Last updated: The sharing economy is just getting started: The data proves it

The sharing economy is just getting started: The data proves it


The foundation of the sharing economy is allowing others to use something you own or a service you can provide for a fee; the concept has also been referred to as “collaborative consumption,” most notably by the author who coined the term, Rachel Botsman. Uber and AirBNB are the giants of the industry, with growth that’s exploded in just a few years.

So, it’s interesting that the sharing economy is seen by some as a business model that’s run its course. According to the naysayers, it’s a saturated market with barriers to entry and its heyday has come and gone. People will just go out and buy what they need, regardless of perceived waste of only using a product once or twice.

A recent blog post entitled, “The ‘Sharing Economy’ is Dead, and We Killed It” attempts to prove this theory: Author Sarah Kessler points out that, of the eight of early companies specializing in collaborative consumption, only one is still around. Apathy, logistical challenges, concerns about trust, insurance and other factors have dealt a final blow.

That argument has some merit, but there’s considerable evidence to the contrary. My take is that, not only is the sharing economy here to stay – it’s just getting ramped up.

The sharing economy isn’t going anywhere

The sharing economy isn’t going anywhere. The numbers alone are very telling:

  1. The sharing or collaborative economy is comprised of 17 companies valued at $1 billion or more
  2. Together, these companies employ 60,000 people globally
  3. They also boast $15 billion in funding
  4. Organizations finding success in the sharing economy cover several industries, including financial, transportation, consumer goods, real estate/lodging and others

Does this sound like a dying business model?

Collaborative consumption may not yet have reached such areas as health, municipal services, utilities or food, but one can easily see how these industries could thrive in the sharing economy environment. It’s just a matter of time before an entrepreneur with a great idea and financial backing could make the leap in any of these fields.

Lyft, Uber, and AirBNB: Just the beginning of the sharing economy

Lyft, Uber, and AirBnB are perhaps the most familiar players in the sharing economy, but they’re in good company.

In the consumer goods category, users buy and sell on Etsy and eBay; skilled freelancers offer their services on Freelancer, while Chegg specializes in online textbook rentals, tutoring, and internship guidance.

Companies are thriving in the sharing economy space, as demonstrated by the fact that they’ve receiving $15 billion in funding – so far. That’s more than the social media market segment, with such platforms as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

It’s pretty clear that the collaborative consumption model is in its infancy, not headed downhill. There can be no doubt that many more billion dollar players will soon be joining the game.

In fact, economic journalist Paul Mason holds that the sharing economy will eventually bring about the downfall of capitalism. It may be a pretty drastic position to take, but you can see his point.

Activities ranging from co-ops to open source software to crowdfunding embrace a social movement – where individuals create markets for their products and services to challenge the large-scale industry giants. Mason terms it post-capitalism and rise of collaborative consumption is the earliest indication of a new world.

The sharing economy is global

It’s true that 12 of the 17 companies founded on the collaborative consumption concept are US based, but the business model is spreading globally.

Ola is India’s version of Uber and France has developed BlaBlaCar for car sharing. New Zealand is the official home of Trademe, the founders’ answer to eBay. As the industry is clearly in its infancy, there will be other start ups from the far flung corners of the Earth.

Regulatory schemes are challenges, but they can be overcome. Local laws and regulations will impact many companies seeking to grab a piece of the sharing economy pie – especially as collaborative consumption spreads globally. US sites such as Prosper and Lending Club, which allows users to lend and borrow cash, almost didn’t make it at all after receiving a cease-and-desist from the SEC. That agency viewed the online transactions to be the sale of loan notes, which amount to regulated “securities.” Still, both companies overcame these challenges: Lending Club is now in compliance with SEC rules by registered their notes and is backed by an FDIC-insured institution to issue loans.

The hype can be misleading. As with any new business model, there are the doubters that don’t see how the sharing economy is sustainable. With the ability to make an online purchase in just a few clicks – and have products delivered the next day – there is skepticism that people will simply just buy a power drill or go through the conventional loan process. But, from the above, it’s clear that the collaborative consumption space offers almost unlimited potential and organizations are thriving.

We didn’t kill the sharing economy: We’ve just transformed it

Even Kessler admits that there are some “maybes” within the argument that collaborative consumption is dead.

  1. Maybe timing is an issue: The early players in the sharing economy game may have lost, but others have found great success.
  2. Courier services in some cities now handle transportation of the item you rent through a sharing service. Getting the goods from point A to point B had been an obstacle to success for Share Some Sugar and SnapGoods – two early collaborative consumption platforms that fizzled out.
  3. The founders of MyNeighbor, a site for renting and borrowing a wide array of goods, are optimistic about the sharing economy. They’re convinced the business model is just coming into its own: “It’s not often the company that was first that tends to succeed – it’s the 10th or 13th,” says Brendan Benzing.
  4. Maybe the business model has come full circle: Peerby is a peer-to-peer rental platform that has amassed more than 500,000 users and conducted 100,000+ transactions since its launch in 2012. The company followed up this successful model with PeerbyGo in 2015, which enables rental transactions with delivery and pick up at a mutually agreed place and time.

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