Why Own It wants to mobilize friendly lending

Did you ever buy something for one-off use, only to find out that your friend round the corner could have lent you his? This is the kind of situation that’s inspired a new app called Why Own It.

Borrowing from and lending to your friends: it’s a very simple idea that could, ironically, end up making money.

Here’s how it works. The lender uploads a tagged photo of what it is they’re willing to lend. The borrower searches for what they want, either through a text field or by scanning the item’s barcode.

If one of the borrower’s friends has it available to lend, then that’s what happens. If not, the would-be borrower gets referred through to iTunes or Amazon to buy the item (generating a referral fee for Why Own It).

The app is the brainchild of Hamburg-based Philipp Gloeckler, whose sustainable goods marketplace AvocadoStore recently turned profitable, and developer Nils Hausig. Stephan Uhrenbacher of Qype and 9flats is also on board as a business partner.

“I had the idea on holiday in Cape Town in January,” Gloeckler told me. “I was bored and thought it would be great to see what my friend had.”

As it turned out, nobody was providing such a service. Why Own It got founded in April, and several months later the first iOS app is out for the German market – despite the fact that it’s all in English. “Germany is just a test market,” Gloeckler said.

The next step is to launch in the English-speaking world – well, the U.S. and U.K. – at September’s Disrupt conference in San Francisco. Then Gloeckler will move to New York to run the business from there.

How come? Well, according to Gloeckler, the German market is too small and full of clones.

“If I have an idea which has an international scope, why stay in Germany?” he asked – an interesting stance to take, given Berlin’s growing reputation as an internationalization hub, but then again Why Own It doesn’t hew to that kind of e-commerce model.

So what kind of stuff gets lent through Why Own It? Fashion accessories, sports equipment, CDs and, according to Gloeckler, a dog. But that’s OK, because it’s all between friends.

“You don’t want to give your car to a stranger but you wouldn’t mind giving it to a friend,” Gloeckler noted.

But isn’t there scope for awkward situations, where you like someone but wouldn’t trust them with your car or dog? “Of course, but you can always block people, or just say you lent it to someone else. You don’t have to accept every request.”

I’ll leave you with this video, which depicts Gloeckler interviewing a bemused-looking Mark Ronson (I have no idea why) about the app. It must be nice to have people lining up to lend you stuff:

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/41921038 w=500&h=281]