Investors are tiring of start-up pitches that allow people to rent out their own bicycles, vacuum cleaners and gardening tools, arguing that the market for companies trying to tap into the “shared economy” is reaching saturation.

The number of entrepreneurs trying to emulate the business model of Airbnb, the company that allows people to rent out their spare rooms or vacant apartments, has reached a point that risks harming the broader market of similar companies, according to venture capitalists speaking at last week’s Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet conference.

“There are a lot of copycats,” said Matt Murphy, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, bemoaning the number of pitches he has heard that start with: “I’m the Airbnb of X, Y, Z.”

Airbnb has been hugely successful since its launch in 2008. It clocked 3m guests last year and built its accommodation listings to 300,000 – including 500 castles and 200 tree houses – according to the company’s 2012 figures. It was last valued at $1.3bn in 2011, and is reported to be seeking a valuation of $2.5bn in its next fundraising round.

The concept of making money from assets that otherwise sit empty, or unused in the garage, remains very appealing. Taxi services that use mobile technology to turn drivers’ idle time into paid jobs have been well-received by car owners and passengers, despite regulatory hurdles.

Bill Gurley, a general partner at Benchmark Capital, which has an investment in the Uber mobile taxi app, revealed on Thursday that a number of Uber users spend between $10,000 and $15,000 on the service in a year, indicating they are using Uber as a replacement for owning a car, and the associated costs of repairs and parking.

But other attempted applications of the model have not been as successful. A business model based on people trying to rent out their bikes for a few hours, for example, did not make economic sense, said Richard Wong, a general partner at Accel Partners.

“There comes a point where you take things to their extreme,” he added.

The danger is that too much investment in these types of companies could backfire. If too much capital goes into one slice of the market, it could become overcrowded.

Mr Gurley compared the situation to the late 1990s, when investors poured money into a host of “me-too” companies that all relied on being able to draw traffic from the Yahoo portal. Few of them found a sustainable business model.

“It got so oversaturated, they blew themselves up,” he said.



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