How Lendobox is leading the paradigm shift in consumerism with an online rental service

Solomia Boretska is the CEO and co-founder of Lendobox, a startup that's making rental products easier to access.

You post lots about science on Twitter. For example you posted about a NASA supercomputer. What’s behind that?

Since I was a child, I’ve been curious about how the world works. I started reading science textbooks and trying to understand everything. It’s fascinating to me. For example, we can only observe 10% of the universe. It blows my mind and it drives me into an obsessive love for science.

You went to Imperial College? Did you study science there as well?

I studied a Master’s in Neurotechnology that takes neuroscience and computer science and uses them to explore and research questions about the brain, AI and machine learning.

Interesting. How did you make the leap from studying neurotechnology to starting Lendobox?

It’s the curiosity I’ve always had for science. I was working at the UCL Dementia Research Centre. They have a department that looks into materials and resources. Materials science started to fascinate me, so I started reading some of the books on it.

Everything that we’re interacting with in society has come from raw resources. Unfortunately, we can see now that our demand for new items is leaving us depleted of raw resources and means we have an ever growing amount of waste.

It was after reading a book that was recommended by Bill Gates called Energy and Civilizations by Vaclav Smil that it just blew my mind how much energy it actually takes to manufacture some of the products that we interact with on a daily basis. And how little things like recycling actually make a difference. Because it’s the very first part of production that has the highest impact on our energy expenditure.

Recycling is nice to have but it’s not truly the solution if we want to change the way that we take resources and use them. I want to live a life full of interesting goods and products. We need to change the way that we manufacture and engage with raw materials, rather than hoping that by the end of it, we can figure out a way to deal with the product.

So that was your route through to the sustainability story, which is core to what you’re doing with Lendobox?

It was reading in my free time and delving into a topic that I found fascinating that I knew so little about. Yet I knew underpins so much of my life. 

It was interesting because I’ve met a lot of people who look for founder ideas or startup ideas as though it’s something that you decide rather than it finds you. 

I end up delving into anything I pick up way too deeply. That curiosity gave me the steps to see the business idea, or the gaps.

I didn’t begin with the intention of starting a business. I started off with the frustration of “Why aren’t we doing something”. That’s how we took the idea behind production and supply chains and started looking into rental models. 

It was from a place of anger and a desire for change rather than thinking “I should have done this” or “I could have done that”. 

I really embrace my anger at certain issues so that’s what’s been driving me from the very beginning. I hate to sit and talk about things - I’m a doer.

Can you tell me about the time when that thought sparked about how you could help with this problem you saw?

I was on a camping trip with some friends and I was telling them about these books I’ve been reading. I was keeping up with tech, as I’d been doing a Master’s. 

We started discussing things like the success of Rent the Runway and all of these different rental models that were coming out in the consumer sector.

We were stuck in a tiny car packed with camping equipment that we use once a year. 

All I could think about was “Why weren't we doing that for products?” We can rent houses and cars, but why can’t we rent the things that we only use once a year?

We spent the rest of the drive complaining about this and being frustrated at the fact you can rent everything except camping equipment. You can rent all this other stuff but what about the stuff I need or want to engage in new experiences? 

Then it triggered a frustration at the fact that no one was doing anything about it.

I found myself researching more about these rental models and the lack of them instead of researching for my PhD. That’s when I knew it was time to make a decision to take the steps forward and follow this idea niggling in the back of my head.

How many people were in the car?

There were four of us in the car. Four girls absolutely loving the idea of renting dresses for events instead of spending hundreds of pounds on something that you’re only going to wear once. 

It was interesting to see that it was more of a female problem, especially for the way that industry works. But activities and other bits and pieces were gender neutral. Those were the things we started then thinking about. 

Other people were bringing me activities they were engaging with that we didn’t think of at the time. But yeah, we sat there and complained about a lot of things and started a business idea.

Did you start the business with any of those people in the car with you at the time?

I started the business initially with my brother. He has a design background. 

I brought him this idea and asked how we can build a brand or an image that would entice people to start making these rental decisions. 

Now, we’ve got a third co-founder that joined us just over a year ago.

You knew you wanted to create a brand to take to people. What were the next steps you took after that?

The next step was taking my sales techniques out there into the world. 

We created this rental marketplace but the thing we really had to figure out quite quickly was if people even wanted to rent stuff. We wanted to sitting in the car, but why hadn’t we thought to do it before we went on this camping trip? 

We launched the marketplace and started looking for customers in the tent hire sector. 

