The idea is not brand new, and the name sounds like a french guy learning how to say something in English, but the execution is good enough to catch the attention and maybe even take some bet on the future of this french startup called Zilok. They basically offer a service where anyone can rent anything he/she owns to anyone. The service was launched in France a few weeks ago and opens tomorrow in the US (accessible at us.zilok.com). It has attracted so far a few thousand users and even generated some business. So now let’s see how it will work on the other side of the atlantic.
Here is how it works: Once registered on the website you can add any object you own for rental purposes. You define the price, the area you can cover, and the rental conditions (period, deposit,..). Zilok will issue for you a rental agreement that you will use directly with the renter. A user can use several tools to find what is searching to rent for including a search engine, a category directory or google map mashup. Once he identifies what is searching for (an example with a Wii here), he will contact the owner and the closing is not happening on the website but in real life. Zilok does not provide a payment system or a third party deposit service. But like on standard marketplaces they have created a reputation system to filter easily power-owners or power-renters and to optimize the process.
What is missing for me is a wizard to assist an owner in evaluating the rental price of his goods. If i know how to find a second hand price benchmark on the web (checking eBay for example) i would not know how to find the rental price of a piece of furniture (specially if it is unique). Zilok will not be appropriate for many categories of objects (cloths for example) and in many cases the rental price (even if rented several times) will not be a better bargain than just buying or selling the same product second hand or third hand. But i can see how this could catch with some product categories (some equipments and accessories, or utilities).
The service is open to both private individuals and professionals. I would tend to think that the big chunk of the business is on the second part and i think it will take some time before users get used to this new way of ‘monetizing” their goods. Not mentionning it requires a bit more logisitic than just selling over eBay (since the transaction is manual). The business model is based on the payment of a listing fee by the owner. Until 2008 the service is free.
RentMineOnline is another startup, winner of the Seedcamp startup competition is addressing the same need but building its service on top of social networks (they have a Facebook app) in order to solve the trust issue. Zilok claims that geographical proximity is the #1 trigger to make a decision. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle and that the online rental model is very likely to get a lot of fine-tuning until it finds its way. But it eventually will.
The founders have some good experience with MarketPlaces. Zilok is based in Paris, self-funded and has been created by Gary Cige and Thibaud Elzière, the founder of the online image bank Fotolia.com. For more details here is a full tour and here is their blog