NeighborGoods, the SXSW Accelerator winner for Best Bootstrapped Startup, wants to revitalize neighborly sharing by offering communities a brilliantly practical incentive to interact: everyone else's unused stuff.
The Craigslist-like platform allows neighborhoods and organizations to create exchange networks for the borrowing and renting of underutilized items, such as books, backpacks, or even cars. NeighborGoods has ambitious plans to scale up, and Silicon Valley's already signed on to its larger vision.
At is core, NeighboorGoods feels like a more robust and polished version of Craigslist. A graphical user interface keeps track of activity (items shared, money saved), alerts members to wishlisted items, and geolocates potential exchanges through Google Maps. Additional "trust layers," as the company's founder and CEO, Micki Krimmel, calls them, are included, such as a verified address (for $4.99), a user rating system, and a warning label for deadbeat borrowers.
NeighborGoods premiered its private group feature at SXSW, which permits any organization, such as a church or business, to create smaller exchange networks, especially helpful for high value or popular items. Below is a screenshot of Etsy's shiny new NeighborGoods group.
NeighborGoods is using social media sexiness to spotlight the neglected middle child of the sustainability trinity: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. By allowing communities and organizations to swap resources, NeighborGoods hopes to reduce the enormous financial and environmental toll of individual ownership.
For Krimmel, the principle motivation is to facilitate interaction. "We thought the value of the transaction was the transaction itself," says Krimmel. "Actually, the value we provide is in the connection—giving neighbors a reason to meet each other, giving neighbors a reason to trust each other." Indeed, the power of informal interactions was proven by one of the 20th century's most influential social science studies.
Harvard Professor Robert Putnam discovered, after two decades of exploring the causes of varying levels of prosperity between Italian communities, the greatest predictor was the volume of associations. Tidbits of insider knowledge bantered around at book clubs and the camaraderie of sporting events lubricated the thousands of micro-interactions that can make or break the efficiency of a city. The first guinea pig to test the scalability of Krimmel's hypothesis is the Silicon Valley city of San Jose, which recently partnered with NeighborGoods for a pilot project and will attempt to integrate the benefits of small, private groups into a city-wide exchange community.
Just today, NeighborGoods launched a paid private groups feature, for exclusive messaging, sharing, and wish-listing between the neighborly-ist of neighbors. For instance, the tech-savvy urban farmers over at the Phoenix Permaculture Guild are sharing over $2,500 worth of wheelbarrows, shovels, and other city-bound agricultural goodness that helps members save on infrequently used items. NeighborGoods hopes to expand the program to enterprises and apartment complexes, reversing the current incentive to avoid eye contact with your apartment neighbors like passengers on a Korean subway. We could easily see the community-happy tech firms of Google or Facebook jump all over this new feature, as informal sharing is central to their team-based management approach.
For now, NeighborGoods' public network is most active in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Krimmel hopes that the new private groups feature will attract more businesses and organizations to sponsor universal verification for everyone in a network, creating instantaneous epicenters of expanding communities. Additionally, the dual trends of recession thrift and sustainability may accelerate the startup's growth.