Canadian Peer-to-Peer Lending

by Mr. Cheap

I love it when a good idea comes to fruition. I thought about starting up Craigslist in Canada before they came here (I’d used it in San Francisco and loved it – I even registered a domain for it!). I was going to build a dating site based on collaborative filtering, and I wanted to start a Canadian P2P Lending site like Lending Club and Zopa, and someone has finally done it!

In case you haven’t read about P2P lending, its basically eBay for banking. Instead of borrowing (or saving) money through a bank, the borrowers and lenders communicate directly and cut out the middle man. In theory, the massive profits that the big banks make should go into giving both sides better rates and leading to a more efficient capital market.

We’re still in the infancy, so I wouldn’t say we’re quite at that point yet, but its still a very exciting new place to borrow and invest. Through an American friend I managed to set up a Prosper account and have been scraping by with around a 5.5% return on our investment there (we’ve had MASSIVE defaults).

One of the best things about these types of sites (from an operator perspective), is that lending laws are different in every country (and often from province-to-province or state-to-state). This gives the chance to set up a “local” version in your country, and not have to compete with the current site dominating the market (as would be the case if you tried to start a local auction site or a local classifieds site).

I have my fingers crossed that CommunityLend will improve on the business models of Lending Club, Prosper and Zopa. Even if they don’t, I’m happy that at least we’ll have a Canadian version available to us.

In case you’re reading this and wondering why I’m happy people made money on “my” ideas, my feeling is that ideas are cheap. With a company, creation and operation is the hard part (and deserve the bulk of the returns). Frank Herbert (the author of Dune) once had a guy come up to him and say “I have a great idea for a book, I’ll tell you, you write it, and we’ll split the profits 50/50″. Mr. Herbert said “no way, coming up with ideas is the fun and easy part, writing the book is hard work!”.

People have made similar observations about video games. If there’s any market for ideas, I certainly haven’t found it (please tell me where it is so I can cash in and retire!). The only way you can “sell” an idea is to find someone naive enough to give value to ideas on their own merit, convince them to do all the work and give you equity for your initial idea (“you build it and we’ll split the profits 50/50), hope that they are naive but very bright and productive (I haven’t met many people who would fit this bill), then sell the results and cash in.

An idea that I had (that no one has actually done yet) was to build a website, say “ideasarecheap.com”. On it people could write up their ideas for businesses, post a business plan if they have it, and list what resources they bring to the table (what portion of the start-up capital they have, skills they possess, contacts, etc.) and what resources they don’t have but would need. People with those resources (or people just wanting to offer advice), could connect with the budding entrepreneurs. Money could be made off of advertising (I know, I know, this business model is *SO* 1999).

Anyone have $1000 / month to front me while I build it? ;-)

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