January 9, 2013

Q&A with Lisa Gansky, author of ‘The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing’

Posted by: in North America

As the peer-to-peer marketplace expands in size and scope—moving beyond goods to a wide range of services—it will increasingly upend major industries, from hospitality and education to tourism and transportation. In researching Peer Power, one of our 10 Trends for 2013, we talked with Lisa Gansky, author of The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing. Gansky focuses on the design of products, services, partnerships and business models in which “access to goods, services and talent triumphs over the ownership of them”; find her at Meshing.it. She talked to us about hidden value and “meanwhile use,” how P2P services can build community and how they benefit cities.

You talk a lot about how hidden value is crucial to the peer-to-peer economy, or what you call the shared economy. Can you explain what you mean?

A lot of things we consider trash have a lot of value. For example, a ton of cell phones recovered has more gold in it than a ton of gold ore. There are new industries that will be making a lot of money from waste and actually building products and upcycling all sorts of things. That’s one way waste has value.

The other way is that there are people and talents that aren’t being used. Hence, for example, TaskRabbit or TradeSchool [a barter-for-instruction company]. You’re also seeing that with Airbnb and a lot of these kinds of services that are networking things that have value. Like a taxi: It’s off-duty when you don’t want it in your network, and it’s on-duty when you want it in the network. These services actually convert the waste of what we own that’s not being used into real value. In the U.K. they have a term for it that I love: They call it “meanwhile use.”

What are some good examples of companies built on “meanwhile use”?

There’s an organization in the U.K., for example, called 3Space that converts wasted space, commercial space, into something that’s valuable to the community. We saw GE a little while ago launch GE Garages, which is turning some of their factories into supportive communities where there’s wasted talent, factory use or material.

There’s something the city of San Francisco launched in conjunction with a couple of organizations locally that’s called SQFT. It takes these spaces and basically considers them in increments, whereas there used to be maybe 10-year leases. This is much more of a pooled-access model, where you can use something incrementally from a time perspective, where it’s available for this half hour or at least three days.

Is this new economic model especially suited to cities?

Richard Florida and a lot of other people have talked about, from an urban development perspective, artists and entrepreneurs, people who are part of what I call the instigator economy—the instigators go in and start to make something interesting. When you overlay that with the new kinds of access to services that we’re seeing, there’s an opportunity to create these little surprises or this kind of serendipity-around-the-corner sensation, even in a neighborhood where you know the place well, or you think you do. Now there are levels of things that are happening, many of which you may be unaware of.

How are cities benefiting from peer-to-peer services?

I’m a big encourager of cities and big established companies playing together. At the same time that cities are getting a huge influx of humans, cities are getting huge budget cuts. When companies partner with a city, since most of us are running around with mobile devices and cameras, it allows us to be citizen reporters and give attention to things that aren’t working or provide ideas for planning that allow the city to provide better services with a lot less cost.

In New York City they have this Big Apps business, lots of applications that help find farmers markets and subways and all sorts of things. But it’s also happening all around the world, the London Datastore and in Vancouver and Seattle and Portland and in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Cities are liberating their data and enabling all sorts of characters to contribute by making interesting products and services.

There’s an old-fashioned quality to the kind of community experience you’re describing. Is there a historical precedent for peer-to-peer services?

This all harkens back to guilds. And I think we’re moving more toward guilds again. Say you’re a great woodworker and you take pride in your brand. I am a woodworker on the other side of the country; you don’t know me from Adam. I may have faked my portfolio that’s up on my website. So how do you know that if you let me build one of your tables here, I’m not going to diminish your brand? And is it still Alec’s design if I build it here? A lot of why guilds were created had to do with keeping the integrity and improving the quality of the craftsmanship, whether it was plumbing or woodworking or boat making.

The reputation system was managed by people who were part of the guild, which is how the reputation system should be managed. … My point is about having the integrity of you certifying me because you’re a master woodworker. That is really meaningful. The value of the profession hangs in the balance of all the parties who are participating and caring about who else comes in and what level of status they have. It’s so much like the old days in many interesting ways, but it’s even better. We’re allowing ourselves to create this type of local, livable life that uses technology for the things it’s wonderful at but doesn’t separate us in the ways technology has historically or that we’ve allowed it to.

Yet with peer-to-peer services, the community is generally a virtual one, right?

