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The sharing economy

The sharing economy

Lately I’ve been very interested in the idea of people sharing their private assets with others either to make some extra money or as a way to connect with new people. Whilst recently in San Francisco – a place where many sharing services are pioneered – I decided to talk with people more about their sharing motivations.

It’s worth mentioning that sharing is by no means a new phenomenon. Bookclubs have existed for years. So too have music sharing services (for LPs and cassettes). What’s interesting about sharing today is that items which have been traditionally seen as highly personal, are now on the market for being shared and we’re starting to see this emerge as an economy unto itself.

It may sound bizarre at first. Why would I share something that’s near and dear to me with an absolute stranger? What if it gets destroyed? What if this stranger runs off with my prized possession? What if my new-found friend whom I rent my home to just happens to be a squatter?

Perhaps surprising to some, it seems there are enough people out there willing to take this gamble given the recent success of services like Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and Getaround to name just a few.

I’ll talk about just one of these services in a little more detail: Lyft. Lyft is a ridesharing service. As a customer, I fire up the app and request a Lyft driver to meet me right where I’m standing. Lyft will then dispatch one of their available drivers (who are in close proximity) to my precise location and will take me wherever I’d like to go. Nice and convenient and somewhat cheaper than a regular cab.

Lyft drivers can work whenever they want and can use whatever car they want (provided it meets legal and safety regulations). So what compels people to drive?

Not only are Lyft drivers sharing their cars with complete strangers, they’re also sharing their time.

I asked approximately 12 drivers this question. Interestingly, money was not the primary motivator. People enjoyed the social connection they get from being a driver. Meeting a large variety of people, exploring different parts of the city and generally just helping people out by offering a cheaper alternative to cabs were the most common motivations.

Two drivers I spoke with said they had already quit their day jobs because the money earned from Lyft almost doubled their 9 to 5 paycheques.

That’s nice but is this really the future?

In a word, yes. What we’re slowly starting to witness is a breakdown of the traditional “consume > own > use > discard” model that has been so dominant in the past. Here are some of the factors at play which make the sharing economy look more and more attractive to the masses:

  • The nature of the economy: If the last 10 years have taught us anything it’s that relying on one income source is a dangerous strategy. Setting yourself up to have multiple sources of income, preferably passive income, will position you better to weather the unpredictable nature of the economy. Sharing / renting assets is a great way to do this without necessarily having to start a business.
  • Opportunity to connect: Connecting with real people will always trump superficial “electronic” connections. When taken too far, technology can isolate us from our peers instead of being a complimentary aid to facilitate relationships and connections. The services mentioned in this essay really help bring people together. It’s no accident that Airbnb have rebranded themselves entirely around the idea of belonging with the bélo.
  • Environment: We are more environmentally conscious than ever before. With climate change on the political agenda of governments in most developed countries, people are becoming more aware of the consequences of disposing environmentally-unfriendly products in the wrong way. There has also been increased awareness around finite resources (oil is one example) and alternative planning. Let’s not forget that many cities around the world are also facing population surges and existing infrastructure cannot keep pace. Sharing certainly helps solve this problem.

So whether it’s spare rooms, a seat in your car, your bike, your childs’ outgrown clothes, items from your CD/DVD collection or old books; do you have something you’re willing to share? Or better still, do you have a startup idea that will facilitate a new form of sharing?