Opportunities in the sharing economy

Sharing, it’s a hard concept for some to grasp, particularly when our society has been driven by acquisition and ownership as a demonstration of success. I’ll admit freely that as an only child (albeit with cousins by the dozens that often made me feel like a sibling), I didn’t get schooled early on sibling rivalry and sharing. Thank goodness my own kids, a little over 3 years apart, seamlessly interact and support each other almost like twins. They get sharing. So do many of their peers and those in their early 20s. It’s an interesting millennial phenomenon, as offspring of their baby boomer, often ex-hippy, parents.

sharingeconomy_globeslide-920x517Largely aided by technology, the sharing economy is turning the traditional business model on its ear. This new model is based on facilitators connecting supply and demand, where the company doesn’t really own any assets per say, but they connect people who do, who want to share. At a basic level it teaches people to trust each other again. Think hippy commune attitude, helped by technology and layered with an app, add a dose of capitalistic commerce and a dash of social responsibility, and you get the sharing economy.

One of my regular readers, pointed out last week in an email how there is likely heavy industry advocacy in certain sectors to prevent taxi style find a ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft from entering certain markets. Indeed Uber has been incredibly successful in 41 countries and over 84 North American cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. But yes, Vancouver is not one of them. And I loved the observation about the missed opportunity for car share companies like Zipcar and Car2go placing cars on either side of BC Ferries terminals. Indeed with pricing topping $80 for a car a driver on some routes, the prospect of being a walk on for $15 and simply grabbing a car on the other side is an appealing one. It’s possible BC Ferries has made it difficult to secure parking stalls for car share vehicles, but I suspect it wouldn’t take a huge slice out of their revenue pot to facilitate it, and they could regulate the number of cars with the privilege. They might actually get more walk-on business in the process, and since this option would only fit the needs of a small segment of car and driver ferry business, it’s not a huge threat. Frankly I’d call it a missed opportunity for both parties at this stage.

So let’s tour a current list of sharing economy businesses and then brainstorm ways this trend could be applied back to your own offerings…

Airbnb: Travelers can rent a room or a whole home. They service over 34,000 cities and have over 600,000 listings in 190 countries. This San Francisco startup is the poster child of the collaborative consumption/peer economy sector.

SnapGoods: A site for lending and borrowing high-end household items, such as cameras, kitchenware or musical instruments.

DogVacay: Rather then begging friends and relatives to take fido while then take a holiday, dog owners can leave their dog with a host offering a cheaper option than a kennel and a more comfortable place to stay. Available in Vancouver right now, this one is apt to take off on a larger scale. What a CTV news spot about it here:

Taskrabbit: A mobile marketplace for people to hire people to do jobs and tasks, from delivery, to handyman to office help. The site has 4,000 Taskrabbits on the service nationwide who bid to do tasks that are posted by people looking for a service.

Tabl: An offering of pop-up restaurants by individuals, who perceive themselves to be handy in the kitchen, post glossy menus and invite people to dine in their own homes. Offering an enticing and adventurous dining experience, currently in the UK, people can list their in home restaurant offerings or dining event on the site. This one is bound to take off on a global scale.

Getaround: This service allows people to borrow cars from others. Owners who are out of town can also leave a car with Getaround, who will rent out the car, clean it and take care of it. The company covers a $1 million insurance policy, and currently operates in San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago and Portland.

Zaarly: Kind of like Taskrabbit, but focused specifically on house and home care services such as cleaning, painting and lawn and garden care. It’s basically a marketplace of handyman services where you can hire someone or list yourself for hire.

Lyft: A ride sharing service that allows folks to secure a ride from regular drivers who then take a “donation” for their service because it is not a taxi company.

Uber: Using everyday cars for everyday use, and claiming to be better, faster, and cheaper than a taxi, Uber invented the ride share concept.

Fon: Enables people to share their home wifi network in exchange for free wifi worldwide when traveling from anyone of the 7 million people in their global network.

Poshmark: Buy and sell clothing by shopping the closets of women across North America.

The New Customer

So who is the primary target for the sharing economy? 18-34 year olds – let’s call them the “new gen renters”. This largely millennial group currently makes up 31% of all rental travelers and is the primary target for other shared services and goods. Psychographically and behavior wise, they make their decisions not only on cost savings, but on achieving unique experiences – and that is a key understanding. There’s also a healthy dose of anti-establishment and pride in breaking from traditional ways of doing things. Often a social responsibility angle will seal the deal.

So bearing in mind this target group, what other areas might be prime for the picking in the share economy?

If we can share cars, why not boats? (Granted I’m sitting on a cottage deck right now watching boats out of Pender Harbour, so it’s a top of mind response, but why not?)

