yerdle: Exploring Decentralization at Cleantech Forum San Francisco 2014

On March 11-13, Cleantech Group is hosting the largest and longest running Cleantech forum in the world, Cleantech Forum San Francisco 2014. This annual gathering of the global cleantech innovation community offers a comprehensive development program along with exclusive opportunities to network and make deals happen. In the lead up to the Forum, we’re chatting with leaders across the resource innovation space to discuss the changes decentralization is causing across different markets, end-users, enterprises, technologies, and business models. Yerdle2

Andy Rubin is Co-founder and CEO of yerdle.

What is the essence of yerdle’s story?

The idea of yerdle starts in our closets and garages: all of the high quality items we collectively own are perfectly good to someone else even if we, the current owners, are done with those items. This is not a fundamentally different idea, but the way that yerdle is bringing this market and community together, that’s what’s extraordinary. Yerdle grants shoppers access–through information and through mobile–to the collective warehouse that is all of our closets and garages.

The push for me to help start yerdle came from my 20 year experience in retail. The last 10 were spent as a senior executive at Walmart, and included starting the sustainability group there. What I realized there was the importance of two things- the power of price, and the enormity of the environmental footprint of products.

How do you describe yerdle’s market? 

When I started sustainability at Walmart, the realization was that where the footprint really mattered was in the supply chain. The procurement and movement of the products is, by far, the single largest component of a product’s footprint. Yes, we can produce products in a way that is less bad, like creating a jacket where the patterns are cut more exactly, so that there is less waste. That’s good and we should do that. It’s just that we’re selling a thousand times as many of those items. So the math just doesn’t add up. That math doesn’t get us to a different future.

What warehouse is bigger than Walmart and Amazon combined? Our closets and garages. yerdle has created a supply chain that exists outside of the classic supply chain. What’s the supply chain footprint for the turntable I just got off of yerdle? It’s zero. It wasn’t produced, procured, moved. New energy didn’t go into making another one. It exists, it works, it was in my neighborhood. This is a massive market opportunity, because – as we estimate – there are $5 trillion of goods in our closets and garages in the US alone. Our closets and garages, collectively, are the world’s biggest warehouse.

The theme for Cleantech Forum San Francisco 2014 hinges on decentralization: have you seen this influence affect yerdle, or yerdle’s market, or yerdle’s journey?

The idea of sharing something with a close friend who is at your house… that’s existed for a millennia. But to be able to that on mobile, with technology, at scale, is just now starting to happen. So this is a perfect example of decentralization, where the power is now literally in the hands of the consumer to make some really smart, affordable decisions with positive, enjoyable results. The key to unlocking all of this has been information: information about what is out there, where it exists, and how to get it when and where you need it. That’s what yerdle does.

With this tech-enabled idea in mind, yerdle launched on Black Friday 2012. At first, the “warehouse” of items available to you was based on Facebook data. Namely, you had access to the closets and garages of your friends and friends’ friends. So this “warehouse”, as we first built it, was gaining traction… but not quickly enough to fundamentally change the way we consume.  We stepped back over the summer of 2013 to address this, and to focus on three major changes: 1) make it completely mobile, 2) open up the “warehouse” network to all people on the yerdle community (this helps givers find a good home for their item, and it makes it much easier for shoppers to find the tent, blender, or turntable they need), and 3) we reimagined the currency of reuse and reciprocity with yerdle credits.

Yerdle credits are issued to users when they first sign up. The way you earn more credits is by giving away items to the rest of the yerdle community. In this way, yerdle credits enable you to turn those items you currently own into value that you can use to obtain items you are looking for now. All of this adds up to saving money, building a community, and massively reducing waste in the supply chain.

This reimagined product was launched on Black Friday 2013, and we’ve been blown away by the traction. On a daily basis, we have a new item getting posted every few minutes. We’re doing thousands of transactions per week. Even at this early stage we’re freeing up an incredible amount of items, and that’s really exciting for my team.

Where do you envision yerdle to be over the coming years?

Shoppers today stand in Walmart and look at a Lego Architecture set. The price might be $44 at Walmart, and $47 at Amazon with two-day free shipping if you have Amazon Prime. However, there might be a Lego Architecture set that has never been used (or, if so, its condition will be just fine) within the yerdle community available to that shopper for free. This situation just played itself out 2 weeks ago in our community. But what we want to happen is for that shopper to turn first to their yerdle app when they’re looking for that Lego set. We’re not first yet, but we’re getting there.

What are some of the challenges facing yerdle today?

Right now, the challenge is getting an awareness of the products available in closets and garages. So we need to figure out what motivates somebody to go into a closet and free those products, to pull out a high quality item that they are done with. Yerdle credits, this economy of reuse, it looks like that’s going to be the motivation.

Can you share something on what you like most about working at yerdle?

Honestly, the excitement I have is about being a part of something much larger. Yerdle is helping to accelerate a truly positive change in the way we live and consume. When I get a board game off of yerdle, I know my two kids are going to enjoy it for about two weeks before they get bored of it. But with yerdle, we can move this dynamic to a place where that’s fine. It will allow me to put that same board game, the one my family is done with, back out there into the market for someone else to enjoy.

Another example is our project with Patagonia. The conversations we’re now having are about miles per jacket. In how many adventures can a single jacket take part? How many fun nights can a single board game create? We’re working with Williams Sonoma… how many chefs can be inspired by one appliance? These ideas are incredibly exciting to me, and to the yerdle team.

What’s especially fun about working with partners like Patagonia is the alignment of our missions. Patagonia is on a mission to both make really high quality outerwear and equipment while also leading the business community. They are fully behind the idea that a high-quality jacket can be worn by multiple outdoor enthusiasts.

How can a single Patagonia jacket keep 5 people warm? Let me tell you. We partnered with them to place on the yerdle platform inventory that they could not sell new (for example, returned items) and it was great to see all of the reuse and reciprocal activity this inventory spurred within the yerdle community. Our Black Friday partnership with Patagonia showed that for every Patagonia item placed on the yerdle platform, there were 5 other Patagonia-like items put onto the platform in return.  This is a great model for what happens to an item on its second, third, fourth life.

And it’s great to be working now with a few such partners like Patagonia on similar projects. Brands like Patagonia that make quality gear are very well positioned for the direction consumption is headed, and yerdle can help. End-of-life is a silly term because the Legos are not done, they’re just done with that particular user. We’re the retailer for the sharing economy that makes possible extending, at scale, the lives of these useful products.

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yerdle is the first national sharing retailer, where people give and get things for free. Accessible via website or iOS app, yerdle makes it easy and fun to share things, helping people save money and save the planet by re-using what we already have. Founded by leaders in retail and collaborative consumption and backed by Greenstart and Silicon Valley angel investors, yerdle’s mission is to eliminate 25 percent of new merchandise sales by making it easy for people to find what they need from others willing to give it away. For more information and to sign up for our daily email of great stuff on yerdle, please visit http://yerdle.com.