Kashless Expands, Enters Marketing Phase as It Rewards Consumers for Recycling Products

I caught up yesterday with noted entrepreneur and investor Martin Tobias, after his latest startup, Seattle-based Kashless, announced a partnership with RecycleBank to reward people for recycling items at Kashless.org. The basic idea is a rewards program—redeemable for merchandise at hundreds of retailers—for people who give away things like old clothes, food, bikes, electronics, or other equipment online.

Since I last reported on Kashless last winter, the “recommerce” firm has rolled out its free online marketplace and community website in 122 cities around the U.S. The partnership with RecycleBank, a New York-based firm and fellow RRE Ventures portfolio company, should help Kashless acquire new members. Kashless currently has tens of thousands of members, while RecycleBank has hundreds of thousands. “They’ll promote their members to join Kashless,” Tobias says. “They’re rewarding people for separating their trash, and we’re rewarding people for extending the life of products they’re no longer using.”

Tobias says the deal puts his company “over the top” and should help convince more people to give away their stuff on Kashless.org instead of Craigslist, Freecycle, or Goodwill stores. “We’ve been working hard to make Kashless.org the best place for people to find and give away free things,” he says. The rewards program “adds to the things we’ve already been doing, like driving directions [to available items] and tax deductions. It further differentiates us and makes it more valuable to give things away through us.”

Kashless is now staffed by five full-time employees and a couple of contractors. That’s down from about a dozen earlier this year, during the bulk of the company’s product development work. Tobias says there are more than 500,000 active listings on the website.

The company’s revenue model is a combination of advertising on the consumer site and licensing of the software platform to brands and communities that want to boost their recycling. The latter “private label” portion of the business makes up the majority of Kashless’s revenues, Tobias says.

I asked Tobias for the weirdest thing anyone has given away on the site. He named a couple items off the top of his head: a live monkey in a cage, and a tugboat up on blocks in someone’s yard. “An interesting thing for us is that everything posted on Kashless has been taken by somebody,” he says.

Tobias then remembered that he had once advertised a broken urinal from his old house. (I didn’t ask.) “Some guy said, ‘I’ve been looking for that.’ He thought he could fix it.”

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