EquipmentShare raises $5.5 million for peer-to-peer marketplace for heavy equipment

To grow its peer-to-peer marketplace for construction equipment, Columbia, Missouri-based EquipmentShare has raised $5.5 million in a venture funding round led by Romulus Capital.

Earlier, the “Airbnb for construction” raised $2.1 million in seed funding and participated in the Y Combinator accelerator.

EquipmentShare’s co-founders, brothers William and Jabbok Schlacks, drew inspiration for their business from the socialist commune where they grew up in rural Missouri. The commune’s leaders had them building and fixing things from a young age, and living there taught them incredible work ethics, they say.

But commune life also barred them from keeping personal possessions or saving their own money, and severely limited their education, computer and Internet access.

In 2010, the two decided to leave with the limited resources they could muster. They moved their families into a small rental home for a time, and made a living by working as contractors on small construction jobs.

In their new, capitalist reality the brothers found it challenging to track down, buy, rent, predict costs, store and properly maintain equipment for various jobs. Back at the commune, they had access to a wide range of equipment that was well maintained and easily found in a shared toolshed.

They started EquipmentShare as a basic Web and mobile marketplace that enables contractors to find items like boom lifts or excavators to rent from peers in the industry with yards or warehouses nearby.

Today, EquipmentShare is evolving into something a bit higher-tech.

Willy Schlacks said the company recently launched a system called the ES Tracker, which gives users real-time data about the location and usage of their various machines or vehicles they’re renting out.

The company sends technicians out to install sensors or telematics systems on users’ equipment to get them started. Then, whether an item is sitting idle in a yard or warehouse, en route to a renter or in use on a job, the owners get detailed reports on what’s happening with that piece of equipment.

Acting as an asset handler, EquipmentShare also picks up and delivers equipment that’s booked for a rental or sold via their marketplace. EquipmentShare remains “agnostic,” Schlacks said, so construction professionals can list or find equipment from any brand.

The company now employs 45 full-time, and operates with services centers in Missouri, Florida, Texas and New Zealand, with plans to expand geographically within the U.S.

Co-founder and General Partner of Romulus Capital, Neil Chheda, said his fund backed EquipmentShare because, “We like getting into large industries that haven’t been transformed by tech, and construction is one of them.”

He added that EquipmentShare’s decision to bring telematics and sophisticated analytics to small and medium sized construction businesses was likely to spike the company’s growth.

“There was a barrier on the supply side to get owners of fleets of equipment to part ways with it for a time. If they can see their equipment in real time and how it is getting used, if they can know that people are using it properly, safely and all, you remove that,” the investor said.

EquipmentShare competes with other marketplace businesses, including San Francisco-based Getable, which bills itself as an “equipment rentals concierge,” and Yard Club, backed by makers of construction and mining equipment, Caterpillar.