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The Idle Inventory Economy

By October 29, 20126 Comments2 min read

For those of you who know me, you know I’m fascinated by economics and business, so this is an idea I’ve been toying with for a while. There have been a number of startups popping up to help people monetize their idle assets, airbnb, rideshare, etc. I like to think of these idle assets as slack inventory, things you already own, but are not making use of them as efficiently as possible, or are literally costing you money while not in use.

From an accounting perspective if you’re amortizing your assets over time, then you could argue all of your possessions are costing you money constantly. I’m sure an accountant could weigh in on this, however that isn’t the principal point of this discourse.

With solutions such as airbnb popping up to solve the question of “how do I monetize this spare couch or bed I have in my house?” or “how do i monetize my apartment when I am on vacation?” The question begets another question: What other assets that we have as americans can we begin to monetize? TaskRabbit has monetized the slack inventory of human labor, uber of car services, so what else is there? The possibilities are actually extensive when you break past the 1st world needs/desires. We already see cell-phone rental/hiring in third world countries, computer rentals (cyber cafes), but many relatively capital intensive markets still exist with possible need for electronic marketplaces.

In the healthcare space there is a company called Cohealo which is taking an opposing view on this and optimizing usage of equipment via logistics.

If we find enough of these solutions, my theory is that we can work towards more efficiency and optimized individual earnings. This type of business will never really help the poor, as the poor typically don’t have assets that others are interested in renting temporarily (in the first world). However, the unemployed and underemployed often have their time/energy that can be hired out in this economy (thus the beauty of TaskRabbit and Zaarly).

So what are some things that people only need temporarily, but often find themselves buying and holding onto such goods and leaving them idle? Are we seeing a shift towards a rental economy?


  • Lara says:

    What about cloud-based software? That’s a similar concept already. Instead of going whole hog for Adobe Creative Suite’s desktop version, you move to the SaaS model and only pay for the time you use it, effectively renting the software. I wonder if that concept could be extended, such that a person could “resell” idle time on their month-by-month license.

    • Someone just messaged me about cloud enabling their servers, since there is always excess capacity. Well Adobe would never let you rent out your monthly fee based software, effectively subletting it. You could if it was desktop software, rent out a vps/remote desktop to your computer/suite of software. OR charge hourly (like amazon does)

  • We have been studying the idle inventory of aviation. Airlines lend and borrow aircraft parts to other airlines. There are a lot of use cases applicable to all types of markets. What about lending music instruments, tools, medical instruments, a grill, snow blowers. People have a lot of stuff sitting in their garage and they could easily earn some money by lending it. I think one should pick a segment and stick with it to see if it is viable.

    • Aviation is a weird industry, because the parts and spare resources lose value quick when they are used, and get wear and tear. Also the airlines are willing to store the extra parts at a cost to them to have them immediately as the cost of a grounded airplane far exceeds storing a landing gear for a year.

  • auston says:

    Boats. Boat slips. Lawnmowers. Storage sheds. ATVs. Dirtbikes. Private planes. Jet skis. Snorkel gear. Rock climbing gear.

    • I know of 2 companies doing boat rentals in miami through the web. blackjet is by uber guy doing private planes. I think the value has to be over XXX$ of the original good to have much use in renting it out.