Last July, SPN profiled Lincoln startup T’Work, an online peer-to-peer marketplace for tool rentals. Now part of the 2017 NMotion Accelerator cohort, the company is rebranding as Utilize and moving into the contractor and rental company space.
“It’s been an interesting journey starting T’Work and seeing the way things can meander,” said Co-Founder Zach Davy. “You start down one path and then things open up and you explore different avenues.”
Building the T’Work platform has provided a springboard into other markets.
“We got connected last December with a guy in Atlanta through a mutual friend,” Davy said. “He owns a rental company with several locations. We told him about our p2p market and platform, not knowing how it might fit with what he does as a rental company.”
The design and intuitive nature of the platform were appealing, and it led to further conversations that included other people in the rental industry.
“He brought in a couple of other people in the industry and started expanding on how their processes work,” Davy said. “We started putting together mockups of things we could see as new workflow ideas.”
“We’ve really been focused in NMotion with taking a step back,” Davy said. “When we got in, we thought we had a really clear vision.”
Like other startups in the cohort, T’Work appreciates the direct feedback they receive.
“One of the good things the program does is forces you to challenge your assumptions,” Davy said. “They make sure you have enough data points before you start testing something out.”
This led to customer discovery interviews.
“It’s more of an inquisitive approach rather than pushing a product solution,” Davy said. “Understanding the problem, gathering data that we can use to build ideas to test and see if there’s a market for it.”
They are finding an overlap between their initial peer-to-peer platform and what could work in the rental and contractor market.
“There are a lot of components that overlap and feed into one another,” Davy said. “That’s a play that we see as really interesting, really related to our past work in p2p.”
Davy views the rental industry as very segmented and one-dimensional.
“As we’ve spent the last couple of years exploring this and getting tied into the industry, we’re looking at more three-dimensional,” he said. “Give and take, a two-way street in how rental exchanges take place.”
T’Work is not necessarily looking to cause a major disruption.
“We see the opportunity to include the current infrastructure and build upon it rather than eliminate it,” Davy said. “What a lot of these places are missing is an effective way to manage the exchange process.”
The equipment rental market is substantial and includes a large percentage of independent operators in addition to recognizable names like Lowe’s or Home Depot.
“In 2017 there will be $50 billion spent in the equipment rental space,” Davy said. “Two-thirds of all rental companies in the U.S. are independent.”
While T’Work’s primary focus is the independent companies, Davy sees similar issues with the large ones.
“We’ve seen gaps in even the biggest players,” he said. “They’re very siloed.”
Has working with other startups in the cohort been beneficial?
“We’re teams that are at the same stage,” Davy said. “There’s some variation but we’re all asking the same questions. Almost daily we’ll be bouncing ideas and situations off each other.”
Mentors associated with the program are also helpful.
“There’s a lot of value talking with people who are further down the road than you are,” Davy said. “Seeing where other people have come gives me a sense of humility about what it takes to do it well.”
“The tapestry starts to get colored in with things you didn’t know existed, and you get a lot fuller picture of what’s out there,” he added.
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.