We started by trying to understand campsites. We printed out some leaflets and started putting flyers up at a whole load of campsites around London. I was driving around for nearly 10 hours a day - my back was killing me by the end of those two weeks. 

It was taking this approach of getting it out there. 

We didn’t know if people wanted this. We didn’t have any stock at the time. We just had leaflets and an idea.

The funny thing I found was a lot of people turned me away. 

These people thought,”Everyone that comes to this campsite already has equipment”. They were looking at the person who’s already decided to come camping, so they found a way to get access to the equipment. 

We were thinking about the people that would love to go but don’t have the equipment.

I kept going back and saying “You don’t want it yet, but someone’s going to want it”. After going back to these campsites three times, I started to ask to speak with managers. That was when people started to say “yes”. 

People in the campsite offices said they’d thought about how they could become more accessible to people from the cities, who don’t have the equipment.

I knew people would want this because I knew that I would want Lendobox. 

Even though the people at the front desk were saying no, I knew they weren’t thinking ahead as far as I was. I went back three times, had them say no every time. And I still kept going. Then a manager spotted a leaflet on a desk and said they’ve been looking for something like this for ages. 

It was this kind of brute force which motivated me to keep coming back every time.

When the orders started to finally come in, we were put in a position where we didn’t have any stock. 

We made a few hundred quid. We could see that the model was there and we could see the demand was there. We played with something that was an idea rather than trying to manufacture a product.

Instead of having feedback forms and click-throughs, we went out and chased people and had conversations and asked as many questions as we could. 

That’s the only way you’ll actually be able to find your market. 

You’ll never find any answers sitting at home and planning how you’re going to talk to people. You’re just going to answer your own questions and confuse a lot of people about what it is that you’re looking for. 

Go out there and ask the questions, rather than try to find answers whilst you’re sitting in the house.

You need to break out of the echo chamber.

Oh, definitely! 

Because you can get stuck in your own head. Everything sounds good to you and everything sounds great to mum. But you’ve really got to hear and want to hear the push back. 

People were saying no to me, they were saying this wasn’t going to work at campsites. 

They were saying “Camping doesn’t work like that because people have to buy stuff”. But why do they have to buy stuff? I found I was actually asking the wrong question.

 It’s by being told no that we were able to find ourselves changing our model and adapting our business - rather than hearing yes from the very beginning and ending up in the wrong place.

It’s interesting you bring up the fact that “Everything sounds good to mum”. There’s a really great book called The Mom Test. Do you don’t know about it?

Yeah, definitely. It’s one of the first things I read and I’d highly recommend it.

What was it that allowed you to separate signal from noise?

It was the campsite manager. 

He’s already thinking ahead. They’re providing bike rental and kayak rental. So coming in with tent rental adds to this new consumer shift and the idea of the kind of customers they’re going to get. 

He was obviously thinking about how they can grow their services.

One thing you always have to remember when you are going out and asking questions is the person working reception isn’t thinking about the business decisions and the long term changes for customers of the campsite. 

And so their “Nos” didn’t necessarily mean that they had an insight into the growth and development of the rest of their company.

You’ve got to understand who you’re speaking to and their needs. The receptionist cared about customer service and management, but managers have a different need. So the conversation you bring to individuals within a company is very dependent on their position. If they’re not decision makers, they’ll have no interest in you asking them to change one of their processes. 

You’ve got to really understand who you’re speaking to and their needs for your product, rather than trying to bang on doors that aren’t going to open.

We found that using rentals as an additional service to existing industries, customers now see renting in a completely different light. 

You now see camping as an experience that encompasses a tent, just like you see a hotel room encompassing a pillow. 

I’m really glad you explored that, because it’s a big problem when starting a business. Founders get some signal but it’s the wrong signal. Or you get some signal but you’re in an echo chamber. It takes you to a dead-end rather than a pot of gold. 

To make sure you’re receiving “singal which leads to gold” you’ve got to have a very open mind. 

You said you were going down the “wrong route” for how long?

Six months, a year.

We got it right that people wanted to rent, but how they were going to find out about rental was something we were still trialling. Luckily me and my brother, we really work as a team that doesn’t mind changing all the time. We’re not attached to anything other than the bigger goal of achieving a society that rents more than they buy. 

So it’s being open in the way that you get to something and the road you take to get there. 

If you can get that in your mind and hold on to that it’s so much easier to change your mind. 

Because you can think “Oh, it’s okay, we’re not going to use this way, we’re going to use a different one, because the goal is still the same”.  So the light is always at the end of the tunnel, and it never goes out. But if your light is the road you’re taking, every decision seems so hard because you’re constantly feeling like you’re giving up on something, but you’re not. 

