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icymi: Skipti takes Airbnb concept to next level

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Rich Engstrom, second from right, chats with Michael Arner, front, while meeting with Ioana Engstrom, left, and Lynn Platow, right, as they discuss Skipti, which is designed to connect owners of household goods with people who want to rent them. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Uber and Airbnb have turned the sharing economy into a global phenomenon, but the next big thing in peer-to-peer online rental services may carry a Made-in-New Mexico stamp.

Skipti, the new platform, will launch in June to connect owners of household goods with people who want to rent them, courtesy of longtime Albuquerque entrepreneurs Rich and Ioana Engstrom.

It’s been two years in the making, starting with Rich Engstrom’s original Skipti eureka! moment in fall 2015, followed by an 18-month effort to build foundational software in partnership with Romanian engineers. In the process, the Engstroms have assembled a team of internet professionals to take the business forward.

Skipti executives, including Michael Arner, left, meet in Albuquerque with Mike DePace from Boston, Radu Busuioc from Romania, and J. Pablo Puerta from San Francisco. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

That includes renowned sharing-economy guru Juan Pablo Puerta, a Spaniard who built craigslist into a worldwide brand and who led international expansion efforts for Yahoo Search, Etsy and SoundCloud. Puerta came out of semi-retirement to lead Skipti as CEO because of the concept’s potential.

“It’s a model that makes sense, with a platform that’s built to basically rent out anything,” Puerta said. “Skipti is fundamentally an Airbnb for everything.”

Through Skipti, which means “exchange” in Icelandic, people with things to rent can rapidly upload photos and descriptions of items onto the platform with a suggested price tag. They log rental availability onto Skipti’s built-in calendar, allowing renters to select items and pay for them with a few finger clicks. That automatically alerts Skipti partner Deliv.co to pick up the rented good from its owner, deliver it to the renter and return it again afterward based on the times and dates logged on the calendar.

Unlike other sharing platforms, that process eliminates “meet-ups,” making transactions safer and easier for participating parties, said Ioana Engstrom, the company’s head of investor relations. All rental items are insured against theft, breakage or bodily injury.

“Owners can rent practically anything, from cameras, costumes and party stuff to tools, baby equipment or even books for students,” Ioana said. “They can also create bundled rentals, say for a weekend camping trip with all the needed equipment delivered in a single package.”

Skipti earns a 15 percent charge on each transaction, but the company says cost comparisons for dozens of household items show Skipti renters could save an average of 42 percent compared with traditional rental services.

Skipti basically puts everybody’s “excess capacity” to work by pulling idle goods out of closets and garages, said Rich Engstrom.

“It’s the same concept as Uber, where people who don’t use their car all the time can now make money off that ‘excess capacity’ by connecting up with people who need rides,” he said. “But in this case, there’s no driving around at night, and someone else will pick up the items and return them to owners.”

Some estimates indicate that about $1.6 trillion in excess stuff is sitting around unused in U.S. homes, Engstrom added.

The Skipti concept is based on today’s growing population of baby boomers and others who live on fixed incomes and need extra money. That, combined with the millennial generation’s preference for renting or leasing things rather than owning them, constitutes the company’s target market.

The official launch starts June 16 in Boston, chosen for its millennial population of university students, large community of fixed-income homes and the city’s reputation for embracing sharing services like Uber and Airbnb. The initial launch will last three months, providing critical feedback to improve Skipti’s platform before spreading nationwide and beyond, Ioana said.

Company executives have invested nearly $1 million of their own sweat equity and capital. They’ve also raised $500,000 in seed funding and are now working on a $2.5 million round of venture investment with help from a Utah fund.

The company will remain headquartered in Albuquerque, where the Engstroms and two other Skipti executives live. The full eight-member team, however, meets virtually every week at RIEtech Global, a manufacturing company run by Rich Engstrom in the north Interstate 25 industrial corridor.

All the executives have their own businesses, but they’re now focusing full time on Skipti.

“We’ve all stepped back from operational roles in our own companies to dive into this, because we believe it could be bigger than anything we’ve done before,” said Skipti Chief Branding Officer Lynn Platow, a digital design executive from New York.

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