“When I lost my friend’s digital camera at a furniture store in Vienna and no one turned it in to the information desk, I started to look for a way to increase the chances that people can get things back when they lose them,” Holzner told futurezone. Together with Christoph Kind and Thomas Ott from Cologne, who run the German version bringmeback.de, he found what he was looking for. You mark your personal belongings with special tags, labels, or stickers, all of which have an individual ID number, register your belongings on the online platform, and can then hope that they will be returned in the event of loss.
Reward to increase return rate
“The labels all bear the notice “Registered Item – IF FOUND VISIT www.bringmeback.eu.” Most people who find such an item come to the web site,” explained Holzner. You can also increase the chances of an item being returned with a financial incentive – a reward. “This usually varies from person to person. On average, EUR 15 are paid for the return of a keychain,” said the young entrepreneur. “But the system would also definitely work without rewards. People today are much more honest than most would think.” He says that many items are not returned because there is no way to find their owner, and not because the finders are dishonest.
A pilot test on Mariahilfer Straße in Vienna revealed that nine of ten tagged keychains “lost” on the street were returned within 48 hours, Holzner explained. But it is clear that keychains are likely to be returned, since most people have no use for someone else’s keys. But what about expensive smartphones or wallets? “We have already arranged returns for several hundred euros. For example, a briefcase containing a smartphone and a laptop that was forgotten on a train was returned for EUR 400.”
Searched for and found
When an object is lost, the person who finds it enters the code on the clear BringMeBack online portal, and registers the item as “found.” After this, the owner is informed. The item is then returned personally, or the return is arranged anonymously by BringMeBack. “For a personal return, the people arrange a meeting anonymously through a chat system that provides no information about the owner’s name or address. He only has to provide this information when he wants to,” explained Holzner.
If an object cannot be returned personally (for example when it was not lost in the city where the person lives), its return by courier is arranged by BringMeBack free of charge. The reward is not transferred from the escrow account of BringMeBack until the owner has gotten the object back. About 1,000 people in Austria are using the online lost and found service, and about 10,000 IDs are in circulation.
Label sale and white-label solution
The sole source of revenue for BringMeBack is the sale of its products (labels, stickers, and tags) through its online shop. A starter set with a key chain, three stickers for cameras or mobile phones, and three tags for bags or backpacks costs EUR 17.95. The products are also offered indirectly through partner shops. In addition to the private customer segment, there is also a “white label” solution for companies that wish to produce the tags and products with their corporate design. IDs are also sold directly to bag and electronics manufacturers.
Having been on the market since the beginning of 2012, Holzer’s innovative lost and found business idea has not yet turned a profit, despite being the only enterprise of its kind in Austria. “As is the case for many startups, you have to put more energy and work into it in the beginning than you get out of it,” said Holzner. But the young entrepreneur is confident that he will be in the black by the end of 2012, at which time tags for animals and clothes should also be on the market. Because dogs get lost sometimes, or you might forget your favorite sweatshirt in a restaurant.
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