Today we’d like to introduce you to Brent Barbano.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve been a filmmaker and cinematographer in Los Angeles for 12 years now, but in 2013, I saw a need in our industry that hadn’t been met yet. Both my colleagues/friends and I had invested in a lot of equipment, as a cinematographer tends to do. Cameras, lenses, lights… the list goes on. Gear in our industry is not cheap. These are steep investments that typically never offer a full return monetarily, and with technology quickly evolving, gear has been going out of vogue faster than in previous years.
So, I was shooting a documentary in San Francisco that was about the Sharing Economy; that is, companies like Airbnb, Uber, Turo, and so on. In 2013, this was a fairly new concept that was sneaking into literally every industry, but at least to me, was still under the radar. It was from the experience on this documentary, that I thought of an online marketplace for filmmakers and creatives to safely and efficiently rent out their gear (investments) to other peers. Finally, a way for my colleagues and I to make a return on our investments, gain a supplemental income, and in turn, give back to the community by allowing professional resources to be available to the masses in an easy, yet very affordable way.
From this early development, I found ShareGrid’s other two co-founders, Marius Ciocirlan and Arash Shiva. Marius and Arash also had the same concept that they had been working on for a few months. With their extensive background in tech and product design and mine in the film industry, it only made sense to team up!
We started working on ShareGrid in October of 2013 part-time, as we still had our own full-time jobs. Both Marius and Arash moved to Seattle, WA from Silicon Valley, and I continued to operate from Los Angeles. By February of 2015, we were finally ready to open our beta launch in Los Angeles. Prior to launching, a major breakthrough was partnering up with our insurance partner, Athos Insurance. We knew that if we wanted to revolutionize the way the creative community sourced equipment, we had to also revolutionize the way production insurance fell into the mix. At the time, it was a very tedious, outdated, and ineffective process that involved scanning documents, phone calls, limited hours, and sometimes faxes… faxes? Really? As millennials ourselves, we knew our user base would need (and expect) a fast and effective way to purchase insurance. Luckily, Athos had the exact same foresight. As a smaller company at the time, they, like us, were willing to take risks and saw our vision. We spent almost eight months building the very first online instant insurance platform for production equipment.
After launching ShareGrid in early 2015, the Los Angeles community responded with amazing support. We immediately knew we had something special. Later that year, we opened in New York City. Again, with such a deep filmmaking and photography community, NYC welcomed us with open arms. Within the next few years, we opened in a total of 7 cities (LA, NYC, ATL, SF, SEA, CHI, and SD). In 2018, we decided to open up ShareGrid nationally. We now have over $700 million in inventory and over 75,000 active users. Additionally, we launched two new avenues under the ShareGrid umbrella in 2018: ‘ShareGrid Buy and Sell’ and ‘ShareGrid Pro’. ‘Buy and Sell’ is an online marketplace for buying and selling used and new gear, and ‘PRO’ is a fast way for renters to submit their gear lists for upcoming projects in order to receive live bids from local rental houses and owners, which ultimately gives renters the best deals in town on the gear they need.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I don’t think starting a business is ever a smooth road. In fact, if you were to look up the meaning of starting a business, it should include a picture of Lombard Street. The path is daunting, but you have to try it. For me, the tough part was that I didn’t go to business school, and neither did my co-founders. Perhaps that’s how we gained our unchecked confidence in what we were doing, but the MBA’s weren’t there… just a lot of intuition and blind faith. However, much like becoming a filmmaker, there is only so much school can prepare you for when you decide to become an entrepreneur.
Some struggles specifically had to do with gaining the industry’s trust. The film industry was and is in many ways, still built on relationships and an offline approach to business. So, as the new kid in town, it took some time for ShareGrid to earn the trust of local and national businesses. We needed to remind them that we were here to stay, and not as a threat to their bottom line, but as a way to help their businesses thrive by ushering them into 21st century technology, as well as helping them to adapt to the expectations of a growing creative consumer base– a base we at ShareGrid knew, and know, all too well.
