We're conditioned from childhood to maintain a healthy dose of fear of strangers. They're not like us. They could be creepy. But what if they're also the key to your success or growth? The Sharing Economy is breaking down these barriers -- whether it's a spare couch in your home, or extra room in your office -- collaboration and interaction are trumping isolation. But it's not always that easy.
Altimeter Group Industry analyst Jeremiah Owyang recently wrote an article titled "The Dark Side of the Collaborative Economy," detailing a list of potential negatives that could come from what people are coining as "the sharing economy." Understanding Jeremiah's support for the sharing economy, it's clear that this isn't a discussion about why it won't work, merely a reality check against the issues that any new "economy" will face.
Most of his discussion revolves around three key themes: legal barriers; quality of the services offered; and pressure to participate. His emphasis on recognizing the importance of these aspects of this new market is absolutely on point.
Sharing economy leaders like Airbnb and Lyft are facing ongoing legal trouble as they try to enter into the N.Y. and San Francisco markets, however this pushback is not uncommon. It's not surprising that established industries that have lived very comfortably for the past decades are pushing both politically and legally to protect their turf. When the modern use of the taxi first emerged, they faced constant legal scrutiny regarding the safety of the vehicles. The cars were said to face much more "wear and tear" than most other vehicles, and were thus subjected to stricter specifications; which they were unable to meet. However, once their mass benefits were recognized and consumer support for their value was clear, legal reigns were loosened, allowing them to become the heavily relied upon city amenity they are today. If the consumer demand is there, the legal system will adjust. Just ask the marijuana retailers in Colorado.
Regarding the quality issue, Jeremiah points out that to many, new is better than used. Although that's hard to argue -- just look at the revenue wireless companies and handset manufacturers drive form upgrades -- it's relatively inapplicable to either side of the argument. When it comes to hotel accommodation, you're resting in sheets that have been slept in by hundreds and essentially using a clean public toilet. With Airbnb you can at least rest in peace knowing the number of people who have stayed at the house you're at is in the low tens at most. As far as transportation is concerned, taxi cleanliness doesn't hold a candle to the impeccable standards Uber demands (as well as the public based on their rating system) from its drivers. Again, when the public discovers and then demands better forms of service, the historical context is always subject to evolution.
Lastly, and most importantly, Jeremiah touches on the pressure the sharing economy places on society to participate. The point we'd like to make here is that the sharing economy is in no way binary. When it comes to the sharing economy vs. tradition, it doesn't have to be either/or. The sharing economy is simply providing alternatives to those who may not want to operate along what they feel are antiquated societal guidelines. It in no way should make someone question their ingrained values, but merely should provide a different route for those that think things could be done a little differently. A thought process that drives both people and progress. Someone who takes Lyft doesn't have to offer up their extra bedroom on Airbnb, simply because they choose to operate with the sharing economy for one facet of their life. The sharing economy provides greater options for consumers and a choice to participate -- no pressure, just options.
We could go on for years, but the benefits and potential hazards of the sharing economy can only be proven with time. If the sharing economy players such as Airbnb, Lyft and PivotDesk continue to offer new and valuable services, you can be sure the rest of the economic puzzle pieces will fall into place, allowing a new, more efficient process to share the podium.
Building great business and driving wealth certainly aren't getting any easier than they traditionally have been. The established industries that have made fewer and fewer people more and more wealthy over the years, for the most part, fail to care about evolving models. Smart entrepreneurs will never stop looking for innovative ways to create new markets, or take share from established ones in the name of better value or more choice for the consumer.
It always takes time, but if executed correctly, the sharing economy will likely be recognized among more consumers for the irreplaceable benefits it provides. And, it might just encourage people to rethink how we've separated ourselves, both personally and professionally, from others for too long. Ultimately, the consumer will decide and the economy will evolve.