If the light is still at the end of the tunnel, all you’re doing is just moving left and right to avoid some of the rocks and barriers and everything in between.

From my background coaching sport, I know that’s the perfect metaphor for someone who wants to be a top performer in any field. How did you come to think like that?

I mentioned I worked at the dementia Research Centre and I have a background in neuroscience.

I’ve always been fascinated with the way that our brain works, how we think about ourselves and how we think about the world. In my opinion, philosophy and neuroscience overlap very strongly, because the way you think about the world will highly affect the way your brain works. I read so much, I absolutely love to explore the ideas of how looking at life can alter the way we feel. 

Reading so many books about exploration and using curiosity to grow allows you to think and look at the world and your own decisions in a very different way that doesn't define you. 

I’d highly encourage people to start to understand things like psychology, and why people find motivation to do things, whilst others give up.

Books on things like that are very empowering, especially at the beginning of the startup journey.

Many people do give up and many people don’t go past the seed phase. So why do some get there and some don’t. And to find out what motivates you, because we all have a different motivating factor. 

If you can really find it and associate with it, it’ll be worth so much more than a fantastic idea. 

And it’s about reframing things on a continual basis. Even if you know you’re doing something right, if you reframe it and go do that thing again, you might find you get a better result than you had before. That’s what deliberate practice is about - when a skill has become automatic and you deliberately take it out of your subconscious to pick it apart and practice it again, you’ll find it get put back into your subconscious better than it was before.

I encourage people to make more mistakes.

I’ve failed so many things. Failed my A Levels twice. And messed up University.

These failures in my life have driven me to no longer see failure as the end of anything, it’s just an excuse to try again.

This goes back to the underlying psychology of how you think and influences how you live. 

I started changing my language away from “if I managed to”, into “When I managed to”. I taught myself to code after my undergraduate degree because technology was taking over science, and I thought I’d have to catch up. Whilst I was struggling to learn, it was “Oh, I’m not getting this. I don’t understand”. 

But “I don’t understand yet”. was so empowering. 

That I think it just made everything so easy. 

“I don’t understand it yet”. “It’s not working yet”. It completely shifts the way you think.

I know it sounds like nothing.

But that kind of language is is so powerful in motivating you and getting you over hurdles, 

“I just can’t do it”. No! “I just can’t do it yet”. 

We’d never tell a kid that fell off their bike, “Oh, you’ll never manage that”. 

You’ll go up and say, “You fell down, try again. You’ll get there tomorrow”. Why aren’t we using that on each other anymore, on our staff, on our team members? We do it for children, we give them that kind of encouragement and we actually believe that they will get it because they will. 

So why don’t we do that for ourselves and for those we work with?

“Yet” could be the one most powerful word in the whole English language?

We should get T shirts printed!

That would be a little weird… It’s the one thing from Carol Dwek’s book Mindset I found useful.  

It’s such a simple thing to do. Yet. It’s so powerful to help you on a journey and anything in life. 

You haven't just stuck with camping equipment at Lendobox, have you?

No, we’ve continued to expand.

I believe it’s three sectors you’re in, right? So camping, medical equipment, and property?

Furniture for the property sector, yes.

The way that we’ve started exploring the industries that we bring these rental services to, is highly dependent on customers. We want to see what people need in their lifestyles, what they actually would enjoy renting. And what would give them an added service. 

We look for items and products that have some sort of long term durability so that we can reuse them and repair them over time. But also industries that are technologically ready for a digital solution. The property sector has started to grow it’s tenancy apps, you can pay your bills, you can sign your rental contract all in one place. 

So it gives us an opportunity to join an industry with an added service. 

Furniture Rental, gives people so much more flexibility in the homes that they live in. 

We want to give people the freedom to enjoy their lifestyles. I personally believe the kind of the environmental solutions that are coming out are quite derogatory against people’s lifestyles. We all enjoy a new couch. We love trying new products or purchasing something. 

And, yes, okay, we may get bored in six months. 

But we’re curious beings that want to engage in new discoveries and with new products. And in the furniture sector, for example, we can give people the freedom to engage with new furniture, every few months, or you throw a massive barbecue, so you need some extra chairs.

We want people to live, instead of feeling guilty for wanting an extra chair and buying it, then throwing it out

I feel the negative connotations of us, as consumers, isn’t helping us change the way that the supply chain runs. 

It’s not our decisions and our curiosities that are the problem. When it comes to the environmental impact that we’re having. It’s the production. And so we want to work with production to help them get into these rental sectors and help them generate new rental demand from the consumer side. 

