Revitalize An Industry: Lessons From A Digital Pawn Shop

At a time when businesses around the world are looking for ways to modernize and adapt to rapidly-changing new technologies, it's easy to overlook opportunities to innovate in industries deemed firmly entrenched or depleted.

It's a dangerous mistake, because sometimes there's a tremendous demand for a service that already has a solid foundation. With fresh eyes and an updated vision, I believe you can take an old business and make it new again. That's what I set out to do with Pawngo, the world's first online pawn shop. What I learned is that succeeding requires being proud of your core product or service and re-imagining and what it means to consumers -- a lesson not lost on other industries.

Think of how IKEA changed the way we shop for furniture or how Keurig made the coffee pot obsolete with single-serve brewing.

I set out to modernize a 3,000-year-old business when I teamed up with Daylight Partners, Access Venture Partners, and Lightbank, the $100 million fund started by the founders of Groupon, to create Pawngo.

For centuries, industrious people have been pawning their valuables in exchange for quick access to currency. Yet while pawning is the oldest form of borrowing, it's the last to enter the digital age.

This might be because somewhere along the way, this basic transaction became what many people think of today: a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie with sketchy street corners, seedy store managers and desperation. I love a good movie as much as anyone, but having worked in the pawn industry for 25 years, I know that this business serves people of all income levels and walks of life.

I also know that in this difficult economy, families could definitely use the option to access cash quickly, whether it's to get through an unexpected emergency or provide an additional level of security.

So, I began to re-imagine what trading valuables for a loan could look like online. Since we launched Pawngo in early June, we've received more than 7,000 applications from people looking to pawn or sell their valuables. We've also helped to dispel the negative stereotypes of pawning, attracting more than 15,000 Facebook fans.

If your business has been pigeonholed with an outdated stereotype, I recommend taking the following steps:

  • Be proud of who you are. Don't try and hide your business behind something it's not. (Pawngo is a pawn shop, not a collateral loan.)

  • Look your best. Find out who your target customer is and create a look that would appeal to that customer. Our target is well-educated women, so we created a look that would appeal to them.
  • Create a process that will work for your users. If you're introducing a new experience to them, don't ask for all of their information up front. Make them comfortable with the process first. For example, my team and I shot this introductory video to let our customers get to know me, my family, our vision for the company and how using the service works. We were especially focused on letting them know what happens to their valuables, how we evaluate them, and keep them safe.
  • In any business, new or old, it's essential to understand your customer, cater to that customer and be true in your work ethic and service. If you have an open mind, creative vision and the passion to carry it out, you can apply these principles to revitalize an industry.