What’s Your Story

Rachel Botsman on the Rise of Collaborative Consumption

The co-author of 'What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption' is the Convene-sponsored opening keynote speaker at this month’s DMAI Annual Convention — where she’ll talk about how ‘distributed power’ is changing the meeting and travel sectors.

If you look across sectors there is a democratization happening around everything. Where if you think of the industrial age, it really sort of centralized power, it centralized wealth, it centralized production, it centralized jobs — we’re now living in an age that I call distributed power, where power is moving to the edges, to networks, to individuals. And that’s changing the way people think about currency. It’s changing the way they think about jobs.

Looking back [to the genesis of What’s Mine Is Yours], it feels so clear. I’m not sure the threads were so clear at the time, but it really was a convergence of a few things. The first was, I was kind of obsessed with how technology was changing the way we could collaborate and share. It was taking out the friction to share, and it was creating some kind of trusts. My hunch was that these behaviors were going to start to extend into other areas of our lives, whether that was travel, whether that was [physical] stuff. That was the first very big insight.

The second was more around my personal behaviors, where I realized I’d given up owning a car and now I access one on Zipcar. And I’d stopped buying videos and music, and I was accessing them on Spotify and Netflix. And I was using eBay and I was using Craigslist. And I thought, how are these ideas connected? There’s something in common with these things.

And then the third [insight] was just, this was before the crash, but there was a widespread questioning of the economy and the consumer system and was it sustainable, stemming from an environmental and an economic point of view, that we’d created a whole world dependent on consumption. So much conversation of, is this making us happy? Is this a good business model? I just had this feeling that this shift was under way.

I will look at collaborative consumption [during her DMAI keynote], not just through travel but really through a higher lens of experiences. I will actually start outside the travel sector and pull insights of what we can learn from the different kinds of disruption. Then I will pull out into some bigger macro trends that are under way that we should all be aware of.

By travel, I don’t just mean accommodation. I mean the whole ecosystem of transportation, of food, of the experience people are having, and really trying to show how there’s a little bit of a misperception out there that [collaborative consumption] is a threat, and show how in most instances, it actually grows the market. It’s a different kind of engagement, attracts a different kind of visitor, and gives them a very different relationship to the place that they are visiting.

You’re probably aware of examples like LiquidSpace. It’s a recent investment by Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, where they basically have the insight that when