Rent Llama COO Monica Bohanon (Photo by Beth Furgurson)
In July, employees of Left+Right, a local web development firm, were having one of their regular brainstorming sessions to come up with growth opportunities for their 3-year-old company. As one good idea evolved into an even better one, the group landed on something they knew they had to explore: an online rental marketplace for stuff.
Instead of power washers, generators, tents and bikes just taking up space in houses and garages around Richmond, they believed those items could earn their owners rental income, while saving someone else across town from buying something they might only need for a day or two.
Morgan Porter, Monica Bohanon, Thomas Brewer and Trent Cox, web designers and software engineers, quickly developed the idea, and their website, Rent Llama, launches this fall. Using Central Virginia as a test market, the team plans to expand into three more cities by 2017 and eventually launch their new site nationally. We talked to Bohanon, Rent Llama COO, about how it will work.
R•Home: How did Rent Llama go from being just another interesting idea to an actual business?
Monica Bohanon: With the economy being what it is, people sometimes have to sell things to get by. Now a user can rent their kayak, GoPro® or aerator and still have the item when they need it again. But it’s more than that. The sharing community around the world is growing faster than ever — think Airbnb and Uber — so we feel the time is right. … Not to mention, it’s a great way to free up some space in your garage or attic!
R•Home: What makes your team the right one to execute this idea?
Bohanon: Other companies have tried variations on this idea, but we believe their clunky interfaces have kept them from really making a go of it. Left+Right develops websites every day, so this website will offer a far superior, more focused experience.
R•Home: Exactly how will a transaction work?
Bohanon: Just like Craigslist, people simply post items on the site for free, and renters respond directly to the owner of the item. Right now, we have four main categories: Tools & Equipment, Recreation, Electronics, and Events. This may change as we get feedback from the Richmond launch. We’ll also feature items that are relevant for the particular season. When an item is rented, Rent Llama gets a small percentage of the rental price. The website will be desktop- and mobile-friendly, allowing users to find what they need or post rental items using any device.
“The sharing community around the world is growing faster than ever.” —Monica Bohanon
R•Home: How did you come up with your name?
Bohanon: We came up with a large pool of names and whittled it down to three: Rent Stream, Rent Llama and Gear Split. Our favorite was Rent Llama — because it was unique and incorporated a fun character that stands out. We put it out there on Facebook and asked people to vote. Luckily, Rent Llama turned out to be everyone else’s favorite, too. We believe the name, combined with the logo, will ensure people remember us.
R•Home: How will you protect users from their items getting stolen or damaged?
Bohanon: Safety is a top priority for us. We will offer secure payments, deposits if required, a ratings system, and, if someone damages an item or doesn’t return it, they will be charged for the item or the cost of repairs. We will also provide a list of safe spaces for people to meet up, along with recommended steps to ensure a safe transaction and experience.
R•Home: You were recently semifinalists in the Big Launch Challenge startup competition. What does that mean for your business?
Bohanon: We are thrilled to be included in such an impressive group of young technology companies. Being selected as a semifinalist in this competition makes us even more excited to launch the site.