Meet Seattle’s newest web entrepreneur
By Eric Engleman
November 14, 2008 at 12:05 PST
For a Seattle web entrepreneur, Aaron Freed has an unusual background.
He spent 12 years in the Air Force, flying refueling missions around the world before leaving the military in 2005. He came to Seattle to start a new life, and, like many newcomers, found work as a Starbucks barista. Working at a store in Benaroya Hall, he amused himself inventing tongue-twisting drinks such as: a tall one-pump peppermint, one-pump mocha half breve freepour no whip eggnog latte ("I call it ‘Christmas in a cup.’").
One day short of a year, Freed hung up his apron at Starbucks to reinvent himself yet again, this time as a web entrepreneur. He spent a year and a half — "a tumultuous, trying, and edifying 19 months" — developing a website called Divvy. The site allows people to lend or rent things and services to each other. It’s aimed at distinct communities such as condos, churches and circles of friends and family. Divvy takes a percentage — currently 1.1 percent — of every paid transaction.
These are early days for Divvy. The website has one customer so far, another local startup. Freed has spent $200,000 on the project, a combination of his own funds and money raised from Kelly Ogilvie, CEO of Blue Marble Energy, and other friends and family.
Asked what drove him to found his own web startup at a time of economic uncertainty, he said he’s admired other risk-takers over the years and wanted to be part of that dynamic.
"My father was an entrepreneur. I looked around and saw people I hold in high esteem," Freed said. "I went for it and it’s been unexpected, great experience."
For someone with no initial ties to the local tech industry, Freed has had notable success in connecting with established players. He worked early on with Janis Machala, a local startup veteran who recently joined the University of Washington. Machala introduced him to others in the industry, such as Blake Cahill of Visible Technologies and Chris Wood of Clarion Technologies, who have advised Divvy.
Divvy is part of a wave of companies promoting "possession on demand" rather than outright ownership. These include Avelle (formerly Bag Borrow or Steal), the handbag and jewelry rental service; car-sharing service ZipCar; and bike-sharing service SmartBike.
Divvy is not the first website to let people lend and share general items. Sites called Zilok and neighBorrow take similar approaches, and local tech entrepreneur Martin Tobias has a new startup, Kashless, that’s also in the space.
Freed said his current funding can last him another six months. Today, in a sign of how far he’s come from his Air Force days, he uses the term "runway" not to refer to a takeoff and landing strip, but to the number of months a startup can go without running out of cash — jargon common to the tech startup community.
"My transformation is complete," he said.