Whether you call it the â€śsharing economy,â€ť â€śpeer-to-peer servicesâ€ť or Â â€ścollaborative consumption,â€ť itâ€™s hard not to be amazed by the growth of this new arena of consumer-driven commerce.
As a reminder, until very recently, if you wanted a product or service, you would seek out a company that happened to provide that product or service.
But businesses are no longer the only suppliers of consumer needs. Because the marketplace is now flush with consumers willing to share (for a profit) the under-used capacity of the things they own. Consumers (and Silicon Valley) have slowly figured out that thereâ€™s a lot of money in collaborating to support and drive this exchange.Â As Forbes states it, â€śthis blows up the industrial model of companies owning and people consuming, and allows everyone to be both consumer and producer, along with the potential for cash that the latter provides.â€ť
Per Fast Company, â€śthe confluence of the economic crisis, environmental concerns, and the maturation of the social webâ€¦an entirely new generation of business is popping up.â€ť Indeed. Over 100 new â€śsharingâ€ť companies have formed in the past 4 years; Forbes estimates the revenue flowing through the share economy directly into peopleâ€™s wallets will surpass $3.5 billion this year, with growth exceeding 25%.
Probably the most well-known of these companies is Airbnb, a company that facilitates rentals of rooms in peopleâ€™s homes and boasts over 10M â€śrentedâ€ť nights in 192 countries. Yes, people are happily inviting strangers to stay in their homes.Â Turns out, the economic upside of sharing your most valuable assets with strangers, and the benefit of finding what you need or want for less from strangers, is pretty compelling, which is why we see massive growth in shared accommodations as well as shared car rides, with companies like Lyft, RelayRides and SideCar all showing at least moderate success.
But itâ€™s not only about sharing assets, itâ€™s about sharing time.Â Need someone to put your IKEA dresser together? Post the task on TaskRabbit. Need someone to watch your dog while youâ€™re away? Call Dog Vacay. Want someone to pick up your dry cleaning? Get an Exec. Want to put your car in someoneâ€™s driveway? Check out Parking Panda. You want it? I got it! Letâ€™s share.
So, the question is: what about the traditional service providers in these spaces? Iâ€™m sure the hoteliers are thrilled that San Franciscoâ€™s treasurer just ruled that Airbnb is now responsible for paying the cityâ€™s hotel tax, and I have to believe taxi services are watching ride-sharing companiesâ€™ legal challenges with bated breath.
But the â€śnetâ€ť of this post isnâ€™t that Hyatt shouldâ€™ve started an Airbnb-ish company, nor that Hertz shouldâ€™ve founded something like Lyft (or maybe they should have, but thatâ€™s not necessarily the point). All of the these sharing-economy companies also serve as an example of how to serve a particular marketplace and consumer needs in a new way, and to remind us that businesses often think too narrowly about their business model and target audience and continue to be uninfluenced by more macro consumer needs and trends.
Every once in a while, business people should to step out of their conference rooms and back-to-back meetings and spreadsheets and question themselves:Â Are we fully serving consumer needs, and is there a new way for us to do it? Are there new consumers for us to serve? What marketplace are we in â€“ what does that mean for how we need to evolve? And my favorite question: if 3 guys in a garage wanted to enter our market, what would they do and how can we do it first?
Just a single day out of the office, pushed to think a bit differently about your business, can yield really extraordinary benefits.