In Depth

Payments And The Summer Of Sharing

A little over a generation ago — 28 years to be exact — about 100,000 Americans celebrated the Summer of Love by converging on San Francisco. At the same time,  a much larger number of Americans watched the summer of love unfold on that era’s emerging technology (television), and were concerned that hippies were about to press their Birkenstocked feet firmly against the gas pedal and drive the nation right over a cliff.   

Almost 30 years later another “Summer Of…” is ready to emerge, also centered and started in San Francisco and also named for an ideal we all learned to enshrine in kindergarten: sharing. Though this version is less based on “Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out” and a lot more about “Log On, Click Through, Tap to Pay,” as a generation of people are learning that with the power of mobile there is almost nothing they can’t get someone else to do for them — for the right price.  

From getting a ride, to shopping for groceries, to finding a place to stay in a new city, we all know the “standard” uses for the sharing economy and the big name startups that stand behind them. 

Take for instance, Airbnb. This week, news broke that Airbnb is closing in on a $1.5 billion investment round that pegs their valuation at $24 billion. That $1.5 billion would tie Airbnb with Facebook for the largest equity raise in history. Uber, never content to let anyone else be No. 1 at anything in the sharing economy, is also pursuing a $1.5 billion round that will put their valuation at about $50 billion.

islandBut what about if your needs are just a little more niche? Maybe you just don’t want to wash your own clothes, or need a roommate, or can not live another happy moment without visiting Richard Branson’s private island (pictured).

Good news – the summer of sharing has an app for you too, and PYMNTS has your guide to how to get in on some of the more new and novel ways of sharing.  

Laundry  

There is no shortage of Uberized laundry services out there: Cleanly, FlyCleaners and Washio all offer laundry delivery using a smartphone app.

But San Francisco-based Rinse wants to turn up the speed on their spin cycle, so to speak, and convinced investors to pour $3.5 million in seed money into its business. That beats out rivale Cleanly’s $2.3 million seed round by over $1 million.

Rinse co-founder and Chief Executive Ajay Prakash says the funds will help the business expand Rinse services to Los Angeles and bring on new workers. Rinse holds a unique spot in the sharing economy from an HR point of view – employees are all W-2 workers with benefits, as opposed to the independent 1099 contractors that mostly staff the sharing economy.

So who is using Rinse? Tech-savvy millennial customers, of course.

And, though the explosion of “laundry on demand” has surprised many, Virginia-based research firm BIA/Kelsey estimates that the dry cleaning, laundry and coin-operated services industry is worth $26.5 billion in the U.S.

That’s a lot of socks to have someone else wash.  

Housing

Consumers who need a roommate — and/or who have a roommate but are desperate for a non-awkward way to manage household expenses that doesn’t involve leaving passive aggressive notes on the bathroom mirror — just caught a big break.   

Roomi is a new startup that is all about making sure the match between roommates is a good fit, provided those potential roomies are iPhone users and are moving to New York or within New York. That’s the only city it’s currently available in and it hasn’t launched on Android yet.

The Roomi app launched June 12 — and with some solid backing behind it. It scored $2 million in seed funding in a round led by DCM Ventures. Other participants included Great Oak Ventures, Sand Hill East, Jeff Dishner, Greg Kidd, Arihant Patni, Jeff Penney, and AngelList Consumer Fund.

How does it work?

Well, sort of like a dating site — except instead of asking potential roomies about hobbies and interests, it asks more personal information about daily habits, like allergies, daily routines and schedule.

Once matched, Roomi also has a built-in message option so its users can connect via the app to people they may potentially live with. It also allows people who are interested in a particular apartment to see if they are the right match. Additionally, Roomi lets users wanting to find a roommate advertise on the app.

“We built Roomi to change the way the world thinks about roommates,” the company’s site states. “We envision a world in which the person you live with matters as much as the place. We believe in taking the fear of the unknown out of moving and helping people feel at home wherever they live.”

In its current incarnation, the service is free – however CEO and founder Ajay Yadav told TechCrunch that it may look to monetize the service by adding in other rental services, like rent pay (a la RadPad) and credit checks.

However finding the roommate isn’t everything – one has to get along with them as well. No matter how well screened they were at the beginning, dividing up the bills has dissolved many a domestic relationship. Luckily, there are apps for that, too.

Comfy and Glassjar both emerged in Spring 2015 as solutions for group payments – operating on a system where individuals in a household pay their share of the bills individually in-app — and then the app platform takes over responsibility for making the complete payment to the landlord/power company/cable provider.

“With the ability to collect roommates’ shared expenses and pay companies directly in a secure and easy way via mobile app, this product is for roommates who find themselves in painful and awkward situations asking each other for money every month or for students whose parents foot the bill each month from a distance. We solve these problems – permanently,” noted Comfy Co-Founder and CEO Jordan Wright.

Travel

So let’s say that a consumer wants to go on vacation, and they don’t want to stay in a hotel. Airbnb is the obvious solution, yes?  

But suppose those consumers don’t want to stay in a hotel but prefer the privacy of a private island, or want ducks flown in to their vacation backyard (so it feels like home), or need a temporary synagogue constructed on the premises for the duration of their stay. And add on the fact that they also must have a paleo, free-range and kosher diet.

Airbnb probably can’t help you.

But that doesn’t mean there is no help available — because thanks to the extraordinary efforts of a Canadian teenager 16 years ago there is, in fact, an app that can do all of that for consumers with those, uh, unusual vacation requirements.   

That app is called Luxury Retreats and it’s out there to connect one-percenters with the best the sharing economy has to offer.  

And by the best we mean Richard Branson’s private island is up for rent on the platform (for $78K per night) as is Francis Ford Coppola’s palazzo in Italy (for a much more affordable $10K per night). Those properties are in fact outliers, as most of the Luxury Retreats properties go for about $1,500 -$2,500 for an evening.

But Luxury Retreats is more than a place for very rich people to meet and trade properties. It’s a full-service hospitality organization. Everything on the platform has been vetted and certified before being listed and booking the property is just the beginning of the experience with Luxury Retreats, not the end.  

With a staff of 180 — some working remotely from Canada, others on-site and ready to roll in real-time — Luxury Retreats’ secret sauce is a concierge service. That staff is on call to make sure that 100 percent of guests’ desires are met. This includes the standard food and wine, to the more adventurous yachts and parasailing, and even the more peculiar need to have waterfowl on-site (not a joke, a very real thing Luxury Retreats has provided). Really, Luxury Retreats can provide just about anything, so long as those needs falls within the limits of the law.  

“The sharing economy has exploded in popularity and we see a big opportunity in delivering predictability and consistency to our guests,” CEO Joe Poulin noted in a recent PYMNTS interview. “Which is why our focus is on acting as a concierge service for all of our guests.”

“Luxury is not sold,” Poulin noted. “It’s delivered.”

Luxury … and, it seems, everything else this summer.

Is the Summer of Sharing a good thing?

Well it’s much less likely to freak out the squares than the Summer of Love once did, and it is hard to argue with a service that will fold your laundry or make it theoretically possible to watch “The Godfather Trilogy” in Francis Ford Coppola’s home.

Still it does make one wonder: What will be next for the sharing economy?

Shoe-tying? Flossing? We don’t know, but we’ll be sure to tell you all about it when it happens. What we do know is, thanks to the ability to easily embed payment into any kind of sharing app, the chances that more sharing apps will emerge is highly likely.

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