The community can be a physical place, but it can also look like Kickstarter or Spacehive or SmallKnot, even, I would say, TaskRabbit. TaskRabbit has done an incredibly fabulous job at creating a lot of reverse work around trust and safety so people have a lot of confidence in the service.

Do these businesses change the mainstream concept of what constitutes a professional service and a career?

They create a sense of what Leah Busque [founder of TaskRabbit] likes to call the micro-entrepreneur, or the micropreneur. I was in Portland last week and I asked some people what do they do for a living. Somebody put their arm around me and said, “Look, Lisa, nobody I know has a full-time job. It’s just a collection of really interesting projects.”

People are seeing that the time they have between working on a project and life is really quite interesting. Then aligning that with the amount of money you really need to make, as opposed to necessarily trying to make the most money possible, is a real shift. It’s a huge shift from 10 years ago, when the goal was to aim for the biggest amount of income you could have. I think the value has shifted to aim for an enjoyable, relatively stress-free life in which you’re enriched with a lot of experience. And so that shift means a lot when you translate that into what it will look like when it plays out in the economy.

Do you think that’s a generational trend?

No. It’s not just Millennial. The recession and people being unemployed has invited a kind of reinventing of the self from a career perspective. And instead of it being, “My career is equal to the string of jobs I have,” people are seeing their lives as kind of cocktail of projects and experiences. I don’t even hear the word “career” being used that much anymore.

Is that new perspective changing how consumers view what they buy?

There’s a lot of interesting things that are taking place. People want to buy things that originate from where they are. A lot of these peer-to-peer companies are showing us that the sriracha sauce was made two blocks away from me, and it’s made in small batches. The value of that is pretty compelling, especially if it’s affordable.

There are a lot more people who are becoming entrepreneurs, possibly out of necessity, but it’s not tech entrepreneurs. It’s people who are creating salsas, sriracha, interesting little programs or service bureaus or things that they can do based on what they know but using the technology as an under-support for what they’re doing.

So Peer Power is not just about technology?

That’s right. It’s also about community. There’s a guy I’ve known for years who lives on the coast outside San Francisco. For many years he’s been an oyster farmer. Two or three years ago, the company he was working for started to bump along, so he took a little piece of land on the water for himself and started to farm oysters. You can look at his website, it’s very cute. He has taken that and created a lovely little restaurant in a small town on the coast, and he’s financing himself.

He did it by creating a couple of parties and writing people and using Facebook and a couple other tools. He built a community of people who care deeply about his success. And so now it’s part of the constellation of things I care about, where the things are people and experiences that I want to conserve, preserve and support. It could be also about sharing it with other people. It could also be about harvesting oysters and doing some things with it that are fun for me because they’re weird and unusual for me and they’re hugely helpful for him.

Once people sign on to one peer-to-peer service, does it seem like they become more open to others as well?

There’s a way to see these things where there’s one star at a time and suddenly, when we squint, we start to realize they are actually part of a constellation or an ecosystem. Meaning that somebody who’s interested in putting their house up on One Fine Stay or Roomorama or Airbnb or VRBO or any of these things is also likely to use coworking spaces or to be interested in making a really cool dinner party experience.

From a marketing perspective, we in the sharing economy can share customers, because the customers will view it as a benefit. As an entrepreneur, I’ll tell you that the three things we spend the most money on are talent, infrastructures and customers, customer acquisition in particular. So this trend is a huge help to entrepreneurs.

How can something that starts out as a novelty become a key part of the economy?

Because if you take things and upcycle them, or you shrink things together in interesting ways, or you don’t build a new building but you create different experiences within a building or an underground space or a rooftop that was never used, suddenly you’re creating this new kind of revenue that you didn’t see before.

How can we quantify this new kind of revenue?

I’m going to suggest we don’t know yet how to measure it. Airbnb hired a third party to look at how much money from July 2011 through June 2012 went into the city of San Francisco’s economy due to Airbnb. The answer was $56 million. But the interesting part isn’t that $56 million was taken in by Airbnb; the $56 million figure was the amount contributed to the city of San Francisco by Airbnb customers, which is not surprising when you think about it.

Airbnb and similar services allow for a native experience where you’re in the fabric of the city in a way that you’re not when you’re in a hotel. When you’re staying at someone’s home, you’ve gone native. So people who stayed at Airbnb rentals, for example, spent a lot more money in the local community than people who stayed at hotels. It’s kind of like the difference between taking a plane and taking a train. The train brings you right into the heart of the city, and the plane puts you into the ugliest parts of the city, just because they put an airport there.

