The Collaborative and Sharing Economy in Amsterdam

04/10/2017 06:00 pm ET Updated Apr 17, 2017

Two years ago, I wrote in US News & World Report that Amsterdam is a hub of startup innovation, and interviewed Deputy Mayor Kajsa Ollongren after The Next Web conference in the Netherlands. I also spoke with Patrick de Zeeuw, CEO of Startupbootcamp Amsterdam and Co Founder of Startupbootcamp Global. I shared his advice for entrepreneurs at The Huffington Post.

Last month, I returned to Amsterdam to hear how the city's economic ecosystem has evolved since my prior visit. I met with Harmen van Sprang and Pieter van de Glind, co-authors of Share and co-Founders of ShareNL, “The knowledge and networking platform for the collaborative and sharing economy”. I interviewed both via email after their formal presentations: 

What is a sharing economy?

The collaborative (including the sharing) economy in the broad sense refers to “economic systems of decentralized networks and marketplaces that unlock the value of underused assets by matching needs and haves, in ways that bypass traditional institutions.” For instance, borrowing and renting private consumer goods through Peerby, bypassing traditional retailers; renting accommodations through Airbnb; bypassing the traditional hotel; requesting a ride through the Uber app, without the use of a traditional taxi company.

Read shareNL's definitions here.

The narrow definition of the sharing economy refers to consumers granting each other temporary access to under-utilised physical assets (“idle capacity”), possibly for money.

Read more about this narrow definition here.

How is it sharing if money is involved?

It is about the starting point, and that is making a better use of existing capacity. It is the difference between 'sharing' (aka renting) something you already have, or buying something with the purpose to rent it out full-time and make money with it, without necessarily needing it yourself.

Note that we use the term 'collaborative economy' instead of 'sharing economy' because we believe it better covers what is actually happening. We understand that sharing for many people does not qualify as the right word because intuitively many people don't consider money to be part of a sharing transaction.

Image Provided by ShareNL

Does sharing undermine capitalism?

No. Sharing challenges existing organizations to redefine their offerings. To renew their relationship with clients and to make their own organization more efficient. The sharing economy and the idea of making a better use of existing capacity may undermine some sectors in the short run, but will increase economic productivity in the long run (more output per hour worked).

What does a collaborative economy mean for Amsterdam?

It means a big opportunity for a more sustainable, social and economically resilient city. Citizens, public organizations, businesses, basically anyone and any organization in the city gets greater access to skills, products and services and gets a lower threshold toward providing those skills, products and services. This creates a far more dynamic city and a lively breeding ground for all kinds of public and private innovation.

It also means a big challenge. How can a city that is used to governing its physical territory, learn to govern its digital space too? How can a city deal with large online platforms that are actively shaping the physical city? This is a challenge where Amsterdam is a global frontrunner, gradually learning how to make the most of the opportunity, while protecting its core values (citizens at the heart of them) at the same time.

Which sectors are growing the fastest? 

Most sectors are growing exponentially but are still relatively small. Sectors where the main platforms are moving towards +100k users are consumer goods (Peerby), meals (Shareyourmeal.net and airDnD), cars (Snappcar & MyWheels & ParkFlyRent), utility (Vandebron & Powerpeers), tourism (Airbnb & co). In the gig economy there are quite a few platforms with a significant number of users and providers (deliveree platforms such as UberEats, Deliveroo, Foodora and a few local one's; cleaning services through Helpling; and general gigs through platforms like Werkspot (like Taskrabbit but with licensed workers). We expect that automation will increase growth in mobility & logistics, which will then boost all the goods/material sharing platforms.

Another interesting example are the 'Broodfonds' (Bread funds) where entrepreneurs organize themselves in groups of 50 and cover each other when someone gets sick. This collective movement has grown quickly during the past 6 years, from 0 to 250 separate Bread funds (groups of entrepreneurs) with about 11,000 people insured this way.

What are the biggest challenges in a sharing economy?

For the platforms it’s the issue of behavioral change. Fulfilling the huge potential (right now +/- 90% expressing willingness to join, yet less then 20% are active in the sharing economy). For governments it is, again, dealing with the digital world and how it shapes their territory (see question 4). Systems like taxation, insurance, zoning and last but not least, licensing — Often, these need to be redefined in good collaboration with all stakeholders.

How are businesses dealing with governance issues?

In general, most businesses are open to discussing their (new) business models with governments. At shareNL, we often organize roundtable meetings for different sectors and create a safe place where stakeholders can find common ground. If eyes are set to the long run, surprisingly often the old and the new find that they have common goals and ultimately want the same things achieved, even though their means may be different.

How can the collaborative economy enable more social cohesion?

In a way the collaborative economy does this by default, simply because it creates new relations between people in neighbourboods and around the world. A great example is shareyourmeal.net, where volunteers connect people who cannot cook for themselves with local home chefs who provide healthy and social meals.

What are the sharing trends for the next decade?

We will see the rise of Sharing Cities. We will see smarter startups finding the right blur between efficiency and social. We will see consumers increasingly open to sharing. We will see autonomous technologies reducing transaction costs and thus the threshold to start using sharing economy platforms. We will see the unexpected! ;)

Co-Founders: Pieter van de Glind (left) and Harmen van Sprang (right)
Photo Provided by ShareNL
Co-Founders: Pieter van de Glind (left) and Harmen van Sprang (right)
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