UAA students launch rental site for outdoor gear exchange

Left: Paul Davidson. Center: Linda Janes. Right: Richard Graves. Photo by Pat Brooker

For those looking to grab affordable outdoor equipment in a non-sketchy manner, pay attention to this website.

GearSpoke, an online rental service scheduled for electronic life in mid-February, allows renters to upload pictures of equipment and gear for potential buyers to comb through. Users have the opportunity to interact with the renters, establishing a sense of connection and trust before any exchanging is undergone.

Everything from Therm-a-Rest pads for $5 a day, mountain bikes at $50, fishing nets for $20 and camping backpacks for $8 will soon available on GearSpoke. And while sites such as Craigslist operate in a similar user-supplied inventory system, GearSpoke has a more integrated process.

“The difference between GearSpoke and Craigslist is we handle the monetary transactions, and there’s a lot more trust features added in there,” said Paul Davidson, GearSpoke CEO. “You can really get to know the person you’re going to be dealing with. I think of it more like couch surfing—it’ll be successful because there’s a lot of things built in that allow you to get to know the person and trust them.”

From its conception stage to its final preparations for launch, GearSpoke has been entirely UAA student-run. It began last March, at a UAA-hosted event called 3-Day Startup Alaska. Students spent a three-day weekend brainstorming, creating and implementing a technology-based business.

Twelve people joined the event, and all decided to center their efforts on a single business plan: an online rental service.

“We were looking at ideas for companies and we were like, okay, what is Alaska good at? What’s unique to Alaska that  we could do really well in this environment?” said Davidson. “And we were like—you know, outdoor equipment. Equipment rental would be perfect.”

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Five members of the team took GearSpoke to UAA’s Statewide Business Plan Competition. With over 70 business applicants participating, stress levels rose accordingly with the competitive field.

“There were nights where we were out in the Learning Resource Center until two or three in the morning, writing up drafts,” Davidson said. “We were finishing up the business plan like right before we had to turn it in, and we had no time because it was finals week.”

Despite the rush, the team took second place in the competition and earned themselves $2,500. These winnings were devoted to revamping GearSpoke over the summer, preparing for an official launch in the new year.

Of the original members, four remain: Davidson, who assumed the role of CEO and took heavily to marketing campaigns and business strategy; Linda Janes, COO and marketing guru for the company; Richard Graves, CTO and technical guru, responsible for much of the website design and programming work; and Ryan Nixon, the front-end programmer and website interface assistant.

Both Davidson and Janes are now in UAA’s Master of Business Administration program. Graves and Nixon are working on their undergraduate degrees.

“I saw this opportunity and was hooked,” said Graves, a computer science major. “Most school projects don’t ever go to anything, so I figured I’d donate my time to this instead and try to actually make something out of it.”

The four have been intensively dedicating their time in preparation for GearSpoke’s launch. The programmers are focusing on fixing last minute website bugs and improving the interface; Davidson and Janes are spreading the marketing net far and wide.

“So far we’re social media type of intensive, and very word of mouth,” said Janes. “We’re in the beta stage right now—you can go ahead and upload your items; however you can’t interact with other people and you can’t rent out. So we’re stuffing the shelves at this point.”

There are a few competitors for GearSpoke, although none hold any monopoly power over the fairly new concept of the online gear renting business.

“The community part of ours [gives us an edge],” Graves said. “We want to be able to let people talk to the person before they rent the item, before you even pull money out—get to know the person. Hopefully it’s what will make GearSpoke a success.”

The website is set to launch Feb. 12. GearSpoke is on Facebook, and also at www.gearspoke.com and www.gearspoke.net.