For Pope Francis’ historic mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi in February, attended by 150,000 people, there was a need for 5,000 chairs for VIPs in the middle of the giant arena.
“Nobody in the UAE can deliver 5,000 chairs, because nobody has 5,000 chairs,” says Vaibhav Doshi, chief executive of RentSher Middle East, a one-stop online shop for short-term rentals. “But the beauty with RentSher is that we know who has what. So even if a client says 'I need 10,000 chairs tomorrow morning', we know how to aggregate it.”
RentSher provided all 5,000 chairs for the Pope’s mass through three separate vendors. The virtual marketplace, which was started in India in October 2015 and expanded to the UAE in May 2016, also supplies small-scale events starting from “20 chairs in your garden”, says Mr Doshi, who founded the Middle East operation.
The 10,000-plus products offered on the RentSher.com and RentSher.ae sites fall under three main categories — events, electronics and equipment — and include cameras, laptops, camping gear, bouncy castles, wheelchairs, tables, cutlery, baby cribs, dance floors and air conditioners, to name a few.
Through its partnership with more than 1,000 vendors, around 200 of which are in the UAE, the start-up aims to help consumers find the rentals they need at the right price. “The main objective is to make renting easy,” says Mr Doshi.
Between its businesses in India and the UAE, it has more than 5,000 orders a month and is expecting to quadruple that figure by the end of this year. RentSher plans to launch in Saudi Arabia this month and expand elsewhere in the future.
The concept started with Harsh Dhand, chief executive of RentSher in India, who had been classmates with Mr Doshi at Oxford University’s business school. When Mr Dhand decided to start RentSher, funding was the main challenge, so Mr Doshi said he would put in the seed investment of $200,000 (Dh734,630).
“I wrote the first cheque more as an investor,” says Mr Doshi, who at the time was working as the strategy and policy executive director for the Dubai Creative Clusters Authority. “The more I looked into this, the more and more excited I was getting by the day. So six months after my initial cheque, I said, we should also start this in Dubai.”
Mr Doshi had lived in Dubai since 2008 when he joined consulting firm McKinsey. He went on to work at Philipps and the DCCA before leaving to start RentSher Middle East. He also brought in his wife Purvashi Doshi, who had worked in retail in the UK, as a co-founder and operations director.
Mr Dhand’s wife Anubha Verma, previously with IBM and Google, joined the India team as chief technology officer a year ago. There are around 40 employees total, most of whom are in India. Based in Bangalore, the India operation has a presence in eight other cities, including Mumbai and Delhi.
RentSher — ‘sher’ means ‘tiger’ in colloquial Hindi — has now raised around $2 million in total over two rounds in 2017 and last year. The investors include Abu Dhabi-based venture capital fund Shorooq Investments, angel investors from the UAE, a handful of McKinsey partners and a "big" Saudi family through their family office.
The site initially started with a peer-to-peer rental model, but has shifted in the last couple of years to a marketplace model. There are certain categories, such as cameras and lens as well as children’s products like strollers and car seats, that still rely on peer-to-peer, meaning individuals can upload their products on the site. The rental time can range from a few hours to a few months.
Through a network of more than 500 freelancers, customers can hire performers and service staff through RentSher as well.
“You can hire a belly dancer through RentSher, you can hire a violin player or an oud player, and so on. You can even hire waitresses or hostesses from us,” says Mr Doshi.
During tourist season, RentSher Middle East sees high demand for car seats, strollers, wheelchairs, baby cribs, extra beds and mattresses. Hotels contact RentSher to rent a PS4. Restaurants go through RentSher to rent TVs to broadcast a popular sporting event.
Monetisation comes through a revenue share of 10 to 25 per cent on every order.
In the last six to nine months, RentSher has worked on creating a software service platform for the rental providers to help them manage their orders, and is planning to develop an app for consumers in the next month.
After the launch in KSA, the start-up is eyeing other markets, including Egypt, the UK and possibly Indonesia, depending on investor support. It is aiming to raise $4 million to $5m by the end of this year.
“More of the focus right now is to make sure that India and UAE and Saudi are growing as fast as they can,” says Mr Doshi.
Q&A: Vaibhav Doshi, chief executive and founder of RentSher Middle East
What already successful start-up do you wish you had started?
Dubizzle. This is something which I had thought of when I was still in the UK and trying to buy second-hand items on a student budget. The other one is Airbnb. Having lived in the UK, I myself booked many BNBs and it used to be painful finding through different online-offline channels and then calling them and booking them. These are the two start-ups, now looking back, I would say I probably should have started. But I still believe RentSher can achieve similar heights.
What advice would you give to start-ups?
Team is the most critical part. We’ve learnt lessons in tough ways, so I think one key thing is to make sure the first 10 employees you hire are as passionate about the venture as you are, and then setting the right culture. Today I’m extremely proud of the team we have, but we’ve had our share when we didn’t have the best team in place and it cost us a lot of time and money.
Is it a challenge to be in business with friends and family?
In our case, me and my wife are both childhood friends also, so we’ve known each other since we were four or five years old. So whatever there was to be discovered has already been discovered. I think the reason it doesn’t work mostly is either you have surprises or you have a massive ego. As long as you can have an open conversation without bringing ego in between, we’ve never had a tough day fortunately — both between me and Purvashi, but also between me and Harsh, my friend now for 10 or 11 years. We yell at each other, we fight, we scream, but it’s always with the intent of doing something better. I don’t know what the magic formula is, but frankly it has not bothered us so far.
What is your next big dream to make happen?
If anybody’s thinking of rentals, we want them to think of RentSher. I would say that’s the big dream when it comes to RentSher. Beyond RentSher is then to be able to give back to society in some way. Coming from a rural background – both of us grew up in the same small village in India — I think there’s a lot more to be done for the world.