rest of the fitness app’s offices. What you will
find is an alcove filled with a small band of believers, heads down, intently
focused, working to create an online marketplace that brings order out of the
chaos that is the equipment rental industry.

Started by the brothers
Cook, Alex and Andy, Rentabilities aims to do for the problem-laden and completely unorganized world
of product rental what AirBnB did for property rental. As Alex Cook points out, creating an
online marketplace, like AirBnB or SpareFoot, takes not only “a ton of scrappiness,” but also, “a great deal
of faith.”

The complex nature of
harnessing the enormous volume and bizarre menagerie of products available for
rental together in one spot was a daunting challenge from the beginning. Alex
first realized that an opportunity existed to impact the entire industry while
helping an acquaintance organize his small rental company’s webpage. The issues
found in that first undertaking are similar to the one’s that Rentabilities
continues to face to this day: outdated payment and accounting technologies, lack
of organized booking systems, and the unreliability of product availability.

After winning the
$50,000 prize at MassChallenge in 2010, Rentabilities has done some intense
self-reflection on what kind of company they want to be. For a stretch of time
after MassChallenge, Alex believes they may have tried to solve too many of the
infrastructure problems of the rental industry.  “On the surface, anyone
in the tech industry might look at rental and think, ‘That’s a simple app.”
“But in reality,” Cook states, “once you get into it, it is one of the most
difficult problems I’ve encountered.”

Rentabilities is now
singularly focused on being THE marketplace for rental goods. They built an
aggregator that scans all of the rental products available on the internet with
the goal of making all of their merchants’ goods easily discoverable, helping
customers find local merchants, and making a formerly difficult process a whole
lot easier.

The new approach has
made a difference as the company saw an uptick in acquiring active merchants as
2012 came to a close, which is something that Cook is proud of and knows will
be a key component as the Rentabilities scales. “Everything is lining up to
create the world’s largest rental marketplace.” Alex stated, “For instance,
right now, we have every bouncy castle in the top fifty cities in our system.”

However, as
Rentabilities grows, the lessons learned thus far are proof to Cook that the
process will not be easy.

“You can compare it to a
boxing ring and a lot of people would have tapped out by now,” he explains.
“But I’ve studied a lot of marketplaces, and although the successful
marketplace companies like AirBnB, TaskRabbit, or SpareFoot, seem glorious on the surface, when you really dig
into their stories, those founders were in boxing rings and may still be.”

Rentabilities is midway through its own prize fight. Tenaciously battling for
the success of their company in 2013, they looking less like a contender and
more like another champion of the Boston startup scene.

Dennis Keohane is a teacher, journalist and contributor to VentureFizz.  You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.