Sharing with an Economist

If there’s one major media outlet that has continued to “get” the shift towards collaborative consumption (the move from hyper-consumption towards shared ownership that RelayRides is a big part of), it’s The Economist. This week they’ve raised the bar again, with a great article that not only covers some of the emerging players in our industry, but does some real analysis of our space and a couple of its big thinkers. There are a few things I think they neglected however, especially the importance that community has played in the rise of the shared ownership movement. Most of what The Economist said was dead on, as they completely understand the import that advances like GPS and social networks have played in enabling businesses like ours to thrive. I also really like that they touch on two wonderful books, Lisa Gansky’s “The Mesh” and Rachel Botsman & Roo Roger’s “What’s Mine is Yours.” While I plan on discussing these books in depth in later posts, I just want to give a shout out to The Economist for catching these disruptive titles way ahead of the curve. Despite all these smart moves, one big stone that I think went unturned is the significant role that people and communities play in the collaborative movement. Early on, many skeptics questioned why people would borrow a car from a neighbor when they could rent a car from a company (like a Zipcar or a Hertz rental car) that they knew would be clean and well maintained. However, we have overcome this issue by building a robust trust system based on peer-to-peer ratings and a reputation system; people are held responsible for their actions and they respect the community. Cars are kept clean and well maintained (or at least a borrower will know about in advance if the car is always dirty, which will lead to a lower rental price), and borrowers treat the cars like they belong to a neighbor, because they do. Interestingly, now that the trust system has been established, our borrowers prefer borrowing a person’s car to renting a car from a big company. They love the personality of finding random CDs in the glove box, and they really like the fact that their money is going to a neighbor, not a faceless corporation. It’s analogous to supporting a local business, and it is leading to stronger communities. Technology has been a critical facilitator to enable this shift, but its proliferation will rely on people and communities embracing the change. Once Joe or Jane Consumer tastes the freedom of sharing and enjoys the feeling of helping out a neighbor, it’s hard for them to go back. And that’s a change that’s not only good for collaborative businesses, but for the world. A final thought: I’d love it if you all could read the article and sound off in the comments below with your own thoughts.

-Shelby Clark, Founder and CEO RelayRides