Black Friday, you've met your match, says Yerdle

By Richard Nieva , written on November 23, 2012

From The News Desk

The other day I came across a Someecard that sums up why we may need the startup that launches today: “Sorry there’s no Black Friday deal for the hospital you’ll need after Black Friday.”

Enter Yerdle: a mobile app that says, to hell with shopping. It is an online network that connects users to real life friends and provides a forum for them to request and offer up old clutter – kneepads, a tent, a blender – that may be more useful to someone else. It’s sharing, not in the Facebook sense, but as in physical lending and borrowing. And the company’s founders picked Black Friday as its launch date (though only in the San Francisco Bay Area, for now) to try and prove a point that’s also the company mantra: Sharing is better than shopping.

The company has even called for people to avoid Black Friday shopping and instead participate in "the largest ever Black Friday giving spree" with Yerdle. That one sounds a bit farfetched. If they wanted to make real headway on that, they might have thought about lifting the press embargo a few days earlier, to get the word out before people were already in line at the mall. Still, the sentiment seems right.

Yerdle was founded by Carl Tashian, an early employee at Zipcar, Adam Werbach, former president of the Sierra Club, and Andy Ruben, former chief sustainability officer and head of global strategy at Walmart. The trio seems to be just as inspired by a social mission than a financial one, and their backgrounds give them some street cred. Comparing the experience to Zipcar, the shared care service that counts sustainability and economy among its corporate values, Tashian says, “There’s a similar thing going on here.”

To use the service, users create a profile and can list things they want or are willing to give away. They can search from a pool of friends’ -- and friends of friends’ -- items, pick out what they need, and either send over the item of meet up. (Delivery is free today only, but will soon cost a small fee through the company). Every item you give and take is recorded in a share history, so there is a karmic element at play. Some of the cofounders’ favorite shared items: a crash pad for mountain climbing, a soldering iron, and a men’s Oktoberfest outfit.

The idea is both simple and radical, though other "sharing" services like Airbnb have taken off. And Yerdle isn't the first service to offer smething beyond the traditional transaction. For example, the site Forewillow fosters the same type of swapping community, though focused primarily on clothes.

But the way the company plans to monetize is less radical. While friends in your network share things for free, you can choose to charge people who are outside of your network. Then, the site becomes more like any other secondhand Web marketplace, like eBay with less friction or Craigslist without the perverts -- all on a nicer mobile interface.

The founders know the site is not for everyone. “If somebody wants something right out of the box, they probably won’t get it from us,” says Ruben. The uphill battle is: there are many people who indeed want things right out of the box. A few impassioned users may fall in love with the service, but it’s hard to build a web business without mainstream appeal. And members of the paying out-of-network service will likely be people who have stuck around only because the core product won them over.

The business challenges may be daunting, but the company does have two things on its side: One, yard sales still haven’t gone away, and Yerdle captures that appeal. And two, someone you know will always need to borrow your blender. Always.