How did Airbnb Clone solve your problem

Philipp Glöckler

"If a real recession comes, things could happen very quickly with the sharing economy"

Ownership is out. It is enough to have access to things, to share them. That is the credo of the sharing economy. But why doesn't it prevail? An interview with Philipp Glöckler, a pioneer in the industry.

Interview: Christoph Koch
Photography: Jens Umbach

brand eins: Mr. Glöckler, you founded the company Why own it in 2012. What was it about?

Philipp Glöckler: It was an app that users could use to lend and borrow items: a surfboard, a read book or a drill. At first only with their friends, later you could, for example, swap things with people in your neighborhood you didn't know.

Sharing is in keeping with the spirit of the times. Everywhere you hear: “I don't have to own 1000 things. I don't need a drill, I need a hole in the wall! ”So the app should have millions of users and have made you rich.

Unfortunately not. We never managed to get this thing to fly. In 2015 I pulled the plug. But I always say: If something works, it means a lot of work and a lot of luck.

Why was the offer not accepted?

There were two main problems: First, we never reached a critical mass. Someone loaned out the famous drill they were looking for. But not one street further, but at the other end of town. That made it cumbersome, especially when in times of online shopping and Ebay you can have one quickly delivered to your home that doesn't cost the world.

What was the second problem?

There were more users who wanted to borrow something than those who wanted to lend something. I underestimated the classic empty room problem. All modern online platforms that work like marketplaces must be able to pull up both sides equally quickly. Airbnb only grew because there were lots of people wanting to book accommodation and lots of people offering it. Back then, the founders solved the problem by simply skimming off many apartment offers from the US classifieds portal Craigslist. This allowed them to quickly scale their supply side and thus also grow rapidly on the demand side.

At Why own it, did providers get money when they loaned something?

I wanted to do this for free. The currency should rather be trust and friendship. I wanted to create a cool product first and monetize it later.

That sounds a little romantic.

My idea was that I would look into the app before going to Barcelona and see that a friend has a travel guide for the city. I meet her for a coffee, she gives me the book and tells me about her favorite places in Barcelona. Maintaining friendships, getting to know friends better and reducing consumption at the same time - that was my vision. It wasn't until much too late that I realized that not so many people really wanted to do that, that we lacked product market fit, because I had previously concentrated so much on the app and its usability and other details.

What was the most curious thing that was awarded?

I was totally surprised when I saw that some women were selling nail polish. When I asked a user about it, she explained that nail polish will eventually dry up. She would rather give it up than throw it away at some point. So it wasn’t a classic loan, nowadays she would rather give away the nail polish via eBay classifieds or a local Facebook group like “Free Your Stuff”, which is now available in many cities.

For advertising purposes, you yourself had made public not to buy anything for a year. Did it work out?

Yes, but things for my fridge or toilet paper were of course excluded. It has always been important to me to be as believable as possible. Before Why own it, I founded Avocado Store in 2009, a marketplace for sustainably produced clothing. At that time it was clear that I couldn't walk around with sweatshop clothes myself. And with Why own it, I had to be the one who borrows everything. You can only offer such a product if you fully support it.

Where did the fascination for the sharing economy come from?

Avocado Store worked fine, and the store is still there today. But I noticed that although people loved us and some also bought from us, they still ran to H&M. At the same time, car sharing like Car2Go, which worked spontaneously and via an app, became more and more popular. My co-founder at Avocado Store, Stephan Uhrenbacher, had just founded an Airbnb clone with 9flats. There I saw people suddenly giving their house keys to strangers, so trust didn't seem to be the problem. Back then I was totally on the sustainability trip and wanted to get people to buy less overall.

“Maintaining friendships, getting to know friends better and reducing consumption at the same time - that was my vision. "

Uber drivers don't take anyone in their car for company, and Airbnb hosts don't crave strangers in their home. Most of them want to make money.

That's true. But sports cars shouldn't be rented on my platform either, but everyday items. You couldn't have taken large rental fees for them. The average “basket”, as they say in e-commerce, was simply far too small. You could have asked maybe five euros for a drill, but one for a book. This is not worthwhile for the lender and may still scare off the borrower. And there's not much left for the platform either.

Other platforms of this kind have entered the country for similar reasons. Is there no one who has made a business out of renting out everyday objects?

In the US, there's Omni, a platform that was founded in San Francisco in 2014 and has raised more than $ 35 million in venture capital. But they have a slightly different model: They pick up the drill or surfboard, then store the things and lend them to the provider for a fee. So you have more space at home, earn money with your things, and if you need them yourself, you can have them sent to you. They haven't expanded internationally yet, but seem to be holding up quite well.

Could this be because they - like Uber - minimize personal interaction? Don't people end up ringing the doorbell somewhere and borrowing something? But that everything runs through the user interface of an app?

It's a question of type. For some it is certainly too close to meet in person somewhere to borrow a tennis racket. Just as some are happy that they can type their destination directly into the Uber app and no longer have to talk to the driver. For some potential why-own-it users, it might be daunting to think that the guy whose Playstation he'd borrowed for the weekend might want to have a chat the next time he meets him on the street. But there are also others who enjoy this social component. They are happy about the interpersonal contact.

At Airbnb, too, at the beginning there was the promise that you will meet interesting people if you book there. That you immerse yourself in a city differently than when you go to a hotel. In the meantime, you usually don't meet anyone anymore, but receive the access code for the front door via SMS. Nevertheless, the platform is booming. Is the secret of a successful sharing platform a lot of convenience and little real closeness?

You've got a point. However, it is the encounters and experiences with the landlords that bind customers to Airbnb. These are the stories that are shared. Of all my Airbnb experiences, I only share the best with my friends and acquaintances. My experience with a guy in New York, for example, who rented out his guest room and thus saved up for his future wife's engagement ring. His neighbor, whose Airbnb offer is more like an illegal hotel, is recommended as a cheap alternative to a hotel.

Neighborhood platforms like or are becoming popular in Germany. Do the better chances?

The trend comes from the USA, where neighbors are networking on platforms such as Nextdoor. Such networks will definitely have fewer problems with critical mass than we did then. Because people don't just sign up to rent and borrow, but for all sorts of reasons - because they organize a street party, want to be informed about news from the neighborhood, or whatever.

And if someone is looking for a drill, do they have better chances because they can reach more people in their immediate vicinity?

Exactly. The creators of Nextdoor said in interviews that people were skeptical at the beginning as to whether they really wanted to get to know their neighbors online and network with them. But in the end they seem to succeed in bringing people together. But I don't know how many people lend, swap and share things there.

You have stayed true to the topic of sharing. What is your new employer Moovel doing?

Moovel is a subsidiary of Daimler AG and started with a mobility app in 2012. Today we offer a platform for transport associations, cities and companies and enable them to implement various mobility concepts. We see ourselves as experts in urban mobility and want to help reduce traffic jams in cities.

How does that concrete look?

In Germany, for example, the Karlsruher Verkehrsverbund and the Stuttgarter Straßenbahnen AG (SSB) use components of our Mobility-as-a-Service platform. In Karlsruhe, citizens can use an app to search for, book and pay for trips on local public transport and Nextbike rental bikes. At the SSB, an app calculates the best possible tariff combination based on monthly usage behavior.

Do you still believe in the sharing economy?

In any case. But I believe that going from buying to trading, sharing and lending takes time. It's a similar big change as going from offline to online shopping. That also took 10 to 20 years.If there is a real recession, the sharing economy could happen very quickly. At the moment we have full employment, everyone is fine and most of them can afford a cappuccino three times a day. If at some point this is no longer the case and people can no longer consume as much, they also become more creative again. If there is enough money for groceries and other necessities, but the nice things, the experiences have to be designed differently - then new models may pop up. ---

Philipp Glöckler, 34,
founded the rental platform Why own it in 2012, which he had to discontinue around three years later due to lack of success. In 2009 he founded the Avocado Store together with Stephan Uhrenbacher (now 9flats), an online shop for sustainable products and, according to his own statements, today Germany's largest marketplace for eco-fashion. Glöckler is now working for the Daimler subsidiary Moovel, which, in cooperation with transport associations and cities, is trying to combine local public transport with mobility solutions such as car or bicycle sharing and to make trips with several different modes of transport more user-friendly through joint route planning and booking.