Kwipped is an online marketplace that makes it easy for businesses, organizations and professionals to find and rent hard-to-find specialty equipment.
Location: Wilmington, NC
Product / Service Offering: Online B2B Equipment Rental and Leasing Marketplace
Co-founder Interviewed: Robert Preville
This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.
I am an engineer by trade. As you might suspect, I’m very much motivated by problem solving and I thrive on positive change. I really enjoy leveraging creativity to generate value where it didn’t exist before.
When did you establish your company?
We were technically established in late 2014, but we hired staff and went fully operational in the spring of 2015.
Where did the idea originate?
In 1999, I was a founding employee and Vice President of Sales for MFG.com, the leading online manufacturing marketplace; which later became a portfolio company of Jeff Bezos’s Bezos Expeditions. This business showed me the potential of the online marketplace model.
In 2004, I founded GlobalTestSupply.com, a world-class online provider of test and measurement equipment. While our core business was equipment sales, many customers repeatedly asked if they could rent the equipment because they either couldn’t afford or didn’t want to purchase it outright. We set aside some inventory for rentals and the demand was always greater than our supply. This opened my eyes to an unfulfilled need that businesses have to rent or lease highly technical and specialized equipment.
It was the combination of my experiences developing an online marketplace and equipment rental demand that became the genesis of KWIPPED. “Let’s build an online marketplace that makes it easy for businesses, organizations and professionals to find and rent hard-to-find specialty equipment.”
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
Businesses and professionals require various types of equipment to accomplish their work. This spans across a variety of industries such as healthcare, life sciences, industrial manufacturing, engineering surveying, construction and practically any other professional field. Sometimes purchasing that equipment is not possible or preferable and renting or leasing the equipment is a smarter business decision.
KWIPPED uses a tech-based platform to enable users to quickly search for all kinds of specialty equipment available for rent and/or lease from a large global network of pre-sourced suppliers. We’ve done the sourcing work and aggregated equipment supply on a single, user-friendly website so that users can find and rent or lease the equipment they need with a high level of efficiency.
Essentially, we’re using technology to transform a tedious and time-consuming sourcing process that used to take days or weeks into a streamlined process that takes minutes. Now users can schedule equipment rentals as quickly and easily as booking a hotel room online, and that means they can get back to truly important work sooner.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
We possess the capacity to rent virtually any type of specialty commercial equipment. This ranges from lab and medical equipment, to electronic and environmental test equipment, and audio-visual and film production equipment (20+ industries).
KWIPPED‘s proprietary platform also provides a comprehensive, end-to-end solution that streamlines every aspect of the equipment rental and leasing processes. From equipment searches, quote comparisons, scheduling and rental agreements to lease applications, security deposits, insurance requirements and shipping logistics, renters and suppliers are guided through a simple but complete rental process. Thereby empowering both sides of the marketplace to execute rental and leasing transactions with minimal effort.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
Marketplaces present a chicken versus egg dynamic. Should we focus on acquiring suppliers first, and then try to attract rental customers? Or, should we generate demand first to attract suppliers? It’s a tough question.
We decided to start by finding some reliable suppliers and then using very precise marketing and sales tactics to drive rental demand for the type of equipment offered by our new suppliers. This allowed us to complete some transactions and begin to quickly build marketplace liquidity. Now we have 500+ suppliers and 4,000+ registered users.
Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?
I’m part of a local peer advisory board. It’s a braintrust made up of other area entrepreneurs and business owners. We meet regularly to collaborate, share ideas, and propose solutions to each other’s challenges. We all think we’re right and have all the answers, until we hear from others and view things from an alternative perspective. I have made some very definitive strategic and tactical adjustments based on insights gained in those meetings. So, my advice is to join or start a peer advisory board.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
I’ve been an entrepreneur for many years now and I have built up a capital network. It’s slow at first. It is one introduction and one relationship at a time. After a while, it’s not difficult to build a strong capital network and call upon them to work for you and your business.
Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
Our business serves such a broad range of B2B customers, that at first we had trouble really recognizing valuable niche markets. We sort of threw everything up against the wall to see what stuck. Now we have an excellent grasp on our target customer personas.
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
Across marketing and sales, operations and technology, we have a plethora of fantastic ideas to improve and grow the business; however, we are a start-up, so we’re working with a limited staff and limited budgets. We’re simply not capable of implementing all of the ideas, so it’s safe to say that, as a team, we are constantly grappling with prioritization of actions.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
Learn to code. Most businesses today are tech-oriented. While the Founder doesn’t need to be an expert developer, some understanding is quite valuable. I imagine it would be difficult to spot issues, ask the right questions, or recognize opportunities without some level of development skill.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?
Internally, we place a lot of value on positive energy, visualizing success and establishing a very appealing work culture and environment.
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