Having too much stuff can be a serious problem, particularly for apartment dwellers who don’t have space to keep things around. You buy something you think you’ll use all the time (I’m looking at you, Rock Band drums) but it ends up sitting idly, hidden under that pair of caribou antlers you still haven’t bothered to hang up.
You might still have to do the spring cleaning on your own, but one startup can help you make a little money (or at least a bit of karma) by lending out that extra stuff to a neighbor in need. Spare to Share is looking to break into a new branch of the collaborative consumption market, helping neighbors share their idle items using an online inventory system. This not only allows people to make money from renting their unused items, but also opens a path of communication between neighbors and will even help the borrower avoid having to buy one of their own.
We chatted with Spare to Share founder Greg Jaros, who talked with us about his impressive entrepreneurial history, how he likes to unwind by shooting some hoops, and the fateful party tent that pushed him to finally pursue his idea of a neighbor-sharing network.
What is the backstory behind Spare to Share?
I was working as CIO of a commercial credit bureau in Skokie when I started to become aware of the collaborative consumption movement. This awareness coincided with a constant observation that I was making in my personal life. In socializing with friends and family I started noticing that everywhere I went there were hundreds of valuable and rarely used items sitting on shelves, closets and garages.
Whether it was DVD’s, video games, books or board games in the house, or tools in the garage, everyone seemed to have the same things laying idle most of the time. Then my kids started getting older and needed things for school like books and calculators, things for sports, for music lessons, etc. Once you also think about the environmental impact in the creation of these items it begins to be ridiculous!
My wife is very good at working her network and she is often on the phone calling up her sisters and friends looking for things. My background is in technology and my expertise is in information organization and analytics. I began to think about how great it would be to have a virtual inventory of all these things owned by friends and neighbors for people to search. But it’s tough to take the plunge and actually start a business.
What put me over the edge was planning for my daughter’s 8th grade graduation party in our backyard. As usual my wife was working her network finding folding tables and chairs, coolers, a fire pit, etc., but we could not find a party tent. I finally gave up and bought a nice tent that I figured I would use once a year or so.
The party started and the first person that arrived actually said to me “I have this exact tent in my garage, you should have called me to borrow it.” That was what made me decide this was something that needed to be done. And not just a classified-like bulletin board with listings of “I’m looking for…” but a database of items to borrow from people you know, or rent from people you live near, with images and descriptions like you’re used to seeing on Amazon.
Shortly after this I started building my business plan and eventually quit my job to create the alpha version of the product.
When did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I started my career at Anderson Consulting in an internal developer role in the Chicago office. I learned quickly that giant companies were not for me; as one of tens of thousands of employees it was difficult to have any real influence.
A couple years after my graduation from DePaul I started looking for a small startup to work at so I could see how a company gets started and have a larger role in the success of the venture. I guess you could say this was when I learned I wanted to be an entrepreneur, in my mid twenties.
Through a college contact I lucked into a consulting role at a Chicago consultancy startup called Technology Solutions Company. This was a great chance to see a successful firm grow quickly. We had great success at TSC and had our IPO a few years later.
After five years at TSC I was in with a core group of exceptionally smart and motivated consultants in the firm. Some of the most senior in this group decided to break off and form a new company, Diamond Technology Partners (later Diamond Management Consultants, recently acquired by PWC). They invited me to come with as a co-founder and I jumped at the chance. This was a great learning opportunity for me and a big success overall. We IPO’ed a few years later and I built a great network of friend and business contacts who continue to help me today.
As Diamond got very large I found myself wanting to create something new. Through a Diamond relationship I met the two founders of a startup called PayNet and soon came on board as their CIO. I spent 9 years there and help them build a successful, profitable and sustainable business. That leads me to where I departed to create Spare to Share.
What do you like to do for fun?
Raising three teenagers and running a startup takes a lot of time so sadly I don’t do as many non-work things as I would like. Also, in this technology age you are always accessible and always ‘on’ so it’s not like evenings are free. But I try to fit in my social passions in when I can.
Spending time with my family is my first passion. I also enjoy digital photography and am the image historian of my friends and family, taking pictures, organizing them and even scanning in old family and friend photos.
