Are you preparing for the Collaborative Economy?

Share The RoadI spent some time last week reading about what is becoming known as the “sharing” or “collaborative” economy. Versions of the sharing economy have existed since the beginning of time — and, I remember my parents when I was a kid had an “allotment” that provided land and shared tools, etc within a larger, shared vegetable growing space. But, as Jeremiah Owyang points out there are forces at play today — societal, economic, and technological (as well as legislative) — that are accelerating, cementing, and legitimizing this phenomena by the week.
There isn’t a single sharing economy. Ownership and access models vary — and are fragmenting. For example, you can imagine a spectrum of car “sharing” that begins with leasing a vehicle, rather than owning it. Of course, you’ve been able to rent a car from Hertz or Avis forever and a day; but then along came Zipcar (recently acquired by Avis) which allowed us to rent by smaller increments of time; followed by Uber and Hailo that altered how we think about car hire; followed by lyft and getaround that allow us to share a car that someone else owns (or has rented) or to monetize our own. And, a similar spectrum exists in multiple industries.

The whole subject is intriguing, but in this new Wild West, what stood out to me is that there doesn’t appear to be too much of an emphasis on data and IP ownership. From an IP perspective, collaboration is great while I’m getting some benefit, but as soon as someone else starts to benefit more than I do off the back of my idea or work, how will I react? And, who’s liable if something goes wrong?

As it relates to data, how do I learn about the types of people that collaborate on my product or business? Who owns any data output? For example, what information does lyft or airbnb own about me and about the people that I have shared/collaborated with? Do I have access to that data? Of course, I also have data about the types of people that I have shared with, opinions on what worked and didn’t, and preferences for how I share moving forward. Is there any value to my sharing that data — either with my collaborators or any central entity that is managing the process. Unless these questions are considered and thought through, I am concerned that we’ll end up in a similar situation to the mobile market where the device manufacturers, carriers, app producers, payment players, and corporations all own disjointed elements of customer/user data without a useful and holistic customer/user understanding.

Building on the data theme, there’s also an interesting question about “trust” and portability. If I’m a respected seller on eBay, a highly rated traveler or Hailo, or a trusted guest with airbnb, how can I take that reputation and benefit from it elsewhere? In chatting with Jeremiah, he pointed to FaceBook connect (which he also pointed out doesn’t have a reputation index) and TrustCloud, which seems to have the right idea, but lacks traction. I sense the growth of the collaborative economy (and its embrace by the mainstream) will be linked tightly to the idea of trust and reputation portability — it’ll be interesting to see whether TrustCloud or some other entity emerge as the credit bureau for reputation.

Overall though, as I read about this growing phenomenon, I was intrigued by a quote in Jeremiah’s research from the CEO of about how disruption in the future may come from meeting needs in new ways. What’s cool about this is that it begins from an understanding of customer needs. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s where most companies start from today in their customer service, promotion, and even, in many cases in their development of products and services. But, if you’re not thinking in those terms today, it’s going to be even harder to pivot your business, to think about new ways to meet those needs — and it’s going to leave you wide open to disruption by smaller, more nimble competitors that have figured out what it is that customers really need, and how they can deliver it to them in new, more interesting, and more effective ways.

Smart firms are already adapting, and collaborating to offset disruption. Regus (which offers office sharing) and Zipcar recently trimmed up to offer a combined offering to customers. Are they meeting customer needs in new ways? Not necessarily, but it’s a smart defensive move in the immediate term.

How about you and your company? What are you doing to understand customer needs and how you can meet them differently? If you’re not thinking in these terms, watch out, because your competition is starting to do so. And, your competition may be some small company that you haven’t even heard of yet!




  1. Dorothy Johnson says:

    My first experience with CitiBike in NYC was less than wonderful. I’d paid for a one year membership and was notified that due to the volume of accounts opening, it would take 10 days for my key to arrive. I decided to purchase a week pass and found that working in Rock Center and near Times Square, meant that finding a bike to transport myself home was going to be yet another competitive sport in the art of ‘getting around Manhattan’. Adding tourists to the mix was the source of my complaint when I called CitiBike. “Can’t you set aside bikes just for those who think it quaint to ride? I paid for a membership and I would like to access a bike.” I then patiently retold what was a joke of a customer experience in attempting to extract a bike from three different locations. The polite voice on the other end of the phone reminded me that this was a ‘Bike SHARE program, Miss”. Sure, she had to repeat that three times, but it sank in. I didn’t own the rental rights to one bike. I was paying to share with millions of other New Yorkers and visitors. I enjoyed letting the thought marinate as I pedaled home. Citi was teaching pushy, competitive, over worked adults, to share. The brilliance is that we PAY them to teach us.

    • customerhelix says:

      That’s a really interesting point. In the sharing economy, the notion of supply and demand changes. It’s hard to predict demand, manage supply in specific locations, etc.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying CitiBike now though! Even if you do have to share ;-)

  2. Awesome article.

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