4. July 2012–
When we first experienced Philipp Gloeckler at Betapitch earlier this year, we wrote just one line to describe his presentation: "All pitch and no product from the mysterious Mr X". We were equal parts perplexed and annoyed by his five-minute meanderings around a "secret" product. But also tantalised by a possibly tasty collaborative consumption concept.
Fast-forward a couple of months and Gloeckler is far more forthcoming about his new venture: "Yeah, a lot of people hated me for that. My friend [and co-founder of Betapitch] Hans Raffauf forced me into pitching. At the last minute, I was like "Ah.... fuck... OK". But then I didn't want to give away anything as it wasn't done yet. But it worked out OK. I got a couple of Tweets and you guys picked up on it... and I've already been on German national TV."
Not bad for a product with only a landing page at present. But then, the Hamburg-based entrepreneur and co-founder of eco retailer Avocadostore.de has the kind of unstoppable enthusiasm that could see him selling air conditioning to Eskimos. But what makes Whyown.it more than just a bunch of promotional baseball caps?
As the name suggests, Whyown.it is another service riding on the collaborative consumption combine harvester – but while there are plenty of ways to share, lend, barter and borrow online already, Gloeckler's project makes it neatly social. It's an iPhone app that connects your Facebook friends and – more importantly – their possessions so you can browse what they own to see if there's anything you want to borrow.
"I bet that you and every third one of your friends in Berlin has the biography of Steve Jobs. And I bet you have it as well." [I tell him I don't, but I did borrow it from someone.]
"Well, that proves my point,' says Gloeckler. Stephan [Uhrenbacher, friend and founder of Qype and 9Flats.com, and investor in WhyOwn.it] and I were always brainstorming about how cool it would be if people wouldn't buy so much stuff. I live with my best friend and we hardly have anything. Everybody comes into our apartment and says 'Oh, you just moved in'. We've been there for two and a half years.
"I bought a domain called 2koffer.de – I had been thinking around this concept of how great it would be just to live out of two suitcases. And then this app evolved from that..."
Renting out your Rolex for the weekend
So why launch as an app instead of a full-blown website? "For one thing, an app is just sexier. More people than ever are using smartphones and it means that there is easy upload from Instagram. We wanted to do an epic app, to be very good on usability."
But what's different from us say, posting on Facebook saying: "Does anyone have a drill that I can borrow? I need to put up a curtain rail..."
"Well, for one thing," says Gloeckler, "It reconnects friends in a different way on Facebook. Maybe we've only talked on Facebook about business, girls and beers, maybe I didn't know that you're a good piano player, or a keen hiker. And you can say 'Hey, lets have a coffee someday. I really want to read the book that you have...'
"My banker friend from London uploaded his Rolex. It's really funny – some people upload their cars; we have dogs on there, you can borrow dogs for a weekend. But you can't borrow kids yet."
Pet-borrowing aside, this sounds like a solid concept. Many of the issues surrounding collaborative consumption centre on fear. People are wary creatures – scared of lending to strangers or letting a foreigner into their apartment. WhyOwn.it brings it back to your peer group – break or steal something and you'll be outed to all your Facebook friends. As Gloeckler says: "Yeah, it feels kind of strange if you borrow a book from a guy you don't know and it smells of cigarettes. But these are your friends, man. You're not going to steal from them."
Gloeckler currently has a team of six working on the project ["It's pretty much ready to go – we just need to push the button."] and is only working nominally on licensing for Avocadostore.de. A quick second round of funding is expected straight after launch – and Gloeckler has his sights firmly set on the USA: "The money will go towards a quick US rollout. I want to take this to the States. Germany is very much the test market before we take it overseas."
And from there, it's just a quick flight to meet those Eskimos to discuss their air conditioning arrangements...