If you’re traveling around New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland or Austin anytime soon, Marcelo Loureiro wants you to ride a stranger’s bike. He’s not endorsing a national cyclist crime syndicate — just Spinlister.
To use a tired metaphor, Spinlister is AirBnb for bikes. Users take a photo of their bike and upload it to Spinlister, along with its location, size, specs and a rental rate (by hour, day or week). The whole process takes about 90 seconds, according to the company. Those searching for bikes to use — 90 percent are tourists looking to bike around new cities, said Andrew Batey, Spinlister’s CMO — contact bike owners through the app and set up a time and place to meet. Bikes are rarely damaged and, according to Batey, a bike has never been stolen by a renter. Just in case, Spinlister offers an insurance policy of up to $10,000 for some bikes.
The company’s rise has been meteoric. At the start of 2013, Loureiro, a Brazilian serial entrepreneur, bought a stagnant bike-share startup from two businessmen in San Francisco. Within a year he had brought on a new team and transformed the company. Spinlister is now the world leader in peer-to-peer bike sharing and it’s still growing faster than even Loureiro expected.
“January is a dead month for biking and it was our best month so far”, said Batey, about their operations in 2015. The team can’t keep up with demand. “It’s crazy. System-wide there’s about 60 percent more demand than we have bikes.”
For Loureiro and Batey, keeping up with that demand means developing a community. Spinlister’s low prices (prices range from $1 to $400 per day, with a median around $15-$25 per day for most bikes) mean it won’t attract customers by supplementing incomes like AirBnb can for homeowners or Uber for drivers — and the company requires a large pool of very active users to work properly. By partnering with government park services, tri clubs and cycling teams, Spinlister has hosted community events all over the five cities where they’re currently focused, meeting bikers face to face. (This year, as well as last year, they are the official bike share sponsor of Ironman.) The company uses these events to get the word out and to challenge bikers to sign up using their app; everyone who signs up gets a personal email from someone on the Spinlister team. This groundwork is necessary because, more than other, less personal sharing economies, Spinlister lives and dies with its community.
“We aren’t renting spoons or cars. We need a bike to fit the person physically. Then they need to be located within walking distance. Then comes convenience”, said Batey, referring to the need to match renter and rider schedules and the types of bikes they need. “For you as a renter to find a match, [the app] needs to have a significant supply.”
But as Spinlister proves itself to renters, its effectiveness as a consistent money maker for bike owners has been questioned. For some time, one of the most rented bikes in San Francisco belonged to Jonathan Gaull, founder of Bike Pretty, an online boutique, who made over $1,000 using the app. His 2009 Trek 2.1 road bike went for $15 a day, until he took it down because, after repairs from wear and tear on the bike, he was only breaking even. “For rentals that were less than a day or two, absolutely not”, said Gaull when asked about the convenience. “My wife and I both… started declining day rentals because of the effort involved. For week-long rentals, it was awesome.”
Spinlister says that it aims to develop a community of biking enthusiasts — commuters in need of a fixie while theirs is in the shop or cycling tourists who want to see a new city on wheels — rather than people looking to make money. “We won’t compete with Citibike for getting from A to B. We compliment”, said Batey. “We are a lifestyle brand, not a transportation tool.”
The brand looks to eventually expand across more sports (they already list surf- and snowboards as well) along with expanding to more cities across the US — Batey predicts 15 within two years — and eventually the world (they currently have listings in every continent except Antarctica).