Pawn Shops Come Into The 21st Century


There's certainly nothing new about pawning your personal belongings, but one website is hoping to change the way you pawn your items and the way you think about pawning all together.

The site is Pawngo, and it's another in the growing list of websites that are bringing antiquated technologies into the 21st century with the help of venture firm Lightbank.

"When you pawn something, you're actually getting a collateralized loan," explained Kevin Leland, VP of Marketing for Pawngo, and a founder in residence with Lightbank.

Leland explains that when someone sends them an item, they receive the loan for three to six months and pay it back with interest.

The company does purchase items as well, like a traditional pawn shop.

So why did Lightbank, the company that backs Groupon, decide that pawning would be their next great adventure?

"Pawngo got started by the creators of Internet Pawn," Leland explained. "We discovered them, and we thought it totally fell into our sweet spot at Lightbank, in terms of taking a very old, antiquated industry and using technology to disrupt that business and make it more modern."

Internet Pawn, the site that eventually evolved into Pawngo, was founded in 2009 by Todd Hills, who remains the company's Denver-based president and CEO. Half of the company's headquarters is still out in Denver, as is the "fulfillment center," or where all the items are assessed and stored.

Back here in Chicago, Leland runs the marketing and technology side of the company, something that wasn't quite Internet Pawn's strongest suit.

Hills, who for years before Internet Pawn worked in pawn shops, says that when he started Internet Pawn, he wasn't quite prepared to handle the different user experience.

"Dealing with technology creates a completely different user experience," explains Hills.

Hills also said that there were issues catering to a national brand, as opposed to the local shop he was used to, that he had not anticipated.

So what's the best advice he has for a business that wants to go from a local, brick-and-mortar shop to a national online presence?

"Go see Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky at Lightbank," Hills said with a laugh.

On a more serious note, Hill goes back to the importance of being able to handle a brand new type of user experience and interface.

Leland explains that it's all about building trust with your customers, something that brick-and-mortar shops are able to do easier, because of face to face communication that you're unable to get online.

Pawngo is working hard to change how people think about pawning, bringing it out of seemingly shady stores and back rooms, and out into the 21st century.

"We made couponing cool," Leland explained. "Now, we want to make pawning cool."

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