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Rental Nation: How Everything Can Be Borrowed

Getable, recently rebranded from its original name of Rentcycle, bills itself as the largest of the online rental marketplaces. Among its high-profile advisers are Marc Randolph, a Netflix (NFLX) founder, and Chuck Templeton, founder of restaurant reservation service Open Table (OPEN). Investors include Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal and chairman at Yelp (YELP), and Farhad Mohit, founder of Shopzilla.

Getable recently closed on a $1.4 million round of funding led by Collaborative Consumption, which focuses on investing in start-ups specializing in -- you guessed it -- collaborative consumption, a movement pioneered by companies such as Netflix, ZipCar and Airbnb.

Tim Hyer, Getable's CEO, says his experiences as a branding evangelist for Red Hat (RHT), a leading provider of open source technology built around the Linux operating system, helped guide the creation of what was then called Rentcycle.

"The idea is that open source offers choice and access," Hyer wrote recently on the Getable blog. "It invites participation and thrives on it. And everyone who participates reaps the rewards. The new company wasn't open source, but it was strikingly similar ... Access was praised over ownership. Though I didn't fully realize it at the time, the collaborative consumption movement mirrored the values behind open source in more ways than one."

A frustrating event also triggered Hyer's eureka moment. While training for a triathlon, he looked for an alternative to paying $600 to ship his bike cross-country, but couldn't find a race bike to rent. That put the idea in his head, and a week later he wrote the business plan.

He sums up the philosophy behind his company, and the broader collaborative consumption movement, as "usership is the new ownership" -- the idea that products themselves aren't as important or desirable as the experiences and uses they provide.

Initially he conceived of a peer-to-peer rental marketplace, but decided a focus on businesses, from small to large, made more sense.

"As much as I loved that concept, I really think it is too ahead of its time," he says of the P2P model. "The fact of the matter is that there is an entire industry built around this concept of renting that is still not online, and moving it online is the first step toward ultimately building a place where you and I can offer out personal possessions to other users."

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