It’s been a while in the tech startups scene since we started talking about the Sharing Economy.
I remember a couple of years ago when I began working at Rentecarlo, everyone was talking about the Sharing Economy and sharing economy startups. In the press and at the events, loads of people wanted to work or had projects in that field.
Sharing cars, parking slots, food, storage spaces, maintenance tools: there was the idea of sharing everything. Every single founder I met wanted to build a startup in the Sharing Economy. Built around the idea that people wanted to share rather than buying, those business models were based on trust and communities. Is the Sharing Economy tech scene still like that?
The Sharing Economy is all about trust
If you work in the Sharing Economy, you know that platforms are the typical marketplace business models in this sector. One side of the market needs to use something which is provided by the other side. Companies, in this scenario, are merely intermediaries providing the tech side of this sharing environment. People should trust each other and be happy for using assets someone else owns. Theoretically, it works, but in reality, things turn out a bit different.
Let’s take an example it happened to me recently.
I recently moved house, and in between flats, I decided to rent one of the rooms on Airbnb as I had to pay double rent for a couple of weeks. I think Airbnb is a great solution for people looking to earn a bit of money from their space, and I’ve used it in the past too, for the same reason, so I listed the room there. A couple of days after, on a Thursday, I got the booking for the following weekend. A girl living nearby needed to rent the room cause her parents were coming to visit. Matching needs!
The couple stayed at our place for two nights: they arrived on a Friday evening and left on Sunday morning. I haven’t met them, at all! Weird.
I always try to meet the people I host, as I think it’s the fun side of hosting someone in your house.
Anyway, I thought they were busy with their daughter.
A couple of days after she wrote me a review saying that despite it was a last minute accommodation, her parents weren’t happy cause they didn’t get a full set of towels and there weren’t double pillows.
Well, they haven’t asked me anything, at all.
What’s the reason for leaving a complaint if you didn’t even ask me? You’re not staying in a professional hotel, shouldn’t this experience be based on trust and sharing?
Is Airbnb about money or sharing?
I started using Airbnb back in 2013, soon after I moved to London.
I thought was a great idea, as I could choose and understand the local life, as a tourist.
But now, four years after, things have changed quite a lot. As host, you’re pushed to accept same day bookings to give max availability to guests, while guests have nothing to lose if they choose to stay on Airbnb rather than in a standard hotel.
As a host, you need to be professional, but guests don’t need to understand they stay in a private house rather than in a four-star hotel.
In this way, the whole concept of sharing is not relevant anymore. You don’t care about who’s hosting you, you just care about your needs. You don’t even need to meet your host because the focus of Airbnb is not on sharing anymore.
And as Airbnb, all the other sharing platforms are like it.
When I was working at Rentecarlo none was really interesting in the experience of meeting the car owner. On top of that, car owners weren’t bothered of renting out the car even with flat tyres or poor conditions. The whole concept was getting money out of it. The whole concept of using that platform was to satisfy a need at a quarter of the price.
Or you just use the platform because it’s convenient to you, and then you don’t worry about items you don’t own.
A Sharing Economy tech startup in China was lending umbrellas to Chinese People. The umbrella-sharing scheme required customers to make an initial deposit equivalent to just over £2 after which they were charged 6p for every half hour of use. 300,000 Chinese people got the umbrella without being bothered of giving it back once used. Why bothering of travelling to the other part of the city to give it back, when the advance deposit was just £2?
Are the sharing economy startups underestimating the Human factor?
It’s sad to say but people are not altruistic. We do things because we want something in return.
The Sharing Economy aims to unlock the value of underused items and assets but the main thing around it is money. Sharing is just the way those activities are performing but it’s not the reality.
People want top quality services, one click away, cheapest as possible. We want to maximise our own resources, without thinking about the long-term, and considering if the people doing this is safe, pleasant or professional.
If it’s true that these business models are based on trust, the Sharing Economy startups can’t just outsource the trust rules.
Those organisations need to supervise the community, without leaving it to its users. Airbnb and all the other Sharing Economy startups shouldn’t forget that the community needs to be vetted and that rules need to be followed.
If you’re leading a community you’re responsible for users following or not following those rules, setting punishment that shouldn’t just be about more or less visibility of your listings.
It’s the company’s responsibility to balance act between greed and trust, value and cost, convenience and risk. Users need to follow, rewarding good behaviour and pushing users to share more, and share more safely and collaboratively.
What’s the Future of the Sharing Economy [event in London]
I’ve been a speaker at the panel discussing the Future of the Sharing Economy at General Assembly in Whitechapel, London.
In the panel with me Nneka Chukwurah from Echo, Michael Barsties from OLIO – The Local Sharing Revolution and Bernie J Mitchell from OuiShare.
It’s been awesome share ideas and thought about what’s changing and how we should build a future around people communities rather than money.
What’s in the future for the #sharingeconomy?
Check the video streaming here and let me know your thoughts, curious to learn from you!