Stuffstr, a Seattle-based startup, is looking to become the Uber or Airbnb of, well, stuff. With “No Unused Stuff” as its motto, the Public Benefit Corporation is committed to helping consumers join the global movement toward a circular economy by reselling stuff, offering it to friends, or having it delivered to Goodwill for free—all at the tap of a button. The ultimate goal is to keep stuff out of landfill. Since sports equipment will certainly be a significant category for Stuffstr, we wanted to learn more. So we connected with the startup’s Co-Founder and CEO, John Atcheson, for this installment of the GSB Interview.
GreenSportsBlog: OK, John, we have a lot to cover so let’s get right to it. How did you come up with the idea of a company that makes it simple for people to share, sell and recycle their stuff?
John Atcheson: Great question. Let’s go back a ways, a long ways. I went to Brown University as an undergrad back in the late 70s-early 80s, and since this is the GreenSportsBlog, I should mention I played football there…
GSB: I actually remember Brown in those days as one of your teammates, John Woodring, ended up playing linebacker for my New York Jets for several years. Did you think about playing professionally?
JA: The Seahawks and Cowboys took a look at me as an offensive tackle. But a broken leg suffered during my sophomore year and, ultimately, a desire to do other things dampened my interest in the NFL and that, as they say, was that. So then I became a singer-songwriter for a time before going to Stanford for my MBA. And it was while there that I also did Masters work at the school of Material Sciences in photovoltaics…
John Atcheson, co-Founder and CEO of Stuffstr (Photo credit: John Atcheson)
GSB: Photovoltaics being the term for solar cells or solar panels. Those were the relatively early days of solar power.
JA: Exactly. I thought at the time that renewables would be the “Next Big Thing” but, if you remember, that was the era in which President Reagan was removing solar panels from the roof of the White House. There really wasn’t much going on in that world, so I pivoted to the world of tech startups and became employee #8 for Digidesign…
GSB: That sounds like a smart pivot, at least at that time. What was/is Digidesign?
JA: It still exists as a division of Avid Audio under the Avid name. Digidesign was a pioneer in giving PCs the ability to create sounds and music…
GSB: You mean it was a precursor to iTunes and other such applications?
JA: Not iTunes so much. Digidesign is a tool for professional music producers. In fact, today it is still the standard for professional music production off of a computer.
GSB: What was your role with Digidesign?
JA: I helped write the first business plan, helped secure venture funding. It was so exciting; I got hooked into the venture capital scene. So from there I went to Macromind, a technology that synched up sound, animation and video for the Mac 2. And then I founded MusicNet, a truly leading edge platform that allowed users to discover interesting new music. We would provide folks with CD ROM’s—this was just before the wide adoption of the Internet. We also partnered with Rolling Stone. Readers would get a code, dial in and listen to new releases.
GSB: That is—for the pre-internet days—incredibly cool.
JA: …and novel. Then, once the Internet became the INTERNET, we sold the core parts to Real Networks in Seattle, which at that time handled 95 percent of all streaming online.
GSB: When was this?
JA: This was 1997-1998. I ran the media portion of the business, meaning I did all of the deals with the record labels and studios.
GSB: That must’ve been a blast…
JA: Oh, it was but it was also an intense amount of work. When the company went public, I realized I was burnt out. So I took some time off and decided to reacquaint myself with sustainability. Got involved with the Sightline Institute in Seattle…
GSB: I’ve never heard of it…What’s it about?
JA: It is a sustainability communications and research nonprofit with a focus on the Pacific Northwest. They have an influential history…coined the term “green jobs,” pioneered British Columbia’s carbon tax, among other things. I became Chairman of the Board there, but became restless for more sustainability challenges. Turns out a friend introduced me to a company called Getaround, kind of an Airbnb for the car industry…
GSB: Is that like Zipcar?
JA: Kind of. Zipcar owns its cars and members use them when they need them. With Getaround, individuals own the cars and let others rent them when they’re idle.
GSB: That’s very cool. Does it exist in New York City yet?
JA: Not yet, but it’s on the way. Anyway, I worked with the CEO and the executive team to help launch Getaround; I got really enamored with it. The founder and CEO wanted me to join the team full time in the San Francisco Bay area. So I moved down there with the mission of finding ways to use the idle time of cars, which is about 92 percent on average. But then I started to look beyond cars and was appalled with what I found when I looked at what Americans do with household stuff. 80 percent of household items are used less than once a month.
JA: Yes. And then, when it’s gotten rid of, 70 percent of it goes straight to the landfill.
GSB: What kind of stuff are you talking about?
JA: Clothing, furniture, consumer electronics, home appliances and, of most interest to your readers, sporting goods. The average home in the US has over $7,000 worth of unused stuff just sitting around. So we launched Stuffstr with the motto, “No Unused Stuff.”
GSB: When did you go live? And how does it work?
JA: My partner Steve Gutmann and I founded the company in 2014 and launched the Stuffstr app in the second half of last year so we’re definitely still in startup mode. Once you sign up as a member, everything you buy is auto-loaded into the Stuffstr system. We monitor the value of your stuff for you and let you post it for resale, donate or recycle it at the tap of a button. So you can sell, say, a tennis racquet or share it.
StuffStr’s home screen (Photo credit: Stuffstr)
Stuffstr’s “My Stuff” screen (Photo credit: Stuffstr)
GSB: Sounds like you have both an exciting innovation in the sharing economy and also something that will need to change consumer behavior quite radically for it to scale.
JA: That is just what we are aiming to do. We’re still tweaking the model as we speak, adding things like a Craigslist integration as well as the ability to pick up items for donation for free. We’ll take them to Goodwill Industries for you.
GSB: For real? What is Stuffstr’s revenue model?
JA: There are several revenue streams but mainly we’re going to be able to provide retailers and manufacturers with valuable data that’s not available anywhere else. We can show them what happens to products once they go out the door, providing the first-ever product lifecycle database. We’re betting on the circular economy and the value to consumers of understanding the value of their stuff. Think about it: Other than cars, we really don’t know what stuff is worth. If you know that, you can realize residual value.
GSB: Where do you guys see sports fitting in?
JA: We see sporting goods as a key target category for Stuffstr. Think about the youth category. Everything from bicycles to lacrosse gear to hockey sticks are used for a relatively short while and then stored in the basement or garage as the kids outgrow them. How cool would it be to, with one or two clicks, value that sports stuff and see if you can sell or share it. But this is not only a youth market thing. The model extends into adulthood, as there is tremendous potential value in golf clubs, bicycles, skis, skates, extreme sports equipment, tennis racquets and more. We are confident that people will want to extract value from their largely unused sporting goods equipment and, once they start doing so through Stuffstr at scale, we will see a significant drop in equipment entering the landfill.
GSB: I guess this is what a “disruptive business model” means.
JA: We hope so as our aim is to change consumer behavior on the macro level. With that in mind, as we grow, we will look to use athletes as spokespeople as they would build awareness and add authenticity.
GSB: Whenever you’re ready, we should talk, as we know some great eco-athletes here at GreenSportsBlog.