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Near Me offers platform for sharing-economy marketplaces
Near Me offers 'turnkey solution' to set up peer-to-peer business
Updated 1:41 pm, Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Online marketplaces that help people make money off their spare time, goods or services are Silicon Valley's latest craze. Airbnb, which lets people rent rooms or apartments to travelers, is a pioneer in this movement, called the sharing economy.
Now a San Francisco company called Near Me offers a "just-add-water" software platform for companies large and small that want to create their own sharing economy marketplace. Near Me sells the ability to create the Airbnb for anything.
Canal boats in Amsterdam, dog-sitters in New Zealand, and golf clubs and golf lessons in South Carolina are among the markets Near Me has powered, said co-founder and CEO Michelle Regner.
"What they're doing gives companies the opportunity to craft their own great experiences," said Jeremiah Owyang, founder of Crowd Companies, an association for enterprises interested in the collaborative economy. "Something similar happened 15 year ago during the rise of MySpace and Friendster. A bunch of companies emerged that let other companies host their own version of social networks. Now we're seeing that pattern repeat itself with sharing marketplaces."
Next big movement
Regner said she and co-founder Adam Broadway, the chief technical officer, see "collaborative commerce" not as a trend but as the next big movement.
"We set out to create an all-in-one turnkey solution so anyone can set up their own peer-to-peer marketplace in minutes," she said. "We host it; you customize it for your market."
Near Me used its software to create a market called Desks Near Me that lets companies rent out extra office space. "We wanted to drink our own Kool-Aid and experience what it's like to build and run a full-functioning marketplace," Regner said.
Rent desk space
In operation for 18 months, Desks Near Me offers 12,000 desk spaces in 65 countries. Lawyers, design firms, accountants and even dental offices are among those renting out space. It handles about 700 bookings a month, for which it takes a 10 percent cut.
Near Me released its software platform in January but is still testing the process of working with clients, handpicking its first 20. It expects a full rollout this summer.
Surplus sales platform
Besides helping entrepreneurs, it also offers a sales platform for large enterprises that have surplus, often pre-owned goods.
Samco, which resells parts from nuclear power plants, is a client with a market called Nuclear Connect. "They are a traditional offline business that has been working off Excel spreadsheets and the phone for 25 years," Regner said. "One of those parts might go for $30,000."
Cisco created a marketplace for its second-hand routers and other hardware, offering the option to buy them in 50 currencies, she said.
One entrepreneurial client is James Rigor, co-founder and CEO of Riggalo.com, which lets people raise money for charity by sharing their skills - for instance, a company could hire a writer to produce a blog post for $50, which would go to the nonprofit of the writer's choice.
"Their platform had features we hadn't thought of, such as automatic e-mail reminders if people are inactive for a certain number of days, and a calendar for booking specific time slots," he said.
Rigor said the savings were big. "It would have cost upwards to $30,000 to $50,000 to get where we are today, and taken twice the amount of time with probably a subpar product. Instead it cost just a few thousand dollars," he said.
Near Me charges $5,000 to $15,000 for initial setup for entrepreneurs, with monthly hosting from $500 to $2,000. For large enterprises - companies with more than $10 million in annual revenues - setup is $30,000 to $50,000 with monthly fees at $3,000 to $4,000, Regner said.
'Plug and play'
Near Me's features include payment processing, extensive analytics and a custom iPhone app.
"The system is all plug and play," said Brett Stockley of Securabike, an Australian company that lets people rent their bike lockers. "It's perfect for finding, connecting and paying for marketplace products.
Berkeley's MyTurn has a platform for businesses, universities and municipal governments to create marketplaces for underutilized assets. It grew out of co-founder Gene Homicki's previous company, LocalTools, and still has more than 50 tool-lending libraries. Registered as a B corporation, meaning it has a social as well as profit-making purpose, the boot-strapped three-person company has more than 200 clients, Homicki said.
"We cater toward community groups, sharing locations where you get a mix of different socioeconomic levels," he said. "People with way too much stuff sharing things with people who really need them and maybe can't afford to buy them."
Sharetribe, based in Finland, also offers a platform for setting up sharing marketplaces.
1st funding round
Near Me, which so far has been backed by its co-founders, hopes to raise its first round of funding shortly, a relatively small infusion of up to $3 million. That will let it move its 14 employees out of a cramped 900-square-foot space in the South of Market neighborhood. Meanwhile, one day a month it uses Desks Near Me to rent "a bigger, more amazing space" as a change of pace.
"It's great to get out and get fresh perspective," Regner said.