Mix up eBay, Kazaa and your local public library, shake them hard together, and you'll get serial entrepreneur Joel Maske's latest venture, aimed at jump-starting an online rental market.
Dubbed "Moogul," the company is trying to do for rentals and garden-variety borrowing what eBay has done for selling knitted dog-sweaters online. The site, which launched Friday, hopes to link would-be borrowers with lenders of everything from industrial strength steam-cleaners to the latest Radiohead album.
"E-commerce has been about buying and selling," said Maske, whose previous companies included iSyndicate and Galt Technologies, a financial service acquired by Intuit. "It makes sense that the Web would be ready for a marketplace and a platform that extended that relationship and facilitated lending and borrowing."
One of the strongest features of the Web has been the ability to link people with complementary desires, whether for eBay items, Match.com's relationships, or craigslist's grab bag of locally advertised goods and services.
Driving many of these online successes has been consumers' seemingly insatiable desire to save a few dollars, or--whenever possible--pay nothing at all.
Indeed, among the most popular online services in recent years have been the peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, through which tens of million of people have downloaded music, movies or software from other people. (Music labels and Hollywood studios say this "sharing" is a misnomer, and that downloading from the Web is simply stealing.)
Moogul says its most popular service so far has been music sharing, with people arranging to borrow CDs from each other. Books and DVDs are also popular trades, but the service also encourages people to put things as diverse as camping equipment or home improvement tools up to share.
With these consumer-to-consumer swaps, members post what they have available, and create wish lists of things they would like to borrow. People can lend only to private networks of friends or to the Moogul community as a whole, and transactions are free or charge or involve a small fee for the lending.
The company is looking at the business rental market as its primary source of revenue. It's launching with a few hardware stores, maternity resources and software companies on board, and will take a small part of each transaction that involves money trading hands.
"We get two to three hundred orders a month from our Web site, but the rental paradigm is something new," said Rick Karp, chief executive officer of Cole Hardware, a San Francisco-based chain of stores that is using the service to advertise its rental goods. "We are enthusiastically hoping that Moogul helps drive traffic into our stores."
At least one analyst is less bullish on the idea, at least after an initial glimpse.
"We already have places where people borrow books and movies," said IDC analyst Jonathan Gaw. "They're called libraries...I'm not clear as to where the money is."
Maske said the company is largely self-funded, with help from angel investors. He's looking for venture capital now.
He said the name--which bears more than a passing resemblance to Google and its "Froogle" shopping site--has nothing to do with the Web search engine. Instead, it's a reference to the Indian Mughul empire that built the Taj Mahal, he said.