Ever wanted to try kite surfing? What about surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, whitewater or tour kayaking, camping, rock climbing, snowboarding, skiing, spearfishing or freediving? If your adrenaline is already rushing, awesome: Now, it’s time to gather the appropriate outdoor adventure gear, and chances are StokeShare has it.
StokeShare is an online marketplace connecting users that want to try a sport to other users that want to rent out their sporting and adventure gear. Modeled after the typical sharing economy platform, the site launched back in April 2015 and already has more than 1,200 users swapping 500 items of gear in 16 states and 10 countries.
Joel Cesare, who cofounded the sharing economy marketplace with Warren Neilson, says the business is the Uber of Action Sports Equipment and quickly adds: “We also like to think of it as Airbnb meets REI.” In fact, he says StokeShare's goal is to become the world’s largest library of outdoor sports equipment.
So, let’s get a jump right into it, shall we? Let’s say you’re in Los Angeles and you want to rent a surf board. You hit up StokeShare’s website, search by region, check out the map and the list that pops up. Next, filter by type of board, price (set by the equipment’s owner) and maybe even how easy it is to get to the beach. Once you choose your board and the board owner accepts, you’ll start communicating through the platform, figuring out where to meet and how the handoff will happen. After a radical day of surfing, you return the board to its owner and write a review of your experience through the site. StokeShare’s cut? A 5 percent fee of the total transaction value.
But, just like Uber and Airbnb, Cesare contends, StokeShare isn’t just about the transactions and services, it’s about community: There’s an underlying person-to-person experience that occurs. Just like when you’re chatting it up with your Uber driver about their favorite restaurant or learning about the can’t-miss local sights from your Airbnb host, Cesare says StokeShare encourages users to learn from each other about action sports and outdoor activities — all by “Sharing the Stoke.”
That sharing is layered further, as StokeShare also has a social entrepreneurial side of the business: One Watershed. StokeShare organizes events for at-risk youth and nonprofit organizations to share their love of action and outdoor sports opportunities.
Cesare shared with PYMNTS about founding StokeShare and what it’s like to ride the waves of the sharing economy and social entrepreneurship.
What is the mission around StokeShare, and what benefit does it provide?
Our mission fundamentally is to help people access the outdoors. My cofounder and I both have a sustainability background, we’re environmentally-driven and we both love the outdoors and are outdoor enthusiasts ourselves. We attribute that to an upbringing spent in the outdoors, in nature. Like skiing, snowboarding, surfing, camping, hiking.
So, we think if our platform can make it easier for people to have those same experiences, then we’ll be contributing to an overall awareness focused on the environment and society.
And the other benefit is that we think there is a very cool aspect of the shared economy in general that is getting people in society connected to each other.
We didn’t call our site “GearShare” but rather “StokeShare,” and that’s because we’re not just about people sharing gear. We’re about people exchanging life vows, ideas, knowledge and experience. The sports that we’re trying to facilitate — especially some of the ones that are more dangerous, like kite surfing, whitewater kayaking and spear fishing — you know, these aren’t sports that you can just walk into a sporting goods store and say, “Hey, I want to try that!”
A lot of people out there would love to try these sports, but there is a particular barrier to entry. So, we’re designing the marketplace not only to allow for the gear to be to be exchanged to try that sport but also for the local expert who is passionate about their sport and they know where and how to use the gear in the most efficient and safe manner, can also relay that knowledge to the user and allow this “Stoke” to be shared.
Tell us more about One Watershed and StokeShare’s social entrepreneurship?
We’re not just a shared economy marketplace. We’re mission-driven. We’re social entrepreneurs. We really believe there is a unique opportunity to use gear in the marketplace to better society.
Over the year and a half that we’ve been in operation, we have a side of our business that’s a social-driven side, which is called One Watershed. It’s where we work with at-risk youth nonprofits.
We take gear from our marketplace, meaning we reach out to our users that are looking to rent their gear on StokeShare.com. We say: “Hey, we’re going to partner with 20 kids in Los Angeles, and they’re with an at-risk youth group in downtown, and this is a way we’re trying to empower leadership and give these kids the chance to try this sport where they otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity. Can we use your surfboard to take these kids outdoors?”
We’ve been doing that, and it’s been incredibly successful. We’ve so far had eight events, with five different at-risk youth nonprofits: Stoked Mentoring, LAPD Cadets, Real Options for City Kids, 7 Tepees and Natural Leaders. We’re a for-profit sharing economy marketplace, but we think we have this great idea to leverage the gear in our marketplace to help at-risk youth get outdoors and hopefully solve numerous problems in that regard.
The term "Uber of X" — what does it mean to you?
I guess we would be the Uber of Action Sports Equipment. We can’t deny, we were lured, partly by the early time of Uber and Airbnb, to facilitate a new way of running a business and allowing people to become micro-entrepreneurs.
My cofounder, Warren, and I both have sustainability backgrounds, and we saw the value in allowing people to share their unused assets, which is what Uber and Airbnb are doing as well, but we think there’s definitely an environmental argument to be made to allow those unused assets to continue on in their life and provide value to people moving forward and prevent people from having to buy things that they don’t need, or can’t afford, which opens the number of resources and contributes to the reduction of waste as well.
StokeShare puts a high emphasis on peer reviews. Why?
When you would click on a user’s profile, you can evaluate who they are and how they have operated in the past on StokeShare — because people review each other. That’s a very important facet of our business because the reputation of our users through their peer reviews is essential to trust and the reputation of the website.
How much funding have you received?
We are completely bootstrapped right now.
Starting as a business in the sharing economy can be tough. What hurdles have you overcome?
Designing the website so it’s optimal for the user experience has been challenging. We’re trying to make it easy for those who are entering the space for the first time. And there are logistics within the shared economy that need to be worked out as well. People want to rent gear from each other. There’s no doubt about that. We have a lot of activity on the website, and we have a lot of inquiries.
Logistics is another. We just did a survey of our customers that said more than 96 percent of them are willing and have a desire to rent the gear from someone else, but they expressed concern about the actual exchange. So, getting two people to meet to exchange when there are schedules and finding places to meet, drop it off, return it. That takes time and logistics, and that has been a challenge.
There is definitely a concern among people that own the gear. The worry that it’ll be damaged or stolen. And certainly, particular types of gear, like surfboards, people are very attached to. So, we understand that. But we do think, in time, we’ll be able to provide solutions for all of these issues.
Who else in the space is giving you a run for your money?
I don’t want to name our other competitors, but there is one that was just a bikesharing business and expanded into paddleboards and skis. Another one in the northeast that recently went out of business. There are probably six or seven that are dabbling in some facet of action sports sharing. Some are doing camping only; some are doing surfing only. And then, there is one that has a delivery option, so they may have to own or have inventory, so it won’t be completely peer-to-peer.