Baby you can drive my car: business opportunities in the sharing economy

A new economy is on the rise. A growing number of companies are gaining interest in an economy where collaboration is essential. This emerging economy has many names, from Collaborative Consumption to lease-society, from peer economy to maker movement. But it all comes down to the same thing: we share. This exchange is not only limited to tangible objects, but can also include the exchange of skills or services, for example a shared car drive.

Sharing is not a new phenomenon. But due to the Internet and other innovations the scale on which the sharing economy is operating is much bigger today. Where does this renewed interest in sharing come from and what are the opportunities for companies?

From hyper consumption to sharing economy

We live in a predominantly capitalistic society. Our way of consuming is based on a fascinating system. In order to sustain itself, it needs to grow. In order to grow, it needs to be fed with more consumption. Psychologically it works like this: people want to own more as they acquire more, which is of great convenience for business, they’ll produce and sell in an equal pace. Within the past century, we saw the unprecedented rise of individual property, credit, and commercials. Together they resulted in a system of hyper consumption.

Entering the 21st century – certainly after the start of the economic crisis of 2008 – we see a shift from a consuming, individual society to a culture where a growing number of people are starting to collaborate. During the crisis, people began to lose their trust in large organizations who seem to appear only as greedy, hungry monsters only looking for one thing: profits. The new emerging economy offers a new perspective to these people. Shared access overrules individual ownership, reputation is the new credit and commercials are replaced by the quality of the community. These three pillars are the basis of the Sharing Economy.

Shared access

In the sharing economy, it’s about ‘access’ over ownership. We have to make a mind shift, instead of owning a product; we’re using the services a product provides. In other words, we don’t need the light bulb, we need the lumen. Like mushrooms in autumn, companies with a sharing philosophy pop up everywhere. On the popular platform of Airbnb, people rent out their spare room, air mattress or backyard tree house to visitors. On peerby, neighbours lend out their toolkits. Do you need advice on your business plan, or do you want to learn Spanish? Konnektid will connect you to a person who can help. And for easy transport, you can always borrow a car via Snappcar. These platforms offer consumer-to-consumer sharing services. A typical B2B platform is Floow2, where heavy construction vehicles and business equipment are being shared. B2C platforms, such as Netflix, see their list of customers grow. Important in the sharing economy is your community or network. The bigger it is and the more whufffie you have, the more access to goods, skills and services are being offered. Which leads us to explore the whuffie-factor.

 Share stuff, gain whuff!

You probably wouldn’t lend your car as easy to a stranger as you would with your garden tools. In essence, the exchange comes down to a relation of trust. Trust is mainly build on the reputation of both the lender and the borrower. In the sharing economy, reputation is your capital: it’s social capital. And its’ currency is called Whuffie. Whuffie originates from the book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. In this novel, money no longer exists and people pay with whuffie. Whuffie is obtained through sharing goods, skills or other services. The good thing is: the more you share, the more whuffie you receive. For companies, social image or whuffie is just as important. Examples of companies who have already joined the sharing economy are Bosch, with a leasing model for washing machines and refrigerators, and Achmea, who have started their own sharing initiative: WeHelpen.

Community

Whuffie is a strange currency because it’s not directly visible. It is measured only in your relation to other people. You need to build a community of trust with the people or companies around you. Only trying to sell your product will not work. You will have to reach out to your customers and make a real, long-term connection, for example through a leasing system or after-sales services, so they will come back. But also think of the numerous opportunities there are online. The web is getting bigger and bigger and there are an increasing number of websites and apps that offer sharing opportunities all around the world. The sharing economy is a local community on global scale.

Together, we have created a glocal community where people can share items, save money and have more contact with each other, online but even better in real life. For companies, the sharing economy has created new markets via access versus ownership; it sparked the consumer mind-set of we and together instead me, me and me; it has extended customer relationships from ‘point in time’ to ‘point across time’ and created word of mouth through a user community.

The sharing economy is growing. Not only new individuals, but also institutions as the municipality of Amsterdam (Amsterdam Economic Board) and Brussels have shown interest and discuss the possibilities of how to best facilitate the sharing movement. This shows that the sharing economy is not just a flash in the pan but is here to stay.

Author: Fien, intern at The Terrace. In the coming months, she will submerge herself into the world of the sharing economy.