Years ago, Justine Barone sat in her car in Denver, scouring the Internet for a paddleboard rental. It seemed a simple task, but the paddleboard remained elusive.
That was the moment Barone embarked on a journey to found Gearo, an online marketplace that connects adventure-seekers with gear from top retailers to rent and buy.
Now outdoor adventurers like Barone herself will have an easier way to find the equipment they need from trusted retailers.
“I had all of these different options and after over an hour calling these retailers and asking for pricing and availability and details, I still didn’t have a paddleboard,” Barone said. “I just thought it was kind of crazy, considering there’s a marketplace for everything else, and there wasn’t one for outdoor gear rentals.”
Development for Gearo began in 2017, with a full launch underway by the summer of 2018 in Colorado with Barone as Founder and CEO. Now Barone has moved to Chapel Hill as of the last few months, and she plans to take full advantage of the Triangle tech startup community.
Gearo operates as a marketplace similar to Open Table, aggregating all of the businesses into one view for simplified booking processes, Barone said. Customers go to the site, select their location or category and pay through Gearo for the gear they rent, with Gearo taking a commission.
More than 200 retailers are already listed on Gearo.
“Ultimately, there’s two goals for Gearo,” Barone said. “The first is to help outdoor retailers just extend their reach and be able to help customers even better than they are now and automate their processes more. And then the second is definitely helping people get outside.”
Now consumers are able to find the gear they’re looking for in the most accessible way.
Barone said Gearo has been growing fast. When the pandemic hit, it increased the amount of people who want to enjoy the outdoors, causing bookings to go up. But still, Gearo has been hurt by supply chain issues in the industry, Barone said.
“It’s been a positive and a negative,” Barone said. “We were positioned for a lot of growth coming into 2020, so we experienced a lot of growth. Could we have experienced even more growth had the coronavirus not happened? I absolutely think so.”
Barone’s entrepreneurship story is rare just by account of her gender. Being a woman among predominantly male tech entrepreneurs means she’s up against more than just the traditional struggles of launching your own startup. Venture capital investment continues to carry a prominent gender gap. (So far Gearo has been mostly bootstrapped, though it has a small group of outside investors.)
“If you’re a female founder, the typical rules of growing a startup, a venture-backed startup, don’t apply to you,” Barone said. “Unless you went to Harvard or worked at Google or Amazon, the process is not going to be a clean process. You need to be as resourceful and scrappy as you can be and way more resilient than the men that we’re competing against.”