Most countries and cities are still paying a lot of attention to GDP. I’m pretty confident that’s exactly the wrong measurement.

So what is the right measurement?

It’s a complicated answer. I think it has to do with value creation and redefining value. And so if a new mom took a maternity leave or a dad took a paternity leave, and they’re not going to go back to their old job but instead they’re going to do some project with Elance and some project with TaskRabbit and part-time guidework via Vayable and rent out a studio and rent out their car—suddenly you have somebody making more money than they probably need, maintaining a lifestyle and staying home more. They need less money because they don’t need to commute and spend on daycare and dress up so much. So that’s how the complexion of where the money’s made and how it’s spent changes. It’s global in the way that the change is happening, and it’s universal.

No Responses to "Q&A with Lisa Gansky, author of ‘The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing’"

Comment Form

SIGN UP FOR OUR WEEKLY EMAIL NEWSLETTER:

New Trend Report: The Future of Payments & Currency

JWT AnxietyIndex

Things to Watch

  • Snapcash
    November 19, 2014 | 4:54 pm


    Disruption in the payments sphere is opening the way for social media brands to act as intermediaries between consumers and their money, as we note in our report on payments and currency. Facebook is said to be planning a P2P payments feature for Messenger, South Korea’s KakaoTalk announced a PayPal-like service in September, and Line is creating a mobile service that will let users make on- and offline purchases. Now, Snapchat is partnering with Square to enable payments between users, as explained in this video’s energetic retro musical number.

    After users (U.S. only and 18-plus only) enter debit card info, they simply send a cash amount within a text. While Snapchat’s recent data breaches may give some users pause, the P2P payments space is a smart place to be as young consumers get accustomed to services like Venmo that make it easy and even fun to pay friends. —Marian Berelowitz

  • Payment in a heartbeat
    November 11, 2014 | 5:26 pm

    Nymi-paywith

    Our recent report on the future of payments and currency spotlights the rise of biometric payments—using a unique physical characteristic to authenticate transactions—which promise to greatly improve security and help remove friction. So far we’ve seen systems that rely on fingerprints (e.g., Apple Pay) and the palm’s unique vein payment (see Quixter). Now, the startup Bionym is exploring ways to harness its Nymi wristband, which uses the wearer’s unique cardiac rhythm as authentication, for payments.

    Bionym is linking with MasterCard and the Royal Bank of Canada for a test in which an NFC chip in the wristband enables contactless payments. The company, which is looking to license its technology into other wearables, recently raised $14 million in a Series A funding round and has racked up 10,000 preorders for the Nymi. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Nymi

  • Vegetable co-stars
    November 4, 2014 | 6:31 pm

    veggies_4

    “Vegetable co-stars” is one of our 100 Things to Watch in 2014—the idea that veggies are gaining a higher profile on restaurant menus—and more star chefs are indeed embracing this trend. José Andrés and his ThinkFood restaurant group plan to open Beefsteak (as in tomatoes), a vegetable-focused fast casual eatery in Washington, D.C., next year. The Washington Post also points to chef Roy Choi’s new greenhouse-like Commissary in L.A., which says it serves “good food and drink based around plants as the foundation.”

    “Chefs around the country, and the globe, are pushing meat from the center of the plate—and sometimes off it altogether,” notes The Wall Street Journal, citing examples like Alain Ducasse revamping his menu at the posh Plaza Athénée in Paris. Catering to a growing group of diners looking to eat less meat, vegetable-heavy dishes also offer new opportunities for creativity. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Plaza Athénée

  • Xiaomi zooms ahead
    October 30, 2014 | 4:44 pm

    Xiaomi, which we included on our 100 Things to Watch in 2014 list, is now the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, according to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. The young company has seen triple-digit year-over-year growth in smartphone shipments, per IDC, surging ahead of both LG and Lenovo. Often described as the “Apple of China,” Xiaomi released its first phone just three years ago; its latest, Mi4, is an iPhone clone that runs on a modified version of Android.

