“When I was growing up, I had this dream – I wanted to do something big that could change the world. I wanted to build a global tech company that could add to value to humanity and the environment that we live in”, says Punsri Abeywickrema, the founder and CEO of Cloud of Goods.
Indeed, Punsri pursued that dream, a journey that took him almost ten years. He established his own global tech company that leverages on the “sharing economy” concept – Cloud of Goods – an innovative web and mobile platform that enables travellers to borrow anything from baby gear, mobility equipment, sports gear and outdoor equipment at their destination.
The Sri Lankan native had discovered the sharing economy concept when he was tending to his garden at his new home in San Francisco. Punsri shares, “My hobby is gardening and during one weekend, I needed to use a wheelbarrow. But I didn’t want to buy one because it was just a one-time project. At the same time, I was new in the neighbourhood, so I didn’t know anyone whom I could borrow a wheelbarrow”.
Soon Punsri realised that this was a common problem among many people who have bought things which were meant to use only once as they didn’t have options to rent or borrow. He then developed an idea to build a web platform for people to borrow things and tested this concept at a local community fair. Within two days, 1,200 people signed up to participate in his platform. Seeing the business potential, he quit his job at LinkedIn to focus on building his online rental marketplace. The media caught notice of his website and subsequently, he was invited as a panel speaker at the South by Southwest Conference in Texas to introduce the sharing economy concept.
However, his business could not take off as 2010 was the year of slow economic growth and investors were cautious to invest especially in new business concepts such as sharing economy. Although there was consumer demand for such a concept, Punsri had run out of money and had to shut down his business by the end of 2011. He returned to Sri Lanka thereafter.
Over the next two years, Punsri re-invented himself and developed a technology team in Sri Lanka that became an outsourced technology destination for global entrepreneurs but he never forgot about the sharing economy concept. In 2014, he went back to Silicon Valley to assess if the concept is still viable and indeed it was.
Through focus groups with locals and travellers, Punsri and his team then discovered a huge pain point among travellers having to lug bulky items such as strollers and wheelchairs or having to spend a lot of money on outdoor equipment only to donate or throw away when they leave the destination.
With a focused niche, the team initially rolled out their website for travellers to rent strollers. Soon hotels began to notice them and wanted to partner with them. After some time, the product catalogue of Cloud of Goods expanded from strollers to other baby gear, outdoor and sports equipment and camping gear. Now, travellers can have these items delivered to their hotel, house or destination, paying only for the days they need them.
Cloud of Goods is currently available in six cities in the United States with nearly 20,000 transactions and garnering good reviews. As travellers would like them to be present in every part of the world, the team is planning to set up a hub in South-East Asia. They are researching markets that are business-friendly and have a thriving entrepreneurial spirit, and they are also keen in building relationships with local investors.
“We are making travel possible for a huge number of people especially parents with babies and young children, senior citizens, disabled and injured people. We are giving them the means to go out and enjoy the world instead of holing up in the hotel”, says Punsri. He also adds, “Why waste money to buy things when you will only use once and only to throw them away later? By doing so, we’re creating more pollution, adding more junk to the environment”.