Sharing is caring: the circular economy

Did you know that your bike could be earning you money? Got a couple of kayaks or a power drill sitting in your garage? That’s another source of income.

With Mutu, a new Kiwi-designed marketplace app, youcan rent out items that you only occasionally use to people who prefer to borrow things instead of buying them. From a lightbulb moment in November 2019, founder Toby Skilton set up Mutu in September last year and the app now has more than 12,000 users around New Zealand.

“Mutu is based on a similar concept to AirBnB,” Toby explains. “We’ve taken the idea of renting out property that sits vacant for chunks of the year and applied it to everyday goods.

“People have so much stuff that sits idle. But, rather than everyone owning all the same stuff that rarely gets used, the existing items can be used by more people. Our key categories are outdoor and sports, which is anything from kayaks and paddle boards to bikes, tents and skis,” Toby says. 

“The other popular one is DIY and garden, which includes things like lawnmowers, chainsaws and handheld power tools that are pretty expensive and often used for a one-off DIY job. But the most popular things on Mutu are trailers. You can get a trailer for $20 for a day or sometimes $50 for a week. Over the summer people would grab a trailer to take all their gear on holiday.

“We do get some unusual stuff too,” Toby continues. “There’s a spa pool in Hamilton that you can rent for $50 a day; they even deliver it to you. And someone in Auckland has listed their Golden Retriever. For $30 or $40 per day you can take him to the beach for a walk.

“We’ve got precautions in place to keep our users and their items safe. The Mutu guarantee protects items if they’re broken or stolen up to $1,500. But obviously it’s hard to put a price on a beloved pooch! For that user it’s about using their best judgement.

“The major key is building trust. Not only are people verified, they also start to build a social rapport through reviews and star ratings. We want it to be as safe and watertight as possible.”

Launching a marketplace app in the midst of a global pandemic was another challenge the team faced. “Covid was quite terrifying for us,” Toby says. “The concept of meeting up with strangers and sharing items during the peak of Covid would’ve been terrible. But we were fortunate that by the time we launched we’d been through lockdown and New Zealand was so quick to get moving again. 

The latest development for Mutu is a foray into retail partnerships. “We’ve got some really big brands that are now using Mutu to offer rentals to customers. If you go into those stores you will have options of buying something outright, paying later with Afterpay or the third option would be to Mutu something,” Toby says. “It gives people the opportunity to borrow things they’re only going to use once or twice from a trusted brand, or test things out before they buy and get the rental price deducted from the purchase price.”

By partnering with big companies Mutu is disrupting the traditional model of consumption.

“We’ve noticed that the consumer behaviour of Gen Z and Millennials is changing,” Toby continues. “There’s a real shift towards supporting brands that are being more sustainable, or offering alternatives to just consuming more and more stuff. “We’re also building a tool that will show both users and retail brands the true benefits of renting,” he continues. “Every item that has been manufactured and shipped to New Zealand comes at a CO2 cost. But by renting that item you’re only taking on a fraction of its useable life. Mutu users will be able to gain points and see the impact they’ve had by only borrowing the things they need rather than buying them.

“Ultimately, we’d love for people to look to us first before making a purchasing decision. We want to facilitate things being used as much as possible and keep them out of landfill.”

Reported by Jo Percival for our AA Directions Spring 2021 issue

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