Michelle Regner is the co-founder and CEO of Near Me, a solution for creating branded peer-to-peer marketplaces. Near Me enables entrepreneurs and brands to create websites that allow people to share, trade, swap, resell or rent things.
Esteban Contreras: What is Near Me and what is your mission?
Michelle Regner: Near Me is a platform that powers peer to peer marketplaces and private communities. Our mission is to empower people and increase choices ― all by facilitating connections.
EC: There is a debate about whether the 'sharing economy' is an urban fad brought about by an economic downturn or whether it is the disruptive result of a permanent change in consumer expectations. What is your take on the current and future state of the sharing economy?
MR: LOL ― If you follow the dollars flowing into space by investors, the trillions of transactions processed, and the millions of lives touched by it... you understand that it is here to stay.
EC: Skeptics of collaborative consumption and peer-to-peer rental offerings often point to the uncertainty around regulation. Can you explain some of these concerns and how Near Me seeks to mitigate risk for its customers and end-users?
MR: Near Me does not provide risk assurance or regulatory services; that is the responsibility of the marketplace owners. There are resources, like peers.org, to help with these issues. We have a very robust ratings and reviews feature that our marketplaces manage to mitigate risk in the marketplace. We also have insurance partners like MetLife who can offer insurance for the MPO (Marketplace Owner) to offer its users.
EC: Near Me offers an opportunity to "get in the business of sharing." What are some examples of businesses / products that will be powered by your service?
MR: Electronic hardware, dog services, sporting equipment, beauty supplies, campers, etc. We have launched over 50 marketplaces and have spoken with over 3,500 ideas. This movement is so broad and ranges from buy/sell, rental of services or goods, to swapping and many more. Our flexible platform handles them all.
EC: Some big brands from diverse industries are starting to embrace the sharing economy. How will Near Me balance between serving individuals, and big brands with complex needs?
MR: At the end of the day, our customers' customer is our customer, so we always start there and work backwards. We have two teams that work with entrepreneurs as well as enterprise clients so we can service both markets. As a startup it has been critical for us to learn from both.
EC: Before Near Me, you built DesksNear.Me to connect professionals with unused desk space. Some would consider that a zoom-out pivot (since Near Me is a platform to power services like DesksNearMe), but you are successfully running both businesses. What have you learned in the process, and how did it help you validate Near Me?
MR: In order to build the best software in the space, we decided to create our own marketplace as the first 'client' to our platform. We were always developing the platform in stealth mode while launching DesksNear.Me. This has allowed us to see through the eyes of the marketplace customer, marketplace vendor, and marketplace owner. Most software companies create demos or dummy sites; we decided to create one that actually works, runs and has transactions.
EC: With 9 million guests since 2008, Airbnb is one of the best examples of the sharing economy. If Airbnb didn't yet exist and its founders were considering a platform instead of building from the ground up, why would Near Me be a good option for them?
MR: Yes! It is most certainly a better option for building a company. We could have saved them or any entrepreneur millions of dollars. Nearly all the funding that these marketplaces receive goes into the development rather than the marketing to focus on acquiring customers. We've had funded entrepreneurs come to us with tears in their eyes saying "where were you when..." A platform expedites your ability to get to market and test, learn and validate your business model.
EC: Any advice for aspiring tech startup entrepreneurs?
MR: Lead from your heart, not your head. If the passion for what you are about to build is absent, so will the success be to ride the waves of building a company. Hire for values, not for resumes.