Los Angeles based, iRent2u.com, launched two weeks ago as an online marketplace for consumers and business to rent and lend, just about anything.  So basically Ebay, but here you rent instead of buy.

Now first off, I'd like to say that the overall concept of building rental marketplace is good area for development, because there are plenty of industries where renting something is more attractive than buying it.  As a startup iRent2u positions itself in a good (and potentially large) niche, because although the online rental concept has been around forever, there is no clear market leader like there is in sale auctions(ebay, ebay ebay).  

However, unfortunately, I feel there are number of problems with what iRent2u currently has released.  While the site itself works okay, it is far from revolutionary; it has the look and feel of  a web service from 1999, not 2007.  As much as we like to cheer for the local guys, Zilok or Rentmineonline currently beat iRent2u hands down (both of which were covered in TechCrunch).   While Rentmineonline is basically confined to housing, they focus on community experience as a way to add value to rental services with strong tie-ins to social networking through their Facebook app.  Zilok is sort of at the other end of the spectrum, in that it is a general rental market like iRent2u, but its far more engaging because it is heavily localized with their interface driven through their Google map mashup.  And while social networking or mashups are not a prerequisite to doing a good rental marketplace, they both illustrate the power of emerging web technology, that iRent2u seems light on.

This really leads into the larger concern I have with iRent2u - their team makeup.  A basic browsing of their about page shows the people that have been directly involved in iRent2u (management and interns) are very heavily weighted on the business side and very light on the technology side.  And while MBAs can produce great technology (just like many technologists have become some of the best business leaders in the world), its hard to innovate with bad balance.  iRent2u, product is clearly technology driven, so the obvious question is: are the placing enough importance on engineering?  From their beta release, I'm not sure. 

In the end, I've thrown some relatively harsh constructive criticism at iRent2u because they theoretically, are more then just a me-too service, they've in fact chosen an area ready for innovation.  iRent2u is just now in beta, so they definitely have plenty of time to be flexible and really bust out the gates of the online rental world.  Ultimately, their challenge now is to take a good idea, and turn it from an okay test release, to a revolutionary, innovative, web platform.