Why The Future of Business Is Sharing
When Kickstarter launched in 2009, it changed the way we looked at fundraising. Instead of going through traditional avenues such as banks and private investors, the projects are “crowdfunded” by people across the web. Not only had Kickstarter tapped the general public to fund projects ranging from indie films to innovative products – it had tapped into a new way of doing business. Liza Gansky refers to this new business model as “The Mesh” in her book of the same name (The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing).
A mesh business uses social media, wireless networks, and data crunched from every available resource to provide people with goods and services exactly when they need them without the burden of owning them outright. In her book of the same name, Gansky shares a few examples of businesses that have found success in the mesh and also changed the way we look at what’s possible in business.
Zipcar isn’t your typical car rental company. It's a car sharing company. Zipcar places vehicles in convenient places around metropolitan areas for people to use as needed without the burden of car ownership. It uses a web platform to track and manage their cars, sharing the information it gathers to better meet consumer needs and build partnerships with businesses. Businesses such as bike rentals, food and wine, and even ink cartridge companies take advantage of this information to sell their products and share customers. For example, bike rental services place bikes near Zipcar locations, and food and wine retailers offer discounts and reservations for places nearby.
Despite recent troubles, Netflix has also practiced the sharing of information and resources to revolutionize the film and video industry. By offering a subscription model and using a web platform, Netflix knocked Blockbuster out of the DVD rental game. Even when Blockbuster adopted their own subscription system, they couldn’t compete with Netflix’s innovative use of the net. They used the web to gather information on subscriber interests and let them queue up their choices, while making recommendations. They slowly built up more social networking functions and encouraged customer feedback, helping them shake up the industry.
In addition to the examples Gansky provides, there are many other companies that have sprouted up in the Mesh. There’s Artsicle, which allows people to rent art with the option to buy; Loosecubes which rents out extra office space; and OpenIdeo, where people help each other solve social problems. The possibilities are virtually endless.
Companies need to sit up and take notice of this movement. As technology increases and people’s faith in traditional companies continues to deteriorate, businesses that are able to better meet consumer needs in a practical fashion will rise up. Not every company can take advantage of sharing in the same way as others, if their product doesn’t lend itself to sharing. However, companies should at least look for ways to partner with these groups the same way many have partnered with Zipcar. Interesting business opportunities may await.