This week I spoke to two Salt Lake City entrepreneurs: The husband and wife cofounders of Parachut. Like me, their alma mater is Brigham Young University. The husband, Philip Niu, played BYU Football in 2003-2006. He’s an extreme wellness advocate, like I am, but unlike me, he stands 6’5”. Wife Melissa played Washington State volleyball, stands 6’, and has done color commentary for the Fox Sports Network and marketing for the Seattle Seahawks. She’s also an expert in the photography realm.
All of these factors have been key to their business, which is the world’s first access marketplace to facilitate the sharing of already-purchased goods while simultaneously reducing over-consumption and over-production by maximizing the utility of the world’s consumable goods.
By now, we’re all aware of the sharing economy, as exemplified by Airbnb and a myriad of other companies making it easier to get access to the things we’d like to rent or borrow while maximizing the use of our goods.
But beyond the sharing economy lies the Access Economy – a concept experts acknowledge as the next progressive arena that will make it even easier to get what you want, when you need it and for as long as you want. In this era, we’ll no longer be tied to a rental schedule and we’ll have stronger protection for the privacy of the individuals involved. As a concept, the access economy has the potential to change the way industries and consumers evolve, and Parachut intends to be leading the charge.
Parachut has been several years in the making, the couple explains. In their later 30s, they embody the Millennials’ desire to enjoy the goods and experiences they want, but to streamline and downsize the size of the home they require and the number of possessions they feel the need to own, to maintain and to store. As a family, they understand this principle keenly as they recently moved with their three daughters from a half-acre property complete with gardens and chickens to a vastly smaller location as they prepare their venture to soar. Yet they are as happy as ever as they realize the growing ability to access and give back an increasing number of the things they desire.
The Nius are far from alone. As experts Giana M. Eckhardt and Fleura Bardhi have noted in Harvard Business Review, when consumers have the alternative of trying out a number of products and alternatives, they may want to “drive a BMW one day and a Toyota Prius the next.” Furthermore, consumers value their privacy as opposed to feeling obliged to meet and make social contact with the owners of the goods that they share.
Knowing this, the couple soft-launched the Parachut concept in 2016 in the category they know best – cameras and photography tech. They put the word out through a single article in Resource Magazine, written by a reporter they knew.
The response was immediate and overwhelming. Wired picked up the story and ran. Then they were covered in TechCrunch. More than 500 people signed up for memberships with their credit cards on the spot. The concept resonated quickly with businesses, too. For example, Salesforce.com became a member immediately, signing up for a plan that allows them continuous access to the ever-changing photography equipment needed by the company’s creative team. The membership eliminates the need to buy and store and insure a Flip video (remember those?), then a digital camera and a series of HD video cameras to keep their creative services team at the top of their game.
Members pay a monthly fee. When they’re finished with the equipment they’re using, they Parachut it forward and use their membership points to secure a different item instead.
Overwhelmed by the initial response, however, the couple retreated back under the radar to study the behavior of their members and prepare the program to scale. Would people take care of the equipment? Would they return it reliably? Thankfully, with very few exceptions, they did.
Interestingly, the program spurred reactions on Reddit, with posters starting threads with remarks such as “I like the idea of this program, but I wish it would also do XXX.” With her journalism and marketing background, Melissa jumped onto the threads identifying herself as the company’s president and cofounder and inviting their ideas. The posters welcomed her in, providing their candid thoughts in advance.
Today, two years later, the company is ready to soar. Their initial category of photography and creative tech is approaching full launch.
The ultimate plan for Parachut is a cleaner, more efficient and more enjoyable world that provides a more responsible way for consumers to enjoy their favorite goods. Perhaps we can move further away from the over-consumerism and over-production that currently plagues our society. Taken to its fullest fruition, the program could cover many industries including sporting goods, workout equipment, seasonal goods and even vehicles as the days of buying an item to use once and store forever are gone.
For other entrepreneurs there are several lessons we can take from the access economy:
- Is it critical that we own every asset we need? Clearly, it isn’t – and I believe the model that Parachut is espousing can compel us to take a harder look at the time value of money, the space required to store equipment, and the inefficiency of upgrading to new equipment that our current business models require. I can see the evaluations of own versus rent versus share becoming much more interesting within the coming few years.
- What is the most environmentally responsible way to conduct our business? Increasingly, consumers are poised to welcome and to reward our responsible behavior. In addition to responsible use of recycling and green materials, we can help the world and the economy by making better use of our space, our equipment and our consumable goods.
The Access Economy is a concept I can relate to fully at the helm of Restore, where we house advanced wellness equipment such as cryotherapy and hyperbaric chambers that would be inaccessible or extremely expensive to own or access through a traditional medical facility. We’re moving toward the access economy as well, as we work to make the equipment and treatments affordable and available to all, on demand. I’ll be watching with interest to see this organization progress.