It’s safe to say the sharing economy isn’t going anywhere soon. From sharing a ride to borrowing books and taking a spin on someone else’s boat, the possibilities are endless. The success behind the sharing economy is typically due to the fact there’s an unaddressed need demanding attention.
Ever since the advent of laptops and the myriad of smart devices, there has been one major need that hasn’t quite gone under the radar — charging the batteries of these devices. Running low on power when out running errands and there’s either no outlet in sight or a charger has been forgotten at home is a real issue.
Cambridge-based company Oomf is looking to solve this problem with its cloud-based software that helps power our everyday lives. While the first integrations with Oomf’s software are two portable chargers, Oomf’s CEO said the range with which its platform can work knows no bounds. We sat down with Oomf CEO Gavin Gray to take a peek behind the curtain on Oomf to learn about what it offers and its 2017 plans.
PYMNTS: In your own words, what is Oomf about?
GG: Oomf is a cloud software platform that enables the sharing economy. We partner with manufacturers so they can integrate their products into our platform. We then distribute their products to markets where sharing makes sense. To help subsidize the cost of the shareable device, we find sponsors for financing, so it’s low- or no-cost for for the consumer to temporarily use.
The first product integrations into the Oomf platform we’ve been working on are two portable chargers: one for a smartphone and another for a laptop. Oomf users can locate a portable charger through our app, use it temporarily and return it when fully charged.
PYMNTS: What’s the story behind how Oomf started?
GG: In July 2014, our cofounder, James Riel, was out at a bar when his phone died. As he struggled to find a non-Uber mode of transportation to get home, the idea for a shareable, accessible portable power source came to him. He sought to make chargers available outside of the home in bars and restaurants so that their patrons could remain fully charged throughout their visit. With this, James hoped to eliminate being stranded due to a discharged battery.
In May 2015, James and I met, and Oomf was born. I was impressed by James’ unwavering commitment to give up a lucrative real estate career to pursue his idea full-time. Although he had prior experience in sales and marketing, he needed both engineering expertise and investment to get his idea off the ground. Through founding the company together, I helped build a world-class engineering team to build the product. I also brought the first series of investments to the table, but what excited me most was the possibility of expanding outside of just shareable portable power.
PYMNTS: How does the pricing model work, and how does Oomf get paid?
GG: Universities pay Oomf to make shareable products available on its campuses. Students can then use the shareable products free of charge. The same model applies in other markets. For example, we have shareable smartphone chargers in 16 bars in restaurants in Boston Logan Airport. Airmall, the concessions management company, pays Oomf to make shareable portable chargers available at no cost for airport guests.
PYMNTS: Who does Oomf see as its competition, if any, and why?
GG: The idea of sharing “things” using an app is not new. There have been several companies that have built a platform to allow people to share things between each other; however, these platforms were fundamentally flawed because they lacked accessibility and convenience. For example, if I need a snow shovel right now, there’s no way I’m going to trek a mile in the snow to borrow it from a neighbor for $5. It’s not worth my time. Instead, I’ll purchase a snow shovel for $20 at my local hardware or grocery store since it’s more convenient.
Imagine instead if there were snow shovels attached using a smart lock to every street lamp in Boston. In order to gain access to the snow shovel, simply find the nearest street lamp, unlock the shovel using an app, shovel your walkway and return the shovel when done. This approach to accessible sharing is typically much more convenient and cost-effective for the consumer.
This is what Oomf does. Our cloud platform enables any product to be both shareable and accessible. While there are a number of car sharing, bike sharing and portable charger sharing services on the market already, we are the only platform that can provide sharing and accessibility to any connected “thing.”
PYMNTS: Since its 2015 inception, how much has Oomf grown year over year? Does it have any future projections for where it hopes to grow within the next few years?
GG: In Feb. 2016, Oomf launched its first shareable product in multiple test markets. In April 2016, Oomf released that product on its first college campus: Northeastern University (NU). Considering the rampant adoption at NU, Oomf decided to focus its sales efforts exclusively on the collegiate market. By the end of 2016, Oomf had contracts for pilot programs at 16 universities nationwide.
In 2017, we plan to focus on bringing our two shareable portable chargers to as many college campuses as possible. In 2018 and 2019, we will integrate new shareable products into the platform and distribute them into markets where they make sense to be shared. In 10 years, any “thing” that can be shareable will be shareable via the Oomf platform.
PYMNTS: How many rounds of funding has Oomf received (if any)? If no funding has been received, are there plans to seek funding?
GG: I bootstrapped the company with the initial series of investments in May 2015. We raised angel money in early 2016 and opened a pre-seed bridge financing round in Sept. 2016. We will close our bridge financing round by the end of Feb. 2017 with our first institutional raise expected in Q3 2017.
PYMNTS: What does the term “Uber of X” mean to you, and how does Oomf fit that mold?
GG: Technically speaking, we like to think of Uber as the Oomf behind ridesharing. Unfortunately, we have a little work to do in order to share the same valuation.
When people say “I’m the Uber of X,” I think they really mean one of two things: “I offer a technology-assisted service that brokers a shareable exchange of something between two people” or “I offer a technology-assisted service that makes something shareable and accessible so that people can use it temporarily when and if they need it.”
Uber, Lyft and Fasten are share brokers since they facilitate the exchange of a ride between a driver and a rider. Zipcar, Turo and car2Go are examples of accessible product sharing services. These companies place their products in convenient, accessible locations. Customers can then use an app to find a car, use it temporarily and return it when finished.
Oomf is a cloud-based software platform that allows any manufacturer to easily make any product both accessible and shareable. For consumers, Oomf is a one-stop mobile app experience where they can locate a product, use it temporarily and return it when finished. Our first two shareable products are portable chargers that we make accessible on collegiate campuses. That said, we are not only a portable charger sharing service.
PYMNTS: As most startups have their fair share of hiccups, can you share a few lessons-learned anecdotes?
GG: We’re big proponents of running Oomf as a “lean startup.” We build things quickly, release them, measure their business value and then understand if we want to continue to invest in them. When we fail, we do our best to fail fast to minimize our losses.
One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is that not only must we fail fast, but we must fail faster. Sometimes, we waited a bit too long to cut our losses, which resulted in wasted time and money. We’d recommend that any burgeoning entrepreneurs trust their guts, as well as what the market is telling them. If you must fail, fail faster.
PYMNTS: What are Oomf’s 2017 goals?
GG: Shareable portable chargers are just the beginning. In 2017, we’re focused on distributing our two shareable power products into the collegiate market. By the end of the year, we’ll add 140 collegiate customers and acquire up to 600,000 student users. By the end of the year, we’ll begin to explore new market verticals, as well as new product integration partnerships.