A profile of EcomodoIn today’s Start Me Up we look at Ecomodo.com, a startup that recently opened its marketplace to lenders and borrowers. I talked to co-founder Meriel Lenfestey to get the lowdown on the new company.

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In one sentence, what is Ecomodo?

Ecomodo.com is an online marketplace that enables people to lend and borrow each other’s everyday objects, skills and spaces with confidence. This enriches local communities by turning them into resource banks to benefit people, neighbourhoods, organisations, charities and the environment.

What problem does Ecomodo solve?

Ecomodo gives everyone a way to consume less whilst living more. It reaches the people with little interest in green living by appealing to a range of personal motivations including making and saving money, gaining easy access to objects, skills and spaces they need to get a job done or try new things, fundraising for good causes and simply participating in the community.

We drew inspiration from the concerns people expressed about lending out their stuff to design. We provided answers by allowing people to set up lending circles to restrict their lending to people they have something in common with e.g. a club, neighbourhood, workplace, school; to take out insurance and ask for deposits; we collect feedback after all lends to allow people to build up a reputation; and we handhold through entire process to make sure everyone is happy.

When and why did you launch it?

Ecomodo launched at the end of March 2010. When we started working on it three years ago, it was one of those ideas which seemed inevitable because it tied into all the current trends (economic, environmental, diminishing space, more focus on community, quality of life expectations and of course digital)… but no one was doing it. We decided to apply our 40 years of interaction design to the challenge of making the idea come alive. We felt we were best placed to encourage sustainable living for the masses, by using the power of design to shape a new experience for lending and borrowing.

Who is your target audience? 

Lending and borrowing on Ecomodo is relevant to everyone with internet access, who considers themselves part of a community, whether the community is a neighbourhood, a workplace, a faith centre, a club, a school, a group of friends, a volunteer organisation or anything else which brings people together.

All organisations with an environmental or community agenda who may wish to set up lending circles to encourage lending and borrowing or to fundraise.

What are your immediate goals?

Our immediate goals are all about awareness and site population in order to achieve critical mass. We have a two-pronged approach to this which will give us maximum reach with sufficient credibility to encourage participation.

Firstly, we want to build public awareness. We are involving ourselves directly in communities to spread the message at a grass roots level, and we are pursuing as much media coverage as we can. Our 10:10 article, @StephenFry’s tweet which described Ecomodo as “Rather a cool idea” and recent mentions in the national and local papers are all bringing lots of new lenders and borrowers. Word is spreading.

Secondly, we want to developing partner relationships. Ecomodo can be a very useful tool for many organisations to achieve their targets whether they be financial (fundraising or efficiencies), environmental (reducing carbon emissions and encouraging positive behaviour change) or social (inclusion, community involvement and life enriching). We are actively building relationships with many different organisations from the public, private and third sectors.

What were the biggest challenges involved in building Ecomodo?

At the highest level the concept of making better use of the objects, spaces and skills around us makes sense to everyone. Everyone can see that it’s far better to borrow from a neighbour than to rush out and spend hard earned cash on a new item for a one off use. Most people can also see that it makes sense to let your seldom-used gear earn its keep and help other people.

The biggest challenge was in designing a service where common sense can prevail, where people feel motivated and confident to let others use their stuff.

Armed with insight from Flow, and a combined 40 years of interaction design between the founders we believe we have arrived at the right solution, and we’ll keep on improving. This is interaction design to change behaviour for the common good.

Our new biggest challenge is in driving awareness.

How will the company make money? 

Our primary revenue steam will be from a fee on every paid transaction.

In the future additional streams may be sought from relevant, ethical, localised advertising and from affiliate links for consumables and items which are not yet listed.

What is your pricing model?

It is (and will remain) free to join Ecomodo, to add items you wish to lend and to fundraise through Ecomodo.

When someone borrows an item for money, we add an additional 6% or £1 (greater of) to the money requested by the lender.

The market will define the price for borrowing items.

Who is in the team and what does it look like?

Small but perfectly formed. Co-founders are old RCA college friends, Meriel Lenfestey (founder of Flow Interactive the User Experience consultancy) and Tracy Currer (independent design and innovation consultant). We worked closely with an extraordinary core team of technical brains in Simon Campbell, Christophe Floury and Peter Kemp. HTML was outsourced to HowSplendid, and user insight came from Flow Interactive to help us refine the concept and UI.

Where would you like to be in one, three and five years time?

In one year we plan to achieve critical mass in several locations across the UK, helping our partners achieve their goals and helping charities benefit from a new source of fundraising.

In three years Ecomodo will be a household name. It will be norm to lend your used items to the people around you, and to consider borrowing before buying for occasional needs. The digital world will have provided genuine enhancement for real world communities in the UK and elsewhere. People will be living more sustainably without even realising, by enriching their lives.

In the future, hopefully as soon as five years, we hope that the market in lending will drive a shift for manufacturers away from delivering the lowest possible price point and towards justifying price point with durability and lending potential.