Matt Clough (right) and Zack Leonard, of Jonezie, speak of their company in Royal Oak
The Royal Oak-based company launched this year, creating a marketplace to rent stuff in your neighborhood
It all started when Zack Leonard wanted to go for a bike ride.
There was just one problem: The Ferndale resident, whose friends call him Lenny, didn’t have a bike. But a neighbor did.
“I was like, gosh, I wish it wasn’t so awkward,” he said. “I could just go up and be like, ‘Can me and my wife borrow your bikes? Here’s like 20 bucks.’ ”
Leonard, 32, wasn’t sure if the neighbor “would be cool with that.”
“But if he had it listed on a website, and I knew he was just a few houses down, that awkwardness would go away,” Leonard said.
The idea for Jonezie – an online rental marketplace for everything from snowshoes and kayaks to dunk tanks and pickup trucks – was born.
Leonard called his best friend since middle school, Matt Clough, and asked what he thought about a platform where neighbors could rent things from each other.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t know. Cool man,’” laughed Clough, 31, of Birmingham.
A few hours later, he did some research and liked what he found: nothing.
“I was like, no one has figured out how to monetize this stuff that’s just sitting dormant in our homes,” Clough said.
They spent a year working in Leonard’s basement and enlisted co-founder Andy Mazzola, 25, of Detroit to develop a platform. On Jan. 1, they launched the online marketplace at Jonezie.com. As Clough describes Jonezie, you can “rent anything for a party, event or your next adventure.”
“It’s Craigslist, but less creepy, and renting instead of buying,” Leonard added.
For now, Jonezie services a 20-mile radius from its Royal Oak headquarters, a second-floor office space on South Washington, where conversations are often interrupted by trains passing behind the building.
In true startup fashion, the office has a ping pong table, but also lawn games they rent to Jonezie users. Their logo of a teal pineapple wearing pink sunglasses hangs on a wall, the banner stating “GOOD VIBES.”
Though he now runs a tech start-up, Leonard admitted he was never a “tech person.” He didn’t attend college, but joined Clough while he attended Arizona State University.
After graduating, Clough moved to California, where he founded the successful backpack company Stone & Cloth. Leonard returned to Michigan, where he worked in commodities trading, selling metals, copper and brass to overseas markets.
In 2016, Clough moved back to Metro Detroit, and their entrepreneurial wheels started spinning again.
“We were seeing companies that were real disruptors, like Airbnb is the world’s biggest real estate rental company taking down hotels, and they don’t own a hotel or a house,” Leonard said. “Uber is the largest taxi service, and they don’t own a car.”
The two started thinking, “What hasn’t been built?”
They found the answer the day Leonard wanted to go for a bike ride.
They originally called the start-up Detroit Rentals Inc., but as Clough puts it, that wasn’t a “fun, exciting” name.
Driving to Ann Arbor, where the retailer Bivouac rents camping gear on their platform, they bounced ideas off each other.
“Clough said something about ‘keeping up with the Joneses, the neighbors have better stuff.’ Then I was like, ‘I was jonesing to go for a bike ride that day,’ ” Leonard recalled. “We just blended it, and Jonezie was born.”
Ten months in, Jonezie has over 200 paying customers and 2,500 people registered online. It’s free to sign up, but the company takes a 15 percent transaction fee from the supplier and 5 percent from the renter.
As of late September, the website featured over 1,250 listings. There are a few things people cannot list, including weapons, human services and illegal products like drugs.
“There was a bong on the marketplace for a little while, and that was taken down,” Clough said.
Other items such as drones and ice cream machines are fair game. (The drone was rented for a wedding; Leonard rented the ice cream machine.) Clough even rented out space in his basement for a woman looking to store her rose bushes over the winter.
The majority of business comes from Metro Detroiters throwing a graduation, wedding, engagement or birthday party, and they need tents, tables, chairs and inflatables.
That was the case for Allen Park resident Kim Harrison, who found Jonezie in a pinch. Harrison, 35, had rented a tent for her daughter’s high school graduation party from a local business.
“I got a call less than two weeks before her party and was told it was destroyed in a storm,” Harrison said. “So I’m two weeks out from my party and I need a tent and everyone local is booked.”
Frantically Googling for tents, her daughter stumbled on Jonezie. Harrison was skeptical, having never heard of the company, but gave them a call. They offered to beat her original quote of $190, pricing a tent at $175. Harrison was sold.
Jonezie now works with 15 local party rental suppliers that post their items on the site.
Cornhole and Jenga
Joe Davey, founder of Warren-based Party Dreams Rental, started listing tents, tables and chairs on Jonezie this summer. In a few months, Davey said Jonezie has generated $20,000 in sales, but also offers the marketing techniques he lacks.
“They’re the bridge between my company and the consumer,” Davey said. “They have the technology — the reminders to repeat customers and the thank-yous through email. There’s a lot of work involved in communicating, and they relieve that from me.”
Jonezie’s only fiasco occurred recently when a supplier forgot to deliver a bounce house that a user booked weeks in advance.
“When you’re renting a bounce house for a 7-year-old’s birthday, and it doesn’t show up, you really ruined someone’s day. Luckily we found them another bounce house, and it wasn’t a total disaster,” Leonard said.
The plan is to expand to other markets.
“Detroit is a very spread-out landscape, so if we can get people to use this concept here in Detroit, then it will be easier to take to Chicago or LA,” Leonard said.
Mazzola — who developed the platform, inspired by the e-commerce company Shopify — said online shopping is well established, but there’s a “hole in the rental space.”
“You can buy stuff online really easily, but it’s still kind of hard to rent stuff,” he said.
South Lyon resident Brenna Cameron agrees, saying there’s no go-to website to rent items “that aren’t ridiculously expensive.” Last month, she dropped off lawn games she rented from Jonezie, paying $45 for golf, cornhole and Jenga.
“I saw they had all these games for a really good price,” Cameron said. “It was totally the hit of the party, so I’m really glad I did it.”