    The company is expanding beyond China into India and Singapore, and planning to enter a slew of other growth markets, including Russia, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico. For more on whether Chinese brands can succeed on the world stage, see our report Remaking “Made in China.”Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Xiaomi

     

  • Money & messaging apps
    October 23, 2014 | 11:13 am

    LINE_icon02

    Given the primary function of mobile messaging apps and their technical capabilities, money transfer and payments are an alluring proposition, as outlined in our new report on payments and currency. Snapchat filed two trademarks in July that indicate a potential move into peer-to-peer payments. The recently announced Line Pay will let Line users make purchases through their Line accounts, send funds to each other, and split costs using a “Dutch Pay” feature. Line Pay will launch in Japan and, as Tech in Asia reports, serve as “an entrance to new industries” thanks to integration with the new Line Taxi service and Line Wow, for food delivery. In South Korea, KakaoTalk launched the PayPal-like Kakao Pay in September, and a remittance service, Bank Wallet Kakao, is in the works. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Line

  • The #TimsDark Experiment
    October 14, 2014 | 3:46 pm

    To entice customers into tasting its new dark roast, Canadian fast food chain Tim Hortons, with the help of JWT Canada, created a surprise immersive experience. A store in Quebec was wrapped in material that blocked all light from the outdoors. Patrons entered warily and, once inside, heard a staff member (who was wearing night vision goggles) guiding them through the dark. At the counter, customers were handed a cup of the dark roast—the brand’s first new blend in 50 years—with the darkness heightening their sense of taste. When the lights came on, the patrons saw they were on camera.

    The #TimsDark Experiment has garnered YouTube views and some press attention, and shows how creatively imagined immersive experiences—one of our 10 Trends for 2014—can encourage consumers to engage with a brand.

  • Bitcoin bank Circle
    October 7, 2014 | 4:40 pm

    Circle

    In late September, the startup Circle launched a web app that effectively functions as a bitcoin bank. Using a debit card or bank account, users transfer funds to Circle, which converts the money to bitcoin at no fee. Circle also insures this money at no cost. The company aims to make bitcoin more accessible via consumer-friendly design and is aiming to take on traditional banks and companies like PayPal, as The Guardian reports. Next up: Android and iOS Circle apps.

    Circle co-founder Jeremy Allaire gave a keynote at the Inside Bitcoins conference in April, citing the need for a “killer app” to bring bitcoin into the mainstream. Now Circle seems to be taking the lead, and others are sure to follow. —Nick Ayala

    Image credit: Circle

  • High-tech tasting
    October 2, 2014 | 6:00 pm

    Nanosensor

    Thailand got a lot of buzz this week with an innovative idea: a taste-tester robot, or electronic tongue, that’s programmed to distinguish authentic Thai dishes from wanna-be’s. Artificial tongues aren’t new but have been evolving. Most recently, Danish researchers developed a nanosensor that mimics “what happens in your mouth when you drink wine,” enabling winemakers to control astringency very early on. In Spain, researchers created a beer-tasting robot that can distinguish between varieties of brew.

    Meanwhile, advanced technology can also create recipes: IBM has touted how Watson, its “cognitive computing system,” can analyze the components of ingredients to come up with novel ideas for dishes; find a few of them here. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Aarhus Universitet

  • Marriage gets marginalized
    September 25, 2014 | 5:00 pm

    One of our 10 Trends for 2012 was Marriage Optional: More people around the world are living together or remaining solo instead of marrying. Pew reports this week that 1 in 5 Americans age 25 and up have never married, a fundamental shift since 1960, when only about 1 in 10 could say the same. Millennials are especially ambivalent: Two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed by Pew agree that “society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children” vs. 53 percent of the next generation up (age 30 to 49).

    Europe is seeing a similar move away from marriage, driven by “austerity, generational crisis and apathy towards the institution,” notes The Guardian. It says weddings are at historical lows in some nations; last year Italy recorded the fewest since World War I. For a look at how changing marriage patterns are affecting families, see our report Meet the New Family. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: JD Hancock

     

  • Room-sharing service Breather
    September 16, 2014 | 3:30 pm

    Breather

    Described as the “Zipcar for rooms,” Breather is an app that enables access to “beautiful, practical spaces” that can be rented anywhere from 30 minutes to a whole day. While sharing-economy players like LiquidSpace and PivotDesk offer work and meeting spaces, Breather positions its rooms as homey spots that can serve a range of purposes (though not, the founder assures, seedy ones). Rooms include the basics—a desk, a couch, Wi-Fi—as well as some fun touches like a candy jar. Lockitron technology lets users unlock doors with their mobile phones. Breather is available in New York, Montreal and San Francisco, and recently raised $6.5 million in venture capital, citing plans to “own every major market in America.” —Hallie Steiner

    Image credit: Breather

  • RSSArchive for Things to Watch »