For me personally, it was simply just learning how to be an entrepreneur. Analyzing data, prioritizing budgets, raising VC capital (which I owe a lot to my partners), and so on. As an artist first and foremost, the aforementioned were, and still are, not the most exciting tasks. However, I’ve learned to find enjoyment out of the process of it all. I guess if you love your business enough, the tedious tasks that are required to keep the lights on become more routine than chores. It’s kind of like finally finding comfort by going to the gym.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about ShareGrid – what should we know?
ShareGrid is an online marketplace where filmmakers, photographers, and creatives can rent and buy equipment and resources to one another with instant insurance and damage waivers. Our goal has been to take a multi-billion dollar film/photo industry that has operated, mainly, on paper and handshakes for decades, and help adapt it into a more sustainable and efficient future.
Our tools for sourcing gear take the pain and friction out of traditional methods of calling, shopping, and negotiating for the best deal that fits your needs and budget. Our platform streamlines the process of scheduling, sourcing, budgeting, communicating, insuring, and paying for production equipment.
To rent on ShareGrid, you simply search the gear you need from our inventory of over 80,000 indexed products, and then input the pick-up and drop off dates. You can sort your results based on price, selection, location, availability, and reviews. Once you’ve selected the gear you need, you can build a cart and select your insurance or form of coverage before checking out.
We handle all forms of payment both from the renter and owner side. This integration also takes away a lot of the pain points of collecting payments, invoicing and so on. Now, you can adjust charges, discounts and refunds on the fly as you rent. Additionally, we provide a number of tools to our members to keep track of your rental/purchase history, downloadable invoices and so on.
With our insurance partner, Athos Insurance, we provide up to $750,000 in coverage through both short term and annual insurance policies available at checkout. Though our insurance prices are the best in the industry, we also provide more economical options of coverage in our ‘Damage Only’ or ‘Damage + Theft’ options. These cover up to $20,000 in replacement value and are geared for indie users who need something a little more affordable. Lastly, because we have a large number of established users and productions using ShareGrid, we also accept third-party insurance policies, which is perfect for any user who already has an existing insurance policy. We just need to verify the policy before it can be used for ShareGrid rentals.
Our members are not only saving 30-40% on rental equipment by sourcing locally and independently, but our equipment owners are now earning substantial supplemental income via their equipment investments. By putting the power in the individual’s hands, natural open market forces have allowed prices to stay competitive. This has created a marketplace with an abundance of gear, allowing creatives access to rentals they normally wouldn’t be able to afford.
Though we started as mostly a peer-to-peer marketplace, we now have over one hundred rental houses on the platform renting to our community. By providing a marketplace that caters to both individuals and businesses, we have been able to build a dynamic experience that can be determined by a user’s budget and sourcing needs. In turn, we have grown to service not only film students and indie productions, but features, commercials, and documentaries for brands such as Disney, HBO, Facebook, Amazon Studios, and Vice.
We also believe in education and an ongoing outreach effort with our community. So, we’ve produced a lot of educational content including The Ultimate Lens Library and online videos covering gear and filmmaking techniques. We also host events monthly with panels, speakers and screenings that both educate our members and celebrate their achievements.
Though I’m proud of our technical achievements and saving/earning our members a lot of money, what really keeps me coming back are the stories of our members connecting on ShareGrid, and ultimately collaborating creatively. The film industry is a relationship-centric one, and if we’re helping connect artists which, in turn, further their career and professional network, then I think we’re doing something right.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
ShareGrid wouldn’t be a fraction of what it is today without the brilliant and ambitious minds of my co-founders Marius, Arash, and our COO, Siavash Shiva. In the early years, it was just the four of us working out of a garage, but now our team of almost twenty employees is what allows ShareGrid to grow and succeed. The dedication and forward-thinking approaches from our dev team, to our customer support team, are why we’re still around and innovating every day.
We’re also very thankful to our investors who have guided us with amazing insight and support throughout this weird journey we call running a business.
- 15% fee from every rental from the owner.
- 5% fee from every rental from the renter.
- Website: www.sharegrid.com
- Phone: 888-318-3852
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org