In Search of True Sharing
"The stuff that matters in life is no longer stuff. It's other people. It's relationships. It's experience." - Brian Chesky
Like many, I love the notion of collaborative consumption, and the idea of sharing cars, homes, meals, clothes, experiences, knowledge, available capacity or services. There is a proliferation of examples, and new marketplaces, business and social models being invented at pace. For full disclosure, I am passionate about marketplaces and have spent the past 6 years building, launching, and learning how scaling marketplace businesses (with eBay/ StubHub and currently with Tes).
As much as I like the so-called “sharing economy”, I have come to the conclusion that enduring sharing models will be increasingly powered by communities of humans rather than organisations embracing sharing as a model or plarform. May be this is because enabling communities to share requires focusing on the WHY (the purpose of sharing) rather than the WHAT (the mechanics of sharing), which requires different types of leaders, organisations, platforms and trade-offs, with a clear and deep focus on long term sustainable results. And I worry that quite a few marketplaces evolve from an initial community sharing enablement aspiration to a classic commercial supply and demand model. This is not necessarily a bad thing of course and some of those services are really efficient and successful. They are just businesses which connect assets (owned or not) with buyers/users.
As a human and consumer in the process of trying to “LiveSimplerBetter” and actively decluttering my life, I wanted to write my thoughts on a few sharing services/ marketplaces I use and respect and where I think they are positioned on the sharing authenticity & community index.
As I do not own a car I am a Zipcar member and I have found the service offered convenient and competitive. I am vaguely aware that some other users live in my area and use the same 2 or 3 cars and van I always book. But the Zipcar community is faceless and invisible. Most Zipcarers respect the few rules established (leave the car full and with at least ½ tank) but they do not behave as owners. A few years ago, I used Zipcar to drive my daughter at a birthday party outside London with the window open by a cold winter day, having found the car smelling of vomit. I'll never know if the previous Zipcarer had a sick kid or was driving some drunk party goers...but I stopped using Zipcar for nearly a year after that. The founder of Zipcar Robin Chase, after founding ZipCar 15 years ago, has since explored new models where “she invests in community rather than cars” through Buzzcar, a French start up that lets people rent their own cars to others which has been acquired by Drivy. She talks about building platform for participation where the community and the company are sharing value and values. Many similar peer2peer car sharing businesses have bloomed since including models where what is pooled is not a car but the trip as offered by the vibrant blablacar.
I am a big fan of the model, ethos and organization of Airbnb (for full disclosure, I have a few super talented friends who work for Airbnb). I have had great experiences with genuine welcoming hosts, most recently in Tokyo, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Lisbonne. The reciprocal and transparent rating system is powerful. The user experience is delightful. My best Airbnb memories have been with genuine hosts, who shared their current or past home and who were present and engaging (even discreetly) at some point of our visit. The (very few) challenges I have had including not been able to get keys on our arrival until the next day (and having to find a hotel in Amsterdam at 1 am), have always been when the host was a professional, with often more than one flat, and had outsourced the process of cleaning and welcoming usually to third parties. The experience was disintermediated and standardised. I continue to love Airbnb, but worry about the increasing number of “power” hosts and flats and homes being solely designed to fill Airbnb catalogue with an ecosystem of professional hosts starting to emerge (i.e. Hostmaker). The pure Airbnb home rental model is slowly but surely shifting from peer2peer sharing to dedicated commercial supply. However, the recent overlay of the Airbnb Experiences provides an interesting twist to the proposition, which is anchored into genuine community values. There are many other interesting services and platforms which operate in the home rental/sharing and travel space, some more successful than others. I have been following specifically OneFineStay and LoveHomeSwap but have not used those services personally yet.
Co-working/sharing work space is a strong trend and there are spectacular examples of very successful start-ups spreading across cities. In London only, 168 co-working spaces are listed on coworkinglondon. The energy and buzz of those environments is infectious. I have many friends, entrepreneurs or solo workers who would never want to go back to a traditional office again. Having visited a few of those places, I am more attracted to spaces which prioritise building eclectic communities around values of creativity and collaboration, and cultivating inspirations amongst its members, rather than pure co-working facilities, however hype, cool and sleek they might be.
A few interesting examples I have stumbled upon:
- The very inspiring "friends work here" in New York
- Remix coworking in Paris
- The global ImpactHub network
In my quest to make my live simpler and better, I have experimented and explored many marketplaces and platforms which solve some specific life or work related problems or offer opportunities to explore new territories, off line or on line.
Along the way, I have found a few who live up to authentic values of sharing and inspiring communities to create and collaborate, and I believe those are here to stay.