Sharing is caring, as the old saying goes. But it is also proving to be a nifty way for start-up businesses to get a piece of Asheville’s economic pie — not to mention a source of consternation for city officials struggling to regulate the growing industry.
In the wake of last October’s controversy over the appearance of a flock of electric scooters around downtown Asheville, the Bird Scooter company’s innovative model — and its disregard for Asheville city government’s concerns about public safety — has several other species of sharing-based startups building their own nest eggs here.
“It’s becoming quite a problem,” says Cathy Ball, Asheville’s assistant city manager. “These companies are like a capitalist hydra: cut one business off, and two more GoFundMe campaigns sprout up in its place. And many people in Asheville — not to mention our visitors — will pay for these odd conveniences, regardless of their legality.”
Lean on me
Ball points to the recent emergence of companies like Rasta Rides, which began advertising in the Asheville area last month. The Boston-based company takes the idea of ride sharing to a whole new level, offering tired pedestrians the chance to literally hop on the back of one of its roving “carriers.”
“Walking is hard and tiresome,” says Rasta Rides CEO Ken Yudiggit. “We provide weary bipeds with the chance to take a load off, hop on the back of one of our trusted employees and see the city from a slightly different angle.”
While the company’s model is a hit with many local pedestrians, Rasta Rides has left others with negative vibrations. The Asheville Police Department reports a sharp spike in assault charges around the Central Business District, while Mission Hospital statistics show a 20 percent increase in back injuries and skinned knees across the metropolitan area since the business began operations in Asheville.
Much of the consternation revolves around the Rasta Rides’ trademark employee identifier, which consists of a wig of fake dreadlocks. Instances of customers mistaking fellow citizens for Rasta Rides employees have been particularly numerous around The One Stop’s Free Dead Fridays and Highland Brewing Co.’s Reggae Sunday events.
“We didn’t realize how many Asheville residents actually have dreadlocks,” admits Yuddigit. “Most of them aren’t even Rastafarians.”
He adds that the company is exploring the idea of tapping the local CrossFit community as a labor force. “Those maniacs — I mean associates — love running around and lifting heavy things in their free time anyway,” Yuddigit says. “It’s a natural fit.”
A fridge too far
Transportation isn’t the only business sector experiencing a sharing revolution: For those gastronomers whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs, Doggie Baggers has you covered. The startup connects local restaurant patrons with foodies on a budget by offering to buy, and subsequently re-sell, whatever’s left on your plate.
Doggie Baggers’ unique business model enables the company to operate with little overhead and provide a tempting array of menu items and portions to its customers, says company president R. Hugh Eettinnat. “It’s really a win-win for both sides of the equation,” he expostulates. “Instead of tossing those leftover pulled pork tacos or that vegan queso dip into the back of the fridge, our customers can ship them off to someone in need of soggy, stale victuals.”
To save on shipping costs, the company’s app also offers a map plugin called Plop Down, which allows customers to find a freshly tagged set of leftovers. At the eatery, the hungry newcomer can be seated at the same table with the seller to finish what was started.
While Buncombe County Health and Human Services Director Stoney Blevins applauds efforts to reduce food waste, he is concerned about the health impacts of eating unregulated leftovers that have remained unrefrigerated for an indeterminate length of time.
“We’ve found a few instances where certain elements of the city have, uh, taken advantage of Doggie Baggers’ model by removing questionable food from dumpsters to resell,” Blevins notes. “While that works fine with fast foods, which don’t really decompose, it’s a bit more problematic with actual dairy or meat products.”
Several West Asheville residents also complained at recent City Council meetings that the company’s commerce-motivated “dumpster piracy” has compromised their access to “affordable fresh produce.”
If all continues to go well with the startup, says Eettinnat, the company plans to launch a premium version of the service, Doggie Baggers: White Collar, which will offer large-scale access to catering leftovers and food from moneyed business environments. “I already have customers calling me,” he assures, “ready to cater their weddings with the leftovers from TDA luncheons or Mission executive meetings.”
All in the family
Sometimes a second opinion is just what’s needed, and older Americans are a font of second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth … you get the picture. Rent-A-Geezer harnesses the power of our most experienced citizens to voice alternative approaches to common problems — not to mention blame, criticism and general irascibility.
“The idea came to my wife and me last Thanksgiving,” recalls Jerry Attricks, who co-founded Rent-A-Geezer a year ago. “We were sitting around the dinner table with our friends and family when we realized no one was making obnoxious comments about our children’s attire or lecturing us about our parenting skills. It just didn’t feel right.”
Capitalizing on Asheville’s senior community, Rent-A-Geezer gives customers the chance to employ elders on a short-term basis. “In need of some tough love when it comes to analyzing your choice of romantic partner? Looking for a sitter who can see how gifted and special your bratty kids are? Would conversations with someone totally out of touch with reality distract from your existential despair in the face of that very reality? We can help!” exclaims Attricks.
Some fans of the new service take advantage of seniors’ propensity for getting up at the crack of dawn. “They say the early bird gets the worm,” commented Kat Schewnappin, a local service worker who books a regular weekend appointment. “Well, I’ve got my very own golden girl to stand in line at hot brunch spots. I stroll in when I’m ready, and we chow down.”
Even though it’s early days, Attricks has expansion plans. Rent-A-Boomer is already in beta testing, he says. “There’s only so many folks over 75 in this town, and it’s hard to get them to go anywhere their pastor or “Good Morning America” didn’t suggest, so we definitely need to branch out if we are to continue growing,” he explains.
Recruitment for this next generation of gig-oldsters is going well. “It was hard to save money when the midlife crisis hit and the Mazda Miata beckoned,” says Atticks. “And now these folks are turning 60 and realizing their 401k balances are stuck in the four figures. They need extra cash.”
Fortunately, Boomers’ well-honed shopping skills are finding a receptive market, according to the entrepreneur. “Millennials complain that one-click shopping is just too much repetitive hand movement, so they’re happy to offload purchases of self-help books, juicers, throw pillows and gag gifts to the experts,” Atticks says. And the generations who wish to maintain a Facebook presence for their older relatives without the hassle of scrolling through endless gender-reveal photos and political diatribes are hiring out the job to platform enthusiasts old enough to be their mothers and grandmothers, “freeing the client up to focus on the Instagram or Snapchat work that’s truly important,” he explains.
The CEO has hit a snag in the form of legal disputes over age discrimination. Local millennial and litigant Cody Pendent says this is just another case of people who should be retiring keeping all the good jobs for themselves. “Why should I have to keep keep plugging away at my dead-end sales job when I am an old-timer at heart?”
Pendent grouses, “I love Pink Floyd more than anybody and I haven’t paid full price for anything in years. I even go to church! Meanwhile, I have to keep the economy growing while up to my butt in student debt and being blamed for the death of America as we know it.”
But Attricks isn’t worried. He says the plaintiffs won’t be able to show hardship: “Kids these days just don’t know how good they have it.”