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The Self-Made Man: Deron Beal

Anyone who works in the non-profit sector or the performing arts (or the huge overlap in between those two lines of work) has probably hit up Freecycle for something in the past six months.

deron3For those of you who work in industries where there’s actually money to buy things with, Freecycle is basically a worldwide network of “gifting” groups that facilitates people giving stuff away for free so they don’t get thrown away. It sounds like a huge online yard sale, which is kind of true, but there’s more to it than that. Freecycle is leading the charge of “gift economics,” and the man who started the whole thing, Deron Beal, is this week’s Self Made Man.

Deron was working for Tuscon-based recycling organization RISE Inc. when he found himself in a weird situation. Besides the fact that he lived in Tuscon, I mean.

A lot of the things his organization was being given to recycle were things that couldn’t really be recycled (like office furniture), and he didn’t want to refuse them and clutter up area landfills by proxy. When the stash of unrecyclables got to be too much, Deron came up with an idea – he would just give it away to anyone who had something else to give in return.

And rather than just drag an entire warehouse full of stuff to the curb and turn his generosity into a disorganized freakshow, Deron started a Yahoo! group (back when that was worth doing) between himself, a few dozen friends, and a handful of local nonprofits and basically outlined what Freecycle was going to be.

That was back in 2003, and Freecycle has grown exponentially from there, as good ideas often do. Today, it’s really a well-organized, community-based system wherein people post messages on their local Freecycle website about items they want, or want to give away, and coordinate with each other accordingly.

Most of Freecycle’s labor force is volunteer-based within their specific communities, so growth and expansion have been an interesting challenge, but Deron is a glass-half-full kinda guy, like most entrepreneurs.

A good example of his mindset is what he told Netsquared a few years back about Freecycle users. “We get a lot of people joining Freecycle who think, ‘Ooh, something for nothing, a free lunch.’ And then when they give their first item away, they realize the real fun, the real gift is in the giving itself. No one has to tell them it’s better to give than to get. It’s just more fun, so people do it.”

See what I mean? Even if Deron Beal is too much of a hippie for some of TSB’s readers, he’s a free spirit who still knows how to put in work toward his goals, and he knows how to motivate others to do the same, even from a distance.

I’ll leave you with this 2006 interview with NPR that goes into more detail about the origins and growth of Freecycle.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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