We talked to Jan Gerlach of toolbot on how to register, reserve tools and collect or return them at any time and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jan Gerlach: My family and I are doing very good. We have some disagreements about Covid with my sister, who is a naturopath and doesn’t believe in the virus’s destructive nature. We still get along pretty well, and we are still able to discuss friendly about this topic.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded toolbot.
Jan Gerlach: I have a Master in Industrial Design and worked as a Designer for some years before I founded toolbot. toolbot was one of my projects I wanted to specialize in Eco-Design and Smart-Technologies because I believe that those are the most important fields for new products in the future. When I was detailing the concept, I asked friends that are specialists in fields. Some of them who had been most important joined me after a while. For example, Christian has a doctoral degree in robotics and automation, and three others are IT-Developer in different fields. It paid off to have a big circle of friends.
We founded toolbot officially when we got a scholarship that helped us to develop a prototype. After that, we did a very successful market testing with the support of tool manufacturers like “Bosch” and “HILTI” and the DIY-Retail-Chain “toom”.
How does toolbot innovate?
Jan Gerlach: Today, access gets more critical for consume than possession because it gives you more flexibility and selection for a smaller price an example, Carsharing, Netflix and Spotify. But besides mobility and media, there are many other things that people don’t need every day but can be very important from time to time. Toolbot targets the biggest blocker in rental business: distance to rental stations, limited opening times and high prices related to personnel costs. toolbot saves not only time for customers but personnel too. That saves costs and reduces prices. We make it very easy and cheap for our customers to get a very high-quality tool.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Jan Gerlach: On the one hand, it prevented an investment at the beginning of the pandemic. Big companies and VCs are in save mode. It seems like they only care about risk mineralization during this time. On the other hand, our concept profits from shut-downs and contact minimalization on short term and upcoming recession in the long term, because we have the best offer for people who want to minimalize personal risk and investment. You don’t buy things that you are not sure if you need them in a crisis. When the first attempt of strategic investment failed through COVID, we set up a crowd investing campaign on Seedmatch. In collected 300.000 euro only in a few days from many people who believe in our idea. That motivated us and validated the demand for our product.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Jan Gerlach: For a long time, it was challenging to stick to the project instead of taking other opportunities without earning money but spending a lot of time. Now, I learned that this risk and persistency could pay off.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Jan Gerlach: First, you get used to it, and later you don’t feel it anymore; ) No, I think I made it to always have a good time even by doing things I don’t like. It makes it easier if you work together with friends and to do something that you believe that it makes the world a better place.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jan Gerlach: Our competitors are tool manufacturer, DIY-Retailer and Rental Businesses – but they are potential partners, too. We are developing and operating toolbots, but we lease them out as a white label solution. The manufacturer can use it as a marketing tool to offer “paid test drive “, Retailer can use it as a sales channel and touchpoint. Other competitors offer automated rental, but they only solved distance and opening times through conventional package transfer terminals as you know it from DHL or Amazon. They are still pretty expansive because they have a high personal demand and demand for more space.
Your final thoughts?
Jan Gerlach: I believe in future, we don’t see so many warehouses anymore, but showrooms with consulting, delivery and supply with rental products; access to a wide variety of high-quality products through sharing, together with environmental regulations will make cheap products obsolete and as sharing gets more critical the infrastructure of connected products and focusing on lifetime optimization will create an entirely new generation of products that are carbon-neutral, robust, repairable, have new features in connection with the internet and your smartphone and will circulate in a closed recycling loop.