Available in New York and Tel Aviv, TULU provides household items to those living in close quarters or without flexible budgets. Everyday products (from vacuums to Playstation consoles, screwdrivers, projectors, and more) are available on-demand, for use on an hourly basis, through a rental agreement established with the company and hosted in a storage room within your building. TULU occupies these spaces within apartment complexes or in neighborhood buildings to make the necessary goods far more accessible.
Comprising a cross-continental team of data analysts, buyers, community managers and designers, TULU, as a company, relies on its users for feedback in order to replicate its successful ventures in more cities. To better understand how the company turns a process so seemingly simple into an in-depth study of urban living, we spoke with TULU’s CMO—MIT University designX Accelerator-alum Yael Shemer—about consumer habits, designing for betterment of individuals and the broader community, and more.
How was TULU conceptualized? Was it founded to solve needs of your own?
Yishai Lehavi (TULU’s CEO) and I met as part of an entrepreneurial program called Our Generation Speaks at the designX Accelerator at MIT, where the seeds were sown for what would become TULU. We came to the program with the same motivation: to leverage the fact that people live in proximity to one another in the city. We soon realized that great potential was found in the basic unit of urban life: residential buildings. Yishai, as an architect, brought the physical angle and I, as an environmental entrepreneur and community organizer, brought social value.
After a trial-and-error process, we were able to refine the idea that was there all along: Instead of every tenant owning their own drill, vacuum cleaner or Playstation, we would allow all tenants access to high-quality products in a 24/7 smart rental room located in their buildings. In a way, we created TULU together with our team for a cause we believe in, which is reducing consumption and waste, promoting a more sustainable lifestyle for people in cities, while looking at spaces differently, and asking, ‘What more can these spaces be used for?’
How do you go about placing a TULU room within a building? Does a tenant request it? Does the building-owner? Is it through your own outreach?
At the beginning, we approached building management, but luckily there’s a good word of mouth and building owners see the benefits of providing TULU as an amenity to tenants. In a couple of months, we launched nine buildings in New York and partnered with some of the strongest players in the city’s real estate market. After six months in NYC buildings, we can now show how our service is being used more than the gym in the building and adding value to their tenants’ lives.
What types of places are most in need of a TULU room? Buildings with families in city-sized apartments? Homeowners with a TULU “shed” where neighbors can pop in and avoid commuting to a distant specialty store?
We see two big shifts in large cities in the last decade, one being that apartments are getting smaller and more people are renting them instead of buying and secondly, there’s a new type of tenant who is a dynamic person that wants access to high-end products but many times does not have the room for it. Young professionals move an average of once a year, so there’s really no incentive in accumulating loads of household stuff. TULU is perfect for large residential buildings with renters in dense neighborhoods, like the Upper West Side, Upper East Side, and Hell’s Kitchen. We also have success in dormitories, where students who live in a small room see these benefits as well. So far they’ve been our greatest early adopters and are so open to the concept of affordable rentals and on-demand access.
Our user base is mostly young professionals and couples, and some families, too. We also have a project in a neighborhood in TLV, together with the municipality, and are soon to be launching a flagship TULU room at the Wix headquarters where employees can rent stuff for the night or the weekend after work.
What kind of items are in TULU rooms and how does pricing work?
We provide high-quality, top products that you want to have, but don’t necessarily want to own or can’t afford. We provide cleaning products, such as vacuum cleaners, and Roombas; cooking products like the air fryer, waffle maker, and a KitchenAid mixer; hosting products (a projector, folding chairs and tables, and board games) as well as a printer and electric scooters and bikes.
Our members choose a plan and then each time they use a product, it’s deducted from their account—our prices are very affordable and are a few dollars per hour. We also have a daily pass and a weekend pass for longer rentals. Our Away suitcases are being rented for the weekend or for short trips with a fixed price as well.
As a result of the changes since COVID-19, and as people spend more time at home, we have also made adaptations and launched the TULU Shop, a suite of several shelves in the TULU Room for the purchasing of staple home products like paper and wipes to almond milk, pasta, and soap.
What have been the most rented items? Does feedback inform what you stock?
The most rented products are the Dyson vacuum cleaners, electric scooters, printers (you print in the TULU room) and projectors. The drill is a superstar as well. People have been renting VR sets for weeknights, PS4s for the entire weekend. When COVID-19 started, we saw a peak in the drill and tool boxes—assuming people finally got to fixing or doing a DIY project. During these strange days, we’ve also seen some out of the ordinary usage not only in volume, but also in how items are being used. In one building, a neighbor decided to make communal use of the projector and started an open-air cinema for the whole building to enjoy from their windows.
A feature in the app offers ideas for more products, and we keep getting ideas from users who just want to take part in this process (some of the ideas we’ve adopted!). The most exciting feedback comes from users sharing with us in various special situations where TULU helped them. For example, a tenant in one of our buildings had to host her family immediately after giving birth and rented our air mattresses; a lovely couple who, just before their wedding, got into social distancing and had to have a small wedding at their home rented the karaoke machine and chairs.
We are launching more new rooms in New York City, continuing to provide New Yorkers access to satisfying and neccesary products for today’s needs and consequently, shaping tomorrow’s consumer behavior.
Images courtesy of Yael Shemer / TULU