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Rentoid - Renting is so easy

Today we showcase an exciting and successful venture founded by, Steve Sammartino from Melbourne, Australia, Rentoid - a website where people can rent things to and from each other. It’s free to join and free to list items. Rentoid takes a 5% commission on any rental transactions that occur through the site. It’s a very simple process.

In a recent email based interview with Steve, he gave insights into his venture and how he is progressing with it. This is what he has to say:

• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
My background is in marketing. I basically spent 12 years working for big evil Consumer Goods companies including Gillette, Kraft and Fosters. After learning a whole heap about marketing and also what not to do, I decided it was now or never and left. The first venture I raised VC for but it ultimately failed and the rentoid was the second go at it.

My interests are surfing, languages, marketing business philosophy and the internet. I also lecture in Marketing at Melbourne University.

I also love blogging and focus on startups

• Who are the people behind this and how it started?
I started the site and have worked on it full time for approx 12 months. In the past few months, we’ve had some significant growth and now there are 4 of us working on it. Luke, Ross & Tom are the other rentoid protagonists. We’ve also got some pretty dedicated rentoid partners who help us with design, technology, coding and other important stuff.

• How long it took before it was up and running?
It only took 3 months to launch, but I’ve been working on it for 12.

• What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?
The main objective of founding rentoid was to do something worth doing. I got pretty frustrated working in the corporate world. Mainly because it was full of ‘corporate plankton’ who survived in the system through sucking, rather than performing. In addition, I found it particularly difficult to be passionate about selling processed cheese in plastic wrappers and alcohol to teenagers and wanted to do something I truly believed in.

Rentoid is that for me. The thing I love about rentoid is how all its users are beneficiaries of the system. The owner of an item makes some cash from an idle asset. The person renting the item saves instead of buying, and the environment wins through reducing needless consumption. How many ladders, Mountain bikes and snow skis does the world really need? It’s a real hoot working on a project which is such a virtuous circle. In that sense, it’s worth doing. Something I’m happy to give my days to.

• What services it provides for consumer or customers?
A place on the web where people can fulfil their temporary needs which most of ours are these days. A place where people can make some cash from all the stuff they have accumulated and even meet the people in their local community.

• What type of customers you are targeting?
Anyone with a web connection. It’s too broad to target anyone. Simply because there is no limit to what people can rent rich or poor. we’ve got a range as wide as private jets & Ferraris to Hot dog cookers and beer kegs. So we’ll just let the market decide.

• How many people are using your services?
Last week we had about 20,000 active users.

• What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
Slow marketing. Marketing that focuses on improving the actual product, not convincing people to click on something. We figure they’ll come when they find out. The really tricky bit is having a service that is usable and great so they come back and also tell their friends. In addition, we’ve done a reasonable job at generating a lot of PR and have been in every major newspaper in Australia and some as far away as Spain. We’ve also had 2 interviews on national TV and been on many radio stations. So all that helps. But it all comes down to having something worth talking about. Not self promotion. People can check it all out on the rentoid blog www.rentoid.wordpress.com and the rentoid Youtube channel

• How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are there any special mechanisms/tools in place to monitor the progress?
The most important measures we care about are these; members, listings and transactions. Other measures that matter to us go beyond financial and are social. Connecting communities and doing something positive for the environment really matter to us a lot.

• What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is there any new model, which is being tried?
My view on monetizing is simple. Things that need to be monetized don’t really have a business model. They’re more like fun parks that attract people and then need to sell billboards of advertising to all the eyeballs.

We simply provide a service and charge a fee for it. Call us old-fashioned, but we like to keep things simple.

• Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
There are a few now Zliok in the USA and HireHub in the UK among a couple of others.

• What are the main technologies used behind this venture?
Nothing groundbreaking as far as technology is concerned. Everything is based on Linux open source. Other than that it’s a very simple website. Our focus is on service and usability, not technology, Technology never wins anyway and there are plenty of examples of the best technology losing the battle in the market.

• What has been the easiest to use, out of the box and helpful technology?
Elance, WordPress blog forum and Youtube to document rentoid videos. The stuff you can use these days to help you launch cheap and easily is absolutely world changing for entrepreneurs.

• Are you using a lot of open source tool sets for this?
Yes

• What is your operating environment (operating system) and what type of database you are using?
Linux Mysql

• What's your thought on being an entrepreneur? How tough it is to start a venture in Australia?
I love being an entrepreneur. It’s just pure fun and a real rollercoaster ride of excitement and disappointment. Starting a venture is so easy it’s a joke. Start up costs have never been lower. Especially on the net or even outsourcing production to China or elsewhere. The hard bit is making it stick, having the time to nurture your idea and let it grow and become financial – that’s never been harder. This is because the barriers to entry have been reduced, and there are many people in the game.

• What's your thought on the start-ups culture and innovation coming out of Australia?
To me, it still feels like Entrepreneur is a bit of a dirty word in Australia. It conjures up images of Charlatans and shonky car salesman. I feel we’ve got some really talented people here doing really cool stuff, but it’s kind of like an underground movement that hasn’t really caught the attention of the mainstream yet like it has in Silicon Valley and other overseas locations.

• What do you think the government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation and the IT industry?
2 things come to mind:
  • Provide better infrastructure like Free wifi in cities, airports, all Schools, and rural area coverage.
  • Stop being so patent focused for grants. Patents are worthless in technology, as people just work around them.
In short, if you look at the history of man, the most vibrant economies have always evolved from those with the best infrastructure. And in technology infrastructure Australia is quickly becoming 3rd world.

• If you are given an opportunity to change the nation, what 3 things you will do?
  • Make Higher Education free – remove Hecs
  • Invest in the renewable energy industry and provide real incentives for innovation. Significant tax breaks on Green cars, energy, and zero tax for a bone fide green business.
  • Improve the transport infrastructure in both depth and breadth as well as make it greener
I’d view eco challenges as an opportunity to become the strongest economy in the world by focusing on ‘green solutions’ in the post-industrial era economy.

• How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up? Do you have dedicated communities in your city?
I go to quite a few entrepreneur events like the Hive and the Churchill Club as well as being involved in the blogosphere. I also recently attended the first Melbourne Jelly event which was cool. I like being around like-minded people and exchanging ideas.

• Do you have any advice for people who want to start their venture?
Start. Start now, start today, just start. Keep your costs low so you can have more go at it when you fail. And you will fail. You must fail to learn and learn well.

Business plans aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Rentoid only has a 1-page plan. That’s it. We live in a world of flux – excessive business plans ignore flux, and create procrastination. I actually did a blog entry on this which summarizes my views clearly.

Thanks, Steve for sharing your thoughts with us. All the best for the future.

For coverage on other Australian startups, innovation, and tech trends check this out our coverage on interviews can be found here

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