I also love playing basketball and try to do it a couple days per week even though my skill level is quite low. My next plan is to take up the guitar but I am not making much progress on this yet.
What keeps you motivated throughout the workday?
I’m fortunate that solving problems motivates me. Whether it is a business problem, technology problem, or helping others with career counseling, I enjoy making sense of complicated issues, and turning these issues into easy to understand stories and infographics.
With Spare to Share I am motivated by thinking of the money people can save if they buy less stuff, the new friends they can meet in their buildings, and the dramatic effect it could have on the earth to generate less stuff. I really want to change the way people think about accessing things.
I believe that someone is going to be hugely successful in this space and it will help millions of people. I am motivated to make sure that my little startup plays a role in this huge space.
Who are some people that inspire you?
Some previous bosses and mentors top the list. Now that I am the CEO I often think of what they would do in a particular situation and find myself doing things that are based on actions and experiences I have seen in the past. I focus on one person for how he motivated staff and another for how he stayed focused amid distractions, another for how he worked like crazy to understand and solve an issue, and still another for how she stood up for what is right in spite of what is easy.
I am also very inspired by some contemporary figures I have not met like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg for their ability to just get it done regardless of the fact that others may not agree with or understand what they are doing. I admire Warren Buffett for his grounded positions on value.
In terms of historical figures my hero is Abraham Lincoln for effecting change that by today’s standard would look inconceivable. He grew up with nothing and educated himself (no “Lawyering for Dummies” book available back then), earned a reputation of honesty and integrity, rose to the height of political power and was able to accomplish not just what he thought was right, but what he knew was needed for long-term stability of our union.
What is your idea of happiness?
It’s not money, although having enough money that you don’t worry about money is a good thing. For me I am happiest when I am proud of myself and of my actions. Every once in a while I will make a joke that comes out wrong or unintentionally hurt or shun someone and I feel bad for days.
When I solve problems or help people I am happiest. Doing this for my family and friends is the best. When I am spending time with people who are important to me and helping to make their lives better, teaching them things, ensuring they feel good about the roles they play in my life, and contributing to the community as a whole then I feel the happiest. Also on those rare occasions when I put up a game winning three-pointer that feels pretty good too!
What advice would you give to any beginning entrepreneurs out there?
Take a chance! We have so many gifts being born at this time in this place, it is unremarkable to find a career where you can make some money, gain some stability and pass the years of your life away. And then there is the remarkable potential of wealth creation and the ability to influence positive human behavior that can come from being an entrepreneur.
Being one of the masses working in a place in which you are not an owner is not a path that will motivate an entrepreneur in the long run. Take a chance, and do it while you are young. It’s possible to do later but life happens and can easily get in the way.
Take the plunge and get into a situation where you have equity in the venture. This is the best way to motivate yourself and others. If you are driven to increase the value of the firm for overall wealth creation you will find you are making long-term decisions that are best for everyone instead of just crossing things off your task list.
Check your ego at the door. Surround yourself with people who are smarter then you and complement your skills. Do not worry about competition or who knows most. Instead think about how you can be better around a group of smart people than on your own.
Run a lean ship. Until you are flush with cash, minimize amenities. Live and work cheap. Always “have the back” of your team even in front of your clients (within reason of course). Finally, if you can get to the point where you can save up some money it opens lots of doors. Worrying about paying the bills on that big house and expensive car is draining and limits your options. Live lean, save up, and have some money in reserve so that you can take a chance when it presents itself.
What does 2013 have in store for Spare to Share?
We are currently looking for additional pilot buildings in the Chicago area to prove the viability of our business in this market. Is this what the marketplace wants? Does it solve a real problem for property managers? Does it attract users? Will people use it? Will they use it more than once? We will find the answers to these questions over the next couple quarters and pivot, accelerate, or slow down as needed. If things are going well we will prepare for expansion into another market later this year and several new markets in 2014.
In terms of the product we are in the process of rebranding and enhancing the website, completing the renting and sharing functionality, and will be working on the mobile app shortly.
Posted By Adam Fridman
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