How close are you to your neighbours? Do you share daily-used utensils with them?

The author of this article was in Singapore last week and threw this question at one of his colleagues. “I don’t even know who lives in my neighbourhood, let alone share stuff with them,” pat came the reply.

His response did not surprise me, as I knew this is the case in every corner of the world.

But if you look back, the old generations lived like a close-knit community. They built a strong bonhomie with their neighbours, invited each other on special occasions such as weddings and festivals, and shared with, and borrowed utensils from, them.

This writer hails from a village in Kerala (south India) where neighbourhood culture is still strong. The growing urbanisation has had little effect on the social values of remote villages in this tiny state.

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But these values are gradually waning everywhere else. Perhaps, this mobile app launched by two Singaporeans can change the things for the better.

Lendor is an app for a library of things. It is essentially a rental marketplace where you can rent or lend your stuff out to your neighbours/communities for free, or rent/lend anything you need for a short term usage,” Founder Chuan Wei Zhang told me. “We believe there are a lot of households out there who own things that are under-utilised, and just having them sit at home is a waste on its own. This is where Lendor assumes significance. All items on Lendor are location-tagged, and users can search for the items closest to them and borrow.”

The app, currently in beta, was developed by Zhang with Co-founder Pauline Lim. It was created for item owners who are willing to open up their library of things to those who need it at a small fraction of the cost, while giving consumers a choice before making a purchase.

Lendor offers various functionalities, including calendar management, chat & communications, search item by location, order management, and refundable deposit field.

Users can also chat freely with each other with no restrictions.

The Eureka moment

Zhang recounted the story for e27 that led to the launch of Lendor. “Over the years, we accumulated a lot of things. We decided to camp, so we bought a tent, portable lamp, Bunsen burner, mats, stools and the list goes on. Our first camping failed due to the rain because our tent wasn’t waterproof. So, the second time we made sure we bought a waterproofed one.

“Now we own two tents. All these were just some of the items to name that were under-utilised. We needed them, so instinctively we bought it. It took up space in our store room and used it just once or twice in a year. If there were options to lend out now, someone else out there might not have to purchase tent/s unnecessarily for that once or twice camping experience,” he explained. “Despite knowing how much I am cluttering the house, I still love to own stuff. That feeling where you just want to own it just in case ‘at some point in my life I will need it’ is pre-programmed into my brain. While I am looking to de-clutter, Lendor is now my excuse to keeping stuff.”

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To draw a comparison, Lendor is the Airbnb for renting anything other than home and car, Zhang said. Similar to Airbnb, a user can search for an item (home apartment for Airbnb) he needs, the period in which he needs it, and look for one that is the closest (desired location for Airbnb) to him. The user can communicate directly with the user and place a loan order (booking for Airbnb) before proceeding to transact with the user.

The transaction forms an e-contract between both parties with each step of the transaction recorded down on the app. A rating and review is mandated at the end of the transaction and a layer of trustworthiness is added to the users.
“In a way, this whole process is very similar to booking on Airbnb and we try to replicate the social aspect of the whole user experience so it does not feel foreign to our adopters,” he commented.

Eyeing Korea, Hong Kong and Japan

Lendor looks to start with the Singapore market, but is also applying to accelerators worldwide to expand to other markets rapidly and concurrently. “As we are Singaporeans based in Singapore, we had to launch it here first, but it is our belief that the market here is small, although growing rapidly. However, we do not think that Singapore is the market that is most ready for this product and surrounding regions such as South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan could be more receptive to such a product,” he elaborated.

Lendor Founder Chuan We Zhang

Lendor Founder Chuan We Zhang

There are 24 categories of things that are carefully vetted. They exclude cars and home rentals, as Zhang believes these two categories are a separate industry by itself. It will have legal complications for them if they try to include them on the platform.

As of now, the app is completely free to use. The monetisation of the is still at least six months away. As soon as the company rolls out digital payments (which could be three to four months down the road), it will look to charge a transaction fee, say 5 to 10 per cent. “We are contemplating to work with AXA, which underwrites all bike-sharing companies at the moment, to provide insurance for loaned items. This is another possibility of monetisation.”

But will Lendor work in markets like Singapore where there is a weak neighbourhood culture?

“I agree with your statement that there is a weak physical neighbourhood bonding, but we see this as a huge opportunity for growth. Though we may have weak community bondings with our neighbours, Singaporeans are bonded by similar interests and community/agenda-driven. We can see this from the Facebook groups of varied interests from Grabhitch Singapore Community to Urban Farmers (Singapore) to Journey to Zero Waste Singapore or Pink Dot, etc.” he exuded confidence.

At the end of the day, Zhang remarked that Lendor empowers various groups of communities with a proximity-based solution. “For instance, there are plenty of urban farmers scattered across Singapore and they can make use of Lendor to share/rent equipment with one another, who may not be someone staying next door. He may be a few blocks away which is still convenient to pick up and return. The same can apply to photography groups, cyclist groups, e-scooters group, etc.”

The startup is now in the final stages of assessment for K-Startup Grand Challenge 2017, and is looking to expand via such global accelerators.

In terms of future plans, Lendor hopes to launch the app in one more country. Zhang believes in A/B testing the market so that there is a reference point to compare all its execution strategies, and put the company in a better position as a global product.

Talking about future plans, he said: “Our web platform is on the works. We are also working on what we think is a killer feature which would allow users to ping for items. You could ping for a Nintendo Switch for a party you are organising over the weekend the same way you ping for an Uber driver.

Lendor is currently backed by by NUS Enterprise where it gets complimentary business/legal mentorship, plus office desks. “We have just started to look for funding and will be attending RISE in Hong Kong 2017 next week as an Alpha exhibitor,” Zhang concluded.

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