February 18, 2012 3 Comments
‘Collaborative consumption’ may not have caught your attention yet but one day soon it will. This is a general trend in entrepreneurship, which aims to do good for the environment, by utilizing more effectively existing resources. It has been around for a while but it jumped out at me most recently when I encountered a new business launched by moms in Brighton (UK). The venture called Unihomeswap is the idea of Herimone Pask and allows moms to literally ‘swap’ their children when they go away to college. The idea is that parents who have a spare room while their child is away might be able to take a student from the city where their child is studying. An organized swap of this nature saves families money and allows them to get to know the people their children are staying with. The website allows families to explore swapping options while paying nominal membership fees ($40) for the site. This is a great example of collaborative consumption – which is the idea that society can utilize more effectively the resources that we have under our control if we find more effective ways to share what we already have.
The more you look for examples the more evident it becomes that this is a wider phenomenon that offers a host of entrepreneurial opportunities and is set to become a trend that will grow. Take for example parkatmyhouse.com in the US. Here home owners can generate a second income by renting out parking spots and drivers who want to park near difficult to park places like busy stations; airports and sports venues can find an unusual way to fulfill their parking needs. The site brokers relationships and generates fees and it has become a particularly useful source of extra income for churches and synagogues. If you want to swap a house for a vacation you can now do this at a host of sites (e.g. homeexchange.com and homeforswap.com) and a range of other swapping sites have grown recently. Now you can swap: books; baby goods; clothes; kitchen equipment; makeup; and, tools. You can also share bicycles and cars.
One might reasonably ask though – all this sharing and swapping is great but is there money in it? To best illustrate the entrepreneurial potential you need only look at ZipCars. ZipCars has been described as a, ‘nouveau car-rental company’, but really it is one of the first collaborative consumption companies to IPO. It launched its public offering in April 2011, debuted 60% up on its IPO price and closed the day at a value of $1.2billion. ZipCar’s IPO raised around $174million dollars for investment some of which was used to acquire its UK rival Streetcars. Its model has also changed the rental industry and now many of the rental companies are offering alternatives, for example, WeCar (Enterprise Rent-a-Car) has just teamed up with Georgia Southern University to offer a car sharing service across the campus in Statesboro.
Such sharing and swapping – is also ‘caring’. It enables all of us to save money as an incentive but ultimately we are using fewer resources because by sharing and swapping we are using our resources more efficiently. At the vanguard of this movement is Freecycle; here you can give items away that you don’t want and would have thrown out and receive items you need for free. If you’re bootstrapping a new venture, even one that has nothing to do with collaborative consumption, this is one site you need to know about.