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Borrowers And Lenders Meet at Moogul

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By Leslie Walker
Thursday, July 15, 2004; Page E01

A Seattle man is offering his Chevy pickup for rent at $20 a day. In Tiburon, Calif., a fellow is offering anyone the use of his garden sprayer for $10 a week. A teenager in Oneida, Wis., will lend you the new Norah Jones CD for free.

Those are some of the deals available at Moogul, a new Web site that opened for business Friday, billing itself as the eBay of renting and sharing.

"Just like eBay facilitates buying and selling, we facilitate lending and borrowing," says Joel Maske, founder and chief executive of San Francisco-based Moogul Networks Inc.

At first glance, Moogul (www.moogul.com) may seem to be a dot-com parody, or the punch line to a lame Internet joke, as in, "What do you get when you cross Google with a cow?" But the quirky start-up is for real, and it says something about the state of innovation in Web commerce today: While it may not be flourishing, it's not dead, either. And who knows; what seems ridiculous today can go mainstream tomorrow.

That's precisely what happened with eBay, Yahoo and Amazon in the mid-1990s. When they launched, hardly anyone understood what they were trying to do. Even the founders had murky visions, which evolved gradually as people used their services.

So it is with Moogul, which takes its name from the Indian dynasty that built the Taj Mahal. Maske's idea is to create an online marketplace helping people to rent and lend things to one another. He contends it will drive down the cost of using stuff for everyone, since you could pay, say, a modest fee to use your neighbor's rug shampooer.

But my reaction when I first saw Moogul was: Why would I want to rent books, music or other stuff from people I don't even know?

To check out the service, I searched for a Dan Brown book I wanted to read, "Angels and Demons," and discovered that Maske was one of those offering it for $1.89 for a 30-day loan. Since the price included shipping, it was about $4 less than I could find anywhere else online. Of course, I could drive to my local library, but that takes too much time. On Moogul, it took about 10 minutes to sign up, figure out how it works, request Maske's copy and pay him via PayPal, the electronic payment service. Soon I got an e-mail saying he had shipped the book to me.

Moogul's rules of the road, however, struck me as complicated, perhaps because the concept is still foreign to me. Basically, it works like this: The person offering an item for lending or renting sets the time period and price each borrower must pay. Borrowers pay lenders directly, using PayPal, paper checks or other payment forms the lender may accept.

Moogul charges no listing fees, but collects a commission from the lender each time an item is rented -- 35 cents plus 5.25 percent of the lending fee.

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