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storethat11We’ve already seen the Airbnb for dog sitting (Rover.com, Dog Vacay) and for commuting (Lyft, Sidecar).

Now, get ready for the equivalent of self-storage. Here comes Stowthat, a new concept that takes a page out of Airbnb’s popular hotel alternative.

stowthat11As the name suggests, Stowthat creates an online marketplace to match those in need of storage space with those who have extra room in their garages.

The idea is a simple one, and it was sparked from a personal experience by creator Joseph Mele who owned a few rental properties in the Seattle area.

“We started renting out the garages separately as storage space,” explains Mele, most recently senior vice president of U.S. Media for Razorfish. “We found that they rented very easily, and so I thought there must be something there that we can combine with the collaborative economy.”

The collaborative economy — also known as the sharing economy — is a reference to online business models that take advantage of individual’s excess capacity in their homes or cars. Those ideas are pretty hot right now, attracting piles of venture financing. (Pet sitting service Rover.com, for example, just scored $3.5 million from retail giant Petco and others).

Stowthat is very much in the early-stages of development, though Mele says that the initial response has been very positive. The company last month took home the top prize at the TechCrunch Meetup elevator pitch competition in Seattle, winning an opportunity to present at the tech site’s conference in San Francisco in early September.

“In a nutshell, we are creating the Airbnb of self-storage,” says Melle. “We want to connect people who have stuff they want to keep with those who have room to spare and could use a little extra cash.”

The service is expected to launch next Wednesday, with a soft launch in the Puget Sound region. If all goes as planned, a larger expansion will follow.

Visitors to the site now can peruse a few garages in Seattle neighborhoods — such as this barn-door entry style which is available to rent for $195 per month in Ravenna and this three-car behemoth in the Roosevelt area of Seattle that rents for $450 per month.

Mele sees plenty of opportunities ahead, as they look to take on the traditional self-storage business.

“There are many different paths to go down, but we want to use the “lean startup” concept – get out in the market and get close to customers to understand what they really want and need and expand as necessary from there.” Advisors to the self-funded startup include Clark Kokich, Chairman of Razorfish; David Niu, founder of TinyHR; and Maggie Finch, CEO of King of the Web.

Interestingly, there may be other competition looming in Seattle. As we reported earlier this year, HomeGrocer.com founder Terry Drayton is kicking around a new stealthy self-storage business dubbed Storrage.

The one question I have about Stowthat is security, something that Mele has thought a lot about. Here’s what he told me when I asked whether folks will feel safe storing their stuff in someone’s garage.

The first factor is getting the parties on either side of the agreement to know each other.  The site offers renters and owners plenty of opportunities to vet each other before they get into an agreement.  Owners are required to create profiles both of themselves and their garages or other storage spaces before they can list, and each garage listing must have at least one photo of the unit.  Addresses and full names of owners are not displayed to potential renters until they have started the agreement process together.  Renters, too, must register and create profiles on the site before they can make a request.  Renters and owners can communicate via the website, and we encourage them to try and meet face to face before entering into an agreement.  We also require payment through a third-party service, PayPal currently, so that transactions are secure.
The second factor is to provide clarity of usage in our Terms, which all users must agree to when they register or list.  These are a few of the things that our Terms stipulate.  Certain types of items are restricted for storage, including flammable, explosive, or stolen items.  Owners are required to provide a secure, locked unit that is accessible only to the renter and the owner.  The owner must notify the renter if they are going to enter the storage area or have to move any of the stored materials.  Renters are not allowed to be on any other part of the owner’s property without permission.  There are more in the Terms, but this gives you a flavor.
Finally, owners are generally covered from damages via their homeowner’s policies.  At the current time, we do not offer insurance to renters, but intend to offer some options in the future.  For now, we encourage renters to have their own insurance for their goods if they are of high value.
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