Peer-to-peer space sharing platform Neighbor creates real-life social experiences and helps people realize they have more in common than they social media wants them to believe
by Dave McKenna, Editor CREB on September 29, 2020
Recently a Republican (or was it a Democrat) needed some extra space for some common household overflow. Rather than rent a locker at the shabby self-storage across town, he logged on to Neighbor and found a clean, safe space around the block. A neighbor of his, whom he had never met, was offering a spare bay in his garage on the peer-to-peer space sharing platform.
It turns out the host was from the Other Party, and happened to be a really great guy – Nothing at all like caricature the social media he consumes in large quantities normally paints of the Them. “People naturally like each other when they get to know each other. Neighbor facilitates that,” said Joseph Woodbury, co-founder and CEO of Neighbor.
Neighbor is like an Airbnb for spare space. But with a lot less hassle. If you have an empty basement, garage bay, spare room, or an open lot? You can convert that into to cash by listing the spare on the peer-to-peer marketplace Neighbor.com. “It’s the most passive income in the gig economy,” said Woodbury. “There’s a lot of work to be an Uber driver or and Airbnb host. But with Neighbor, you may not see the renter for a year, but you get a check every month.”
The idea came to the twenty-something co-founders when they were planning extended travel outside the country and needed a place to keep their stuff. The storage options seemed expensive and seedy. Instead, they found a friend with some extra space they were able to use. “Wouldn’t it be great if anyone could do a search for storage space nearby and keep stuff with a neighbor rather than in an industrial park all the way across town?” said Woodbury. Neighbor’s mission is to connect people with spare space with people with excess stuff nearby.
Founded in 2017, Neighbor lists space in all 50 states. It has focused on solving the key issues with the self-storage business model by making clean, safe space nearby available at a reasonable cost. For many people, their storage bill is the largest subscription they pay every month. And the facilities can be underwhelming. Neighbor also brings some slick tech to the table with the number one storage app in the app store.
To help reassure customers that their property is safe with a neighbor, the program provides $25,000 of insurance for stored items. No other self-storage solution does that. For the hosts, Neighbor provides a $1 million policy the cover them in the event of anything unforeseen. The coverage is appreciated, but the reality has proven that it is a bit redundant.
The storage industry as a whole has a horrible reputation as thief magnets. They are drive-up locations, with limited surveillance and acres of doors full of potential treasure to attract the shiftless and desperate. Statistics are hard to find, but by some estimates, one in ten self-storage facilities are broken into every year. In contrast, Neighbor customers have never had a single claim for stolen property. “Considering 1 in 10 storage facilities are broken into each year, a home is a much less attractive target (for thieves),” said Woodbury.
Neighbor grew across the country in a short time, almost exclusively by word of mouth. “When you’re able to save $2,000 a year on your annual storage fees, it’s something you tell your friends about,” said Woodbury. Now, with a Series A round of $10 million lea by Andreessen Horowitz earlier this year, Neighbor is actively cultivating metro markets with targeted awareness campaigns. The latest major market Neighbor.com has focused on is San Francisco. When the company began its awareness blitz in the Bay Area this past August, there was a dramatic shortage of self-storage space. “We can quickly add value really quickly in supply-constrained markets where storage has not been built out or is at maximum capacity,” said Woodbury. He points out that one of the largest storage chains in the country had a meager 2 units of storage available for the millions of residents of 415 area code at the time.
Woodbury and his partners have taken a social approach to the problem of self-storage. Unlike some other platforms in the niche, Neighbor has focused on the human connection. The name “neighbor” was chosen very intentionally. “Others who have attempted this have focused on the commodity aspect of peer-to-peer self-storage.
Neighbor is designed to be a social experience that actually promotes human interaction and fosters the concept of neighbors helping neighbors,” said Woodbury. “People naturally like each other when they get to know each other. Neighbor facilitates that. We’ve seen Republicans and Democrats meet in person through Neighbor and realize they have more in common than the social media bubbles would lead them to believe,” said Woodbury.
The storage capacity that Neighbor has brought into the market so far is significant. According to Neighbor, it would take $1 billion in new construction by the self-storage industry to equal the space hosted on the platform today. As Bill Gates recently pointed out, the production of concrete and steel accounts for 10% of all the greenhouse gases emitted per year. If concrete were a country, it would have the third largest carbon footprint in the world, behind the U.S. and China. Self-storage is nothing but concreate and steal, so the planet has been spared millions of square feet of ugly storage parks as well thanks to Neighbor.com. “We bring prices down for customers, put money in the pockets of our hosts, and it’s good for the environment. A win-win-win,” Said Woodbury.
Use of Neigbor has exploded by 4X since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Because of the disruptions to normal economic life, people are clearing out rooms for home offices, or making some extra money on their unused space. The market is finding new uses for Neighbor.com in this unusual time. Some are placing their vacant lots on the platform for use to store heavy equipment. “We’re partnering with some owners of office space, converting vacant floors into storage and listing it on the platform. It is working because the space is close to where the people are,” said Woodbury.
Neighbor is focused on the self-storage space for the time being, but their vision is broader than that. “We want to be the platform that brings people together to serve each other. We are building a national network of neighbors to allow them to provide other services for each other,” said Woodbury.