If you have ever rented your home or apartment to make extra income while you were on vacation, or if you’ve used a markplace like Lyft to rent a car from someone just like you, then congratulations are in order: you’re contributing to the rise of the $110 billion collaborative economy.
As consumers become more cost conscious and environmentally aware, we’re increasingly sharing goods and services with each other instead of buying new products from brands — behavior that Danielle Sacks of Fast Company labeled as the “sharing economy” (aka the collaborative economy) in 2011. And brands want a piece of the action, too. On the one hand, a new breed of start-ups such as Airbnb and Lyft have quickly established themselves as popular marketplaces to link people who want to rent to each other. And legacy brands such as BMW and Patagonia are helping consumers either rent (in the case of BMW) or buy gently used products (in the case of Patagonia) from each other.
To help brands embrace the collaborative economy, entrepreneur Jeremiah Owyang has launched Crowd Companies, a council of heavy hitter companies ranging from Ford to Whole Foods. Members of Crowd Companies are committed to helping brands learn new ways to collaborate with their customers instead of selling to them in the traditional way. Where appropriate, the council may foster partnerships among brands and start-ups to co-innovate. The council is akin to a think-tank and educational resource, earning its revenue from membership fees and from speeches and workshops. The organization is owned entirely by Owyang, who is also an active participant in the collaborative economy in his personal life, as he has discussed on his own blog.
Owyang recently took time to share more insight into the launch of Crowd Companies and the significance of the collaborative economy. As he points out in the following Q&A, the collaborative economy is not necessarily new — but the uptake of digital technology, in particular, mobile apps, has fueled an explosion of collaborative behavior among consumers. In fact, as Owyang says, the word “consumer” might become a thing of the past in the new world of economic collaboration. Here’s what he has to say:
How do you define the collaborative economy? How big is it, and why is it here to stay?
The collaborative economy is an economic model where people, corporations, and startups are creating products and sharing them. The traditional model of corporation-to-consumer is not the only model.
You’ve been an active participant in the collaborative economy in personal life. How did the collaborative economy first capture your interest?
We’ve all been active, as we’ve been using social media to source ideas, get confirmation, or share thoughts — so in some ways, the collaborative economy is not new. I’ve been using TaskRabbit for a few years, and before that renting via VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), and before that eBay; so some of these technologies are not new. However, recently, with the adoption of mobile and location apps, we’re seeing greater velocity in the uptake of these tools. We can get access to idle resources in our own neighborhood (such as cars available on Uber) or even activate thousands of idle workers on CrowdFlower to solve complex problems.