But I truly believe as consumers, we should want to engage in new things, we should be curious, and we should want to change our lifestyles. 

It’s not our fault that the supply chain is creating these problems. 

What we’re doing is trying to find a way to balance both the products that consumers engage with, yet gives them the freedom and the accessibility to try new things without worrying about their carbon footprint.

So how did you pick medical equipment rental?

Yeah, medical equipment, came from a consumer need. 

I myself have worked with the Motor Neuron Disease Association for about eight years now. I started that I started working with them in university just because of my curiosity with neuroscience and meeting people who are who are struggling with these diseases, which research is really pushing to fight. I think science can sometimes be a bit detached from the people that it’s actually helping. 

So I really wanted to meet the people experiencing some of the things that we were working on curing. 

One of the things I ended up seeing visiting these these people in their homes, is the equipment that they were waiting on, or the equipment that they were requesting help support them through their disease. 

It was taking months to get to them, or it was unaffordable. There were these fantastic medical devices out there that could help with so many different things. Yet something called an Eye Gaze, which helps them people their eyes to type, select and browse websites. That’s £1000s.

And unfortunately, many of these individuals may only have a year or two to live, so they don’t have 1000s of pounds to purchase a product but may not be used for a very long time. 

So for us, the rental model not only helped us engage in the consumer product sector, but we started to see how the of disease side of things could also be applicable. 

The problems that we saw with people wanting to engage in new things, needing the rental products, also overlapped with people’s need for medical equipment whilst their needs change after a surgery or due to a disability. So it was just this really beautiful thing.

As the population in the UK continues to age, there’s just not enough funds for us to be purchasing products for individuals and supporting them in their homes. So the rental model comes in and actually is a much cheaper alternative to purchasing equipment for the elderly that may only be used for a few months as they need to change so quickly. 

It was actually very exciting for us because it felt it felt like everything had aligned into industries that I truly cared about.

You were involved in the Forbes Women’s Day summit this year. Tell me a little bit about that.

It was an absolutely amazing opportunity to be with so many amazing and successful women! 

It was it was a very emotional time for me as the Russian invasion of Ukraine had only been going on about a week or two. I was invited there to speak as a Ukrainian business woman. So it was a bit of a difficult thing for me to go through as i It felt really hard to speak about business at a time when the war was the only thing that was on my mind. 

So ended up speaking more about war and the hardships of everyone in Ukraine, instead of my business.

I’d like to finish off by asking you where you’re going to take Lendobox in the future.

What we’d really like to do with Lendobox is use the newly created rental demand across multiple industries, to completely shift the way that suppliers and manufacturers work in the consumer market. 

What we’re doing is partnering with them, to give them access to this new rental demand we’ve created, and building out a way for them to grow in the rental sector. Then financially incentivizing them to create products that are more durable, repairable and longer lasting. Because rental models are actually much more financially rewarding. 

But unfortunately, it’s such a struggle to get customers to shift into these rental models. 

And so this is where we’re starting with this technology to bring rentals to customers. 

Our idea is to tackle online retailing, and move that into online rentals. Because the future doesn’t hold as many virtual resources as we really think it does. And we need to change and maximise the efficiency we get out of all of the resources we’re mining out of the earth. 

If we can do that, we can continue to be curious, and we can continue to engage with new products. 

So what’s going to be your first step in doing that?

We’re already integrating across the medical healthcare sector to offer rental of daily living aids for the elderly. But the next steps we want to take is our expansion into Europe and in the US, in camping, healthcare, and furniture.

We’re also moving forward with a fundraise to help us scale the business. We’ve bootstrapped the company. We’re also revenue generating, and we’re expanding. 

But we know that as a team of three with - with some help on the side - we can only go so far. 

So we’re now looking to take everything we’ve built and the business model that we’ve we’ve put together and scale that out.

We’re looking for investors that can dream big. 

We don’t have a specific date in mind for the raise, but we’ll probably start talking to people next month. 

We are massive Dreamers. So we’re looking for people that can look at this and help us dream even bigger. That’s the key for us. 

We want those that have vision, and those that can see a world where everything is more resource efficient. But also, consumers enjoy a much more enriched lifestyle, without the upfront cost and without the waste that we’re currently creating. 

So anyone that can dream big, is definitely someone we want to speak to.

I think that’s a really great place to leave it. Thanks very much and best of luck. Where can people find out more about Lendobox?

People can find out more here!

James Parris

Managing Director

James was recently poached from the world of elite sport bringing his wealth of experience developing high performing teams to Rbbl