When you’re backed by the likes of Silicon Valley superstars like Youtube co-founder Jawed Karim, Y-Combinator, and a half-dozen or so other techie entrepreneurs, you know you’ve got something good. That something good is Lumoid, which rents photo gear at unheard-of prices, especially when you add in a few perks...
Fstoppers sat down over two cappuccinos at Epicenter Café with Founder and CEO Aarthi Ramamurthy to get all the details on what got her started and how she keeps it going – all while still turning a profit.
But first, to understand what the big deal is about, let’s do a quick comparison.
Nikon D800 for 3 weekdays without insurance:
$89.78 including $18.00 shipping
$269.21 for 14 days
$135.93 including $25.00 shipping
$301.23 for 14 days
$136.98 including $24.95 shipping
$302.28 for 14 days
You pay for weekends with Lumoid, but the rates are so much better, you’re still saving 10% in the long-term and upwards of 30% on short-term rentals. While some companies have good deals on weekend rentals, Lumoid still comes in a few cents cheaper for your weekend trips.
So how do they do it?
Lumoid began less than a year ago and only opened its doors to the public (beyond its initial invite-only stage) this January. So it’s fair to say they’re an incredibly young, brand new company. While that may be reflected in the somewhat low variety of lenses or camera systems available, they’re constantly growing the list (a light kit was just added since I began researching Lumoid a few days ago). And with a month-over-month growth in sales that’s so healthy I can’t disclose it, it’s hard to see anything that will stop them from continuing offering a more diverse outfit of gear.
Part of Lumoid’s business model includes allowing people to buy the items they rent. Purchase prices are on par with what you’d expect from a reputable used camera dealer, such as KEH.com. An impressive 20% of Lumoid’s rentals result in a purchase. And in the end, this certainly helps their bottom line.
While you can buy the gear without having to return it, renting the gear always puts a pretty amazing 30% of the rental price paid toward a purchase with Lumoid. That means you can rent all year long and before you know it, you could easily have enough for that extra 50mm.
Still, Lumoid has to make money on the rental side. And that’s the “special sauce.” Lumoid partners with local camera dealers who have unsold inventory in their shops that just sits there, despite being in completely useable and great condition. "We're like Airbnb for camera dealers," Ramamurthy said after placing her cappuccino down, now-empty. While their gear isn’t being used, these partners work with Lumoid to rent out their extra bodies, lenses, flashes, and other accessories. Dealers both large and small get another opportunity to put gear in front of customers, often times being able to convert that rental into a sale, too. So they’re all for it.
These partnerships, combined with Lumoid’s standard inventory, help broaden not only their stock, but also the variety of items they can offer to their customers. Every item is still tested, every battery charged, and every 32GB memory card included with each body that's accounted for before gear ships out.
While Lumoid only shows prices for standard shipping, they do offer faster services if you contact them. A friendly, always-available chat window on their site will link you directly to the team in the office. Ramamurthy remembers, “One time, we had a customer down in Milpitas that needed gear the next day, but it was past the cutoff time for shipping. So we drove it down ourselves.” She then showed me a photo from Lumoid’s Instagram showing a “Thank You” note from that renter.
The relatively small team of four full-time employees, including Ramamurthy herself, isn’t too short-staffed for fantastic customer service. Any doubts I had about that went away with a visit to their humble offices with plenty of start-up feel, separated from San Francisco’s Moscone Center only by Rayko Photo Center and a couple of the city’s one-way streets. “We get at least one of these notes every week,” Ramamurthy added as she handed me customer notes sent back with packages of rented equipment, unpinning them from a white board in the middle of the packing room.
Pretty soon, Lumoid will expand their business with local workshops and online tutorials. In fact, if you’re in the Bay Area, you can already grab tickets to their first workshop, Get More from Your GoPro (Gear Included), at Blue Sky Studios, led by Robert Newman.
In the end, Ramamurthy found a way to combine a great rental service with a great way to buy quality used gear you can trust. Lumoid is upfront about the shutter count of bodies and condition of their used gear, and they price accordingly while giving customers a cool way to easily save up for the next bit of dream gear.
Describing and summing up what role Lumoid fills and what it does, Ramamurthy said, “When it comes to buying used gear, you have places like eBay and Craigslist, which can be a little sketchy. And you don’t know where the gear has been or if it really is good. I just wanted to create a cheaper and easier way for people to try gear and then buy it. Think of us like Carfax, but for camera gear.”