Cottages? Cabins? (Still trying to regionalize myself on the terminology. Sorry, but my back east roots are hard to change, if it’s on the water, it’s a cottage…) While Airbnb no doubt covers this on some level, a service specializing in unique or remote getaways is an experience with a desirable share component.

How about city tours? Hire a local guide or hire yourself out a la Taskrabbit style. Guides could specialize for foodie interests, the sports enthusiast, or other specialized interests.

How about childcare? I realize this is a more precious asset than a car or perhaps fido, but I see definite potential in linking young Moms and shared childcare arrangements. While this happens informally in many areas anyway, being able to find care via an app wherever and whenever you are like Uber or Lyft for a ride could be an amazing offering.

The sharing economy is a disruptive business model, and one we would be well advised to consider, rather than dismiss. What marketing opportunity might you find in this trend? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Mary Charleson


  1. Great article! I’ve often thought about the B.C. ferry example as well. I would include Modo The Car Coop in that discussion. Modo is the leader for the sharing economy in Vancouver right now. There’s also a big divide between sharing organizations for social good and organizations that market themselves as part of the sharing economy as a quick and easy PR stunt. Nanny Share exists already. Hopefully Share Shed is the answer to your other ideas.

  2. Yes I think there’s great potential for car sharing at BC Ferries. Modo has been aggressive in the Vancouver market for sure and would likely be a good candidate. I’ll do some research on Nanny Share. Do you know how many markets they’re in or have contacts there? I’ve also heard of “speed dating” style meet ups to get to know potential babysitting sharing folks. Seems like a great idea. How is Share Shed going?

    • Via Daniel Dubois & Modo I located this site – I would add this newly formed group on the Sunshine Coast
      Strategic collaboration among and between ‘shares’ has become a key plank in helping shift economic behaviour and strengthen their value – geographically but also across ‘customer segments’ or demography (depending on your view point). As a carshare – we see solid connections between supporting and enhancing access to other carshares but also other related & supportive services. It reduces the barriers and enhances the value for all of us.

  3. Hi Mary
    I’m reading your latest blog post about the Sharing Economy from my office on a Monday morning. Not where everyone dreams of spending a sunny summer day but the upside is that I’m surrounded by Millennials who, like you, encourage me to “consider not dismiss” disruptive ideas such as the Sharing Economy. So many of these new ideas require a big shift in thinking but once you let go of preconceived notions and “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, it’s exciting to embrace innovation. Once you give yourself permission to be guided by hope – and not fear – I think good things will result. Great work – and keep sharing!

  4. Thanks Karen. I really appreciate your comments. What’s really interesting is to watch, the marginally pathetic attempts, of regulators trying to apply old rules to this stuff.

    Hotel taxes to Airbnb when they don’t own the asset? A crazy, yet sad case, of a pedestrian fatality with a Lyft driver at the wheel not carrying a passenger at the time, but logged in on his app. Was he working for Lyft at the time then and does the insurance apply? Or was he simply logged in to the app and left it on? If their insurance doesn’t apply and the driver doesn’t have enough, where does that leave the family? At the heart of all this is good old fashioned trust and common decency. And it forces a break from the thinking that acquisition of expensive things is a signal of success. Leave it to our kids generation, armed with technology, to be the ones to teach us this lesson.

    One if my readers is a PhD and doing research related to this area. He referenced some interesting psychology behind it in an email which I may attempt to put in layman’s terms as part of a future post. Academics do cool stuff but can get lost in the weeds of research and forget how to creatively connect it to the real world. That’s why I love them but could never really be one. Just sort of!

  5. So true about the shift away from expensive acquisitions as a sign of success. Pity the car manufacturers. Hardly any of the people I worked with downtown owned a car. It’s all about the car co-op. We are going to replace our old car soon and I wonder if I should even bother keeping it to pass to my kids – they probably won’t want it.

    What a great opportunity for you to “translate” the academic’s research. The ivory tower is still very much there. But academia is undergoing a huge shift too with MOOCs and open educational resources. These guys have to learn how to share, which is a pretty new concept.

  6. SUNSHINE Coast kennels Partnership is giving Schoolies an opportunity to relax and be entertained in an alcohol- and drug-free environment at Raw Sounds.
    The majority of people involved in the greyhound and racing industry love their animals and I think linking a thriving industry to the depraved act of dog and
    cock fighting is drawing a long bow.

    kennels sunshine coast

    • Thanks for the comment. Initially I was confused at your reference to the Sunshine Coast and the company referenced, since locally here in BC we have the Sunshine Coast just up from Vancouver. However, once I linked to your comment I realized you were referring to the Sunshine Coast in Australia. I know I have many readers worldwide, so it’s great to see global examples. Thanks again for the comment!

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