“We want to be a sustainable Amazon,” says Peter Wendischhoff, founder of Austrian startup Refurbed.
Refurbed, an online marketplace for refurbished electronics, has grown rapidly since its founding in Vienna five years ago. According to Windischhofer, it has become one of Austria’s most successful young companies and a European technology champion, employing more than 300 people, operating in 12 markets and generating revenues of “hundreds of millions” of euros.
The proposition is simple: On Refurbed’s website, consumers can buy used smartphones, laptops and tablets that have been refurbished so they look and perform like new.
The idea isn’t original, but what Refurbed offers is the promise of reliability and quality — concerns that have previously deterred consumers from buying used electronics. Each item comes with a 30-day trial period and a 12-month warranty. The company says it rigorously vets the merchants who use its site — professional refurbishers — and removes those that don’t meet its standards. It incentivizes high-quality work by offering higher profits to merchants who consistently get the best reviews from customers.
These customers can purchase devices such as iPhones and Microsoft laptops at a fraction of retail prices. Refurbed also touts its eco-credentials: new smartphones are carbon-intensive, manufactured and contain components that require rare-earth minerals to be mined in often highly damaging environments.
“We fundamentally believe that we have to change the way society as a whole consumes,” Windischhofer said. “Technology can be a major catalyst for this. That’s why we built Refurbed. Because we believe it makes sense to reuse products that already exist.”
The 33-year-old left consulting firm McKinsey and co-founded Refurbed in 2017 with fellow Austrian Kilian Kaminski, former head of Amazon’s German refurbishment program, and software engineer and entrepreneur Jürgen Riedl.
To date, the company has raised more than EUR 60 million in equity financing through two funding rounds. Its largest market is German-speaking Europe, but it is also the leading platform in Denmark, Ireland and Sweden. Windischhofer says the site now sells to more than 1 million customers.
“Europe is great for a company like ours because your general perception of sustainability is far ahead of any other continent in the world,” Windischhofer said. “Sustainability is probably the only thing where Europe is world-leading. industry.”
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He added that Austria had proven to be an ideal hub. More than half of the workforce also lives in Vienna.
“We have easy access to early stage capital here; we have easy access to very good early employees . . . Startups can be supported through private and public capital.”
Perhaps most importantly, Windischhofer points out, Vienna is also a strong selling point in the competition for talent in Europe’s tech scene. “It has been voted the most liveable city in the world for the last 10 years, which means you can attract a lot of talent to move to Vienna, especially from Eastern Europe — where most of our engineers come from,” He says. The refurbished staff come from 50 countries.
But he acknowledged that being based in Austria was also problematic. The country’s unwieldy corporate and tax laws – which successive conservative governments have promised but failed to reform – make managing fast-growing businesses and absorbing new capital harder than in cities like London.
For example, every time a new shareholder is introduced, an appointment with an official notary is required to officially legalize the new shareholding. Employment taxes are also relatively high, he added: “There are some things that are not good on the bureaucratic side.”
For now, these are an inconvenience rather than a serious hindrance. Windischhofer said he expects Refurbed to continue to expand rapidly, even in a challenging economic environment. “In the current macro environment, we’re seeing people becoming more price sensitive — everyone is trying to save money now,” he said, pointing to rising inflation and soaring energy prices.
“But people can’t cut electronics out of their lives. We can’t live without smartphones. So Refurbed is increasingly becoming the best solution because we’re cheaper, higher quality and more convenient.”
“People realize that if they can buy an iPhone 11 from us, which is a very similar product, for a few hundred dollars, they don’t need to spend more than 1,000 euros for a new iPhone 14.”
Refurbed is now looking to expand beyond high-end electronics. It is rolling out refurbished white goods and has started selling scooters and electric bikes. Eventually, the platform will expand into sports gear, Windischhofer said, and he hopes to expand into fashion later.
He dismissed the notion that a giant like Amazon could do the same thing as a steamroller competitor.
“Amazon is always launching new products,” he said. “They make a lot more money with new products than with refurbished products . . . And, from a consumer standpoint, if you want to do the right thing, if you want to save the world, it’s hard [reconcile] Amazon’s brand. “