Useley is a new CDTM startup which surprisingly has founders from three different cohorts! Mark Kugel (Summer 2014), Pascal Fritzen (Fall 2014) and Lucy Ivanova (Fall 2013) are an international team with different education backgrounds, different universities and yet they somehow came together to work on this startup through the magic of the CDTM community. As they say themselves, half of it was about the idea and half of it about the team, and how they worked together, that made this enterprise tick.
They all came together soon after Pascal’s MPD Design fair (the final presentation of one of CDTM’s core courses). Pascal’s project was about a digital lock based solution for automatic check-ins in hotels. Inspired by that solution, the team came up with a startup idea around smart lockers that are connected to the Internet and can be used for convenient item handover. Looking for a promising entry market, they decided to create Useley – an ingenious application for sharing valuable items.
Most of us possess products which are quite expensive but are used maybe only a couple of times a year. For items like a high-end digital camera, a Go-Pro, or a drill machine, there is a huge gap between usage and possession time. Useley offers a platform where such items can be shared with others. Using this digital market place, you can affordably rent a variety of products or make some money as a lender. Useley’s team estimates that usage of many products can be increased by up to 90% that way.
The solution Useley has come up with is based on the principles behind the booming “sharing economy”, the most successful examples of which are Uber and Airbnb. But Useley’s team didn’t take this at face value and instead put into practice all the lean methodology, design thinking and customer development lessons learnt at CDTM by testing the market with multiple product iterations, ideas and interviews with a large number of potential customers.
On the lender side for example, they asked people if they would be willing to share such expensive possessions and thereby acquired their first lenders. The team went around with a sheet of paper asking students whether they would share e.g. their GoPro, their beamer or game console and under what conditions. They talked to more than 120 people and found out the reasons which made people hesitant in sharing goods. This is a perfect example of a strategy which can’t be scaled but which brings the business very close to its customers and serves as a marketing tool, too. The Useley team is also keeping it very practical at the moment and focusing on items which are physically possible for the team of three to transport by themselves. In this way they are trying to figure out the exact pain points and providing solutions for that. While Uber and Airbnb may have perfected the “shared economy” problem for homes and cars, Useley is honing the processes for somewhat cheaper yet still valuable possessions. It is a wonderful example of design thinking applied to real life scenarios.
For the borrower side, Useley had a rather magical moment when a friend they talked to mentioned to Mark that he would be going to the Alps and would like a Go-Pro if they had one. They did, and Mark personally delivered that item to conclude one of the first transactions of Useley. It was the first validation with an actual customer. But the magic moment came later when the borrower shared with the Useley team the videos he’d made with the Go-Pro. This showed that Useley is not only about sharing products but also about creating new experiences and memories, which wouldn’t have been affordable otherwise. As they said themselves, Useley is about enabling people to enjoy a higher quality of life without breaking the bank: “You don’t have to own it to experience it”.
After almost five months of market research and testing, Useley formally launched the platform in September. The team is also working on Useley’s insurance strategy as part of their last CDTM core course: Entrepreneurship Lab. Currently, in true entrepreneurial spirit, the Useley team takes it upon themselves to cover the risk of product damages or loss.
What keeps Useley going is the drive to have a positive impact and the pure fun of doing something new. Something that has not been there before and creating value for their customers and society with that. But the Useley team is not taking the fancy road of rhetoric. Their strategy is to get down and dirty with implementation of everything they want to try and to test, test and test! With the positive results the team has received in the last few months they are thinking about raising a seed round to take this venture forward.