House-sharing startup Airbnb has set off a bit of a craze in the market for renting out your cool stuff. Now everyone is emulating the hot new service, just as daily deal sites started popping up after Groupon took off. You can create the Airbnb for junky apartments or the Airbnb for parking spots.
But Ali Moiz (pictured right) and Murtaza Hussain, founders of Peanut Labs who recently sold off that company, think they’ve got the real thing with Hi Gear, a site where rich folks can rent out their dream cars for a day and poor folks can rent the cars to — you guessed it — impress hot babes. The company has even sponsored its own “Hi Gear girls” to get renters in the mood for luxury and sports-car sharing.
Seriously, the company could be tapping into inner ambitions that all of us have. What would it be like to drive a Ferrari through your neighborhood? Or maybe you could take a Mercedes for a drive through your home town? We all like to pretend we’re richer than we are. Or maybe we just need a nice car for a wedding. Moiz said in an exclusive interview with VentureBeat that this solution is much cheaper than renting a luxury car from a car rental company.
“We let people monetize their cars when they’re not being used,” he said.
Hi Gear is tapping into the popularity of peer-to-peer fantasy asset sharing, which in the old days meant condominium time shares in Maui and now means the rental of cool homes in travel destinations.
“For most people, the car is the most expensive item they own after their house,” Moiz said. “But 91 percent of the time, it sits idle in a garage, not being used.”
Meanwhile, the owner is paying insurance, car payments, and possibly parking costs for the car. That’s the situation Moiz found himself in a while ago when he dreamed up the idea. He asked around and discovered that even with Ferraris, most buyers have to finance the car purchases, which means they have monthly payments. Moiz’s car was costing him $1,200 a month, and as a San Francisco resident, he wasn’t using it much.
Right now, the company has more than 100 cars for rent in the San Francisco area. When you log into the site, you can browse through the selection and find out how many cars are available in your zip code. You can rent a car for maybe $200 a day and then the system notifies the owner and you arrange for a time and place to pick up the car. Right now, cars are available only in the Bay Area.
Of course, there’s a bit of a security risk when you invite a stranger to show up at your house and the stranger knows you have a really nice car. But you can always meet the person somewhere else. And if you’re really rich, you can have your bodyguard or your butler go meet the renter for you.
“Most people choose to meet at a public place like a coffee shop,” Moiz said.
As happened with Airbnb, there is always the risk of the crazy renter who trashes the property. But Moiz says that each car is insured for more than $1 million in damage, and the drivers are insured as well. Drivers also have to put a security deposit down and pass a basic screening test. If you’ve been convicted of driving under the influence, you need not apply.
Moiz says there are about 20 million luxury cars registered in the U.S. He figures that if he can get 500 cars in each market, that should cover the demand. The expansion path isn’t all that different from the one followed by peer-to-peer car rental companies such as Zip Car. In this case, though, you get a hot set of wheels.
“These cars rent out much better and at higher prices,” Moiz said. “If you got a car from a rental agency, you could pay $600 or $700 for a day.”
Moiz says the company was founded just a few months ago, after he left Peanut Labs, which was sold to e-Rewards last fall. The company has 10 employees and has raised an undisclosed amount from investors that include BV Capital, Battery Ventures and 500 Startups. One of Moiz’s friends, Kevin Chou, the chief executive of social game firm Kabam, has his Mercedes car (pictured at top) available for rental. Just a mere $240 and it’s yours for the day.
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