Millennials love to share. Ridesharing, home-sharing, bike-sharing — you name it, they probably share it. They are proportionally comfortable using gig economy services that provide these things, with about a third of millennials working some sort of gig position themselves.
This generation also loves to travel, and many delay starting families (or forego it altogether) to continue exploring the world or otherwise pursue self-fulfillment. However, those who do have children aren’t about to let that put a damper on their adventurous lives.
Put those mindsets together and the result might be something like Babierge, a two-sided marketplace for renting baby gear while traveling so parents and grandparents don’t have to choose between transporting bulky strollers, cribs and toys or buying new stuff they don’t really need when they arrive, only to dispose of it when the trip is over.
Babierge CEO Fran Maier calls it “Airbnb for baby gear.”
The two-sided marketplace operates in 200 locations across the U.S. and Canada, with 250 trusted partners (independent contractors and mom-and-pop stores) providing gear in those markets. In most cases, the partners own, deliver and set up the gear themselves, then pick it up when the renter is done with it.
The use cases are broader than one might first imagine. Parents who are looking to rent on vacation can log on to Babierge to see what’s available nearby. Or, grandparents who are preparing to host their kids and grandkids from out of town can call to receive customer service and guidance around details like car seat size or choosing between a crib and a pack-and-play. In some cases, Babierge supplies additional equipment to hotel partners when they run short on things like cribs.
“It’s not hard to generate demand,” said Maier. “We’ve been expanding rapidly. We’re finding that this has been an underserved market for a long time. People travel with babies and need equipment, so we’re riding that wave.”
The unique thing about a two-sided marketplace is that it depends on users for both the buying side and the selling side, so the proposition must be attractive to both parties in order to balance supply and demand.
The benefit of Babierge to buyers — i.e., millennial parents — is fairly self-evident: They get to enjoy the convenience and peace of mind of clean, high-quality baby gear away from home, making a trip into a true vacation by removing many of the stresses around caring for a child.
On the seller side, Maier said, trusted partners who provide the equipment are essentially empowered to create and run their own business at whatever scale is comfortable for them. This can help stay-at-home moms generate a little extra income (an average of $600 per month) without sacrificing time with their child, Maier said.
Trusted partners can differentiate themselves by providing packages based on their market, such as a beach package in Miami. Some are also willing to meet families at the airport with gear.
Creating this entrepreneurial opportunity is how the platform ensures that people want to participate on both sides of the marketplace.
Price is calculated by type of item and duration of rental, plus fees for delivery and service. That bumps the average order over $150, Maier said — and the trusted partners keep around 80 percent of that. Payments are processed via Stripe.
The startup cost for trusted partners is $100 for onboarding and insurance, plus whatever equipment they plan to rent out. Maier said many start by renting out equipment they already have as parents, but as their business grows, they begin to invest in more gear, acquiring used cribs, strollers, toys and more from places like Craigslist, eBay and local markets.
Partners are trained during onboarding to ensure that gear is high-quality and clean before renting it out, and Maier said they take great pride in that, driven by their sense of ownership over the business. They’re also trained in hospitality and entrepreneurship. Partners must pass training quizzes before they’re approved as sellers.
For all that, Maier said the seller acquisition costs are not onerous and can generally be recouped within a couple of months.
On the Heels of Match.com
More than two decades ago, Maier helped found another marketplace whose name is still known, and whose legacy persists today: Match.com. She said the main difference between founding a digital company then and now is the lower barrier to entry.
Back then, a company had to buy servers and build its systems from scratch. Now, there are hosted servers, cloud accounting and payment platforms like Stripe. Sure, Google gets a big cut for hosting email, calendars and, of course, AdWords, but overall, the entry cost is more inviting to new players.
However, the ability to participate is no guarantee of success, and that’s where Maier’s past experience could serve Babierge well.
Match.com is one of the only brands of its era that still exists. Maier said that’s because the company got in early and was able to establish brand leadership. In the same way, she said, Babierge hopes to build a good competitive advantage today through partnerships, fast growth and acting like a leader.