Despite boasting a population of over 1.3 billion citizens, China’s young people have a surprisingly tough time meeting people. At least that’s what one startup thinks.

Hangzhou Ouch Technology Ltd.’s ‘Come Rent Me’* is a service that wants to monetize the spare time of China’s young people – by renting it to others. The company announced 5 million RMB (about $767,000 USD) in new funding from an undisclosed angel investor, according to an announcement on Monday.

Using Ouch Technology’s official Come Rent Me WeChat account, users rent themselves to strangers and vice versa. Fees are on an hourly basis and vary from 1 to 200 RMB per hour (about $0.15 to $30.70 USD). Rental activities include going to the movies, eating dinner, jogging, visiting ancient towns, and more.

“Nowadays, young people don’t want to go out,” says Yulong Fan (范宇龙), a co-founder of Come Rent Me.” Between going to and from work, most people either stay at home by themselves or play games. When people don’t leverage their free time, the opportunities to talk and meet with new people decreases.”

come rent me screenshots

From left to right: (1) Rental profiles on Come Rent Me. (2) The profile of a user renting out their time. She is a designer based in Hangzhou and will eat, go shopping, watch movies, and drink afternoon tea with clients.

Like Momo, a Chinese social networking app, Come Rent Me wants to help young Chinese people meet each other. However, unlike Momo, Come Rent Me views these meetings as monetization opportunities that individuals can capitalize on.

“We’re not a community platform,” says Mr. Fan.  “We’re running an information service. No matter what you do, whether it’s meeting someone or completing a task, you have a cost.” Mr. Fan believes that Come Rent Me dates have a comparable value to ticket sales, citing the example of ‘cross-talkers’, which is a type of performance popular in northern China involving casual comedic banter.

“Isn’t [that] a type of consumption too?” he says. “For example, maybe some people want to meet Jack Ma, but they can’t. If Jack Ma was on our platform, people would have the opportunity to meet him. So the rental fee is the cost of opportunity.”

When a user on Come Rent Me wants to rent someone, they pay for the number of hours they want to rent before receiving a text message from the platform. The text includes the WeChat ID of the person they want to rent. After making contact through WeChat, the person renting out their time can reject their client (in which case the client gets a full refund), or they can arrange the meeting and pay the fee.

The company compares itself to Uber and Didi Chuxing, two ride-hailing apps that have become icons of China’s burgeoning on-demand economy. “When Didi and Uber started, they wanted to enable individuals to make money outside of their day jobs. But at that time, people thought private cars were unsafe,” says Mr. Fan.

“Now, Uber and Didi have transformed the free time of individuals, and have made private cars acceptable,” he says. Come Rent Me has the same goal but instead of driving cars, individuals will rent out their time. “Don’t [performers and cross-talkers] sell their time?,” says Mr. Fan. “Or consultants and lawyers? Why can’t individuals sell their time?”

Come Rent Me is very similar to a mobile app called Zuwo (租我) or “Rent Me”, which is also a C2C rental service with hourly fees and specified tasks. Both Zuwo and Come Rent Me operate in the context of Chinese dating culture, where Chinese people in their 20’s and 30’s are often pressured by family members to get married. Both platforms appeal to users in that age range, who may not have many opportunities to meet and get to know strangers.

However, both companies also have to grapple with Chinese regulations around sex. In China, prostitution and porn are illegal, and media is often censored for “inappropriate” content. Though Mr. Fan claims that Come Rent Me is very strict when it comes to who is renting and what they’re renting, preventing illicit activity from happening on the platform is almost impossible, as there is no way to control what happens after two users meet offline. Other Chinese companies have also straddled this fine line, such as Momo, which was accused of facilitating prostitution by Chinese officials in 2014.

Founded in July 2015, the Hangzhou-based company claims that it has 500,000 users on its Come Rent Me WeChat platform. About 10% or 50,000 – 60,000 of those users offer services while the rest are clients, according to Mr. Fan. The company plans to launch a mobile app in April and will use its newest round of funding on offline and online marketing, in addition to product development.

*杭州哎呦科技有限公司/来租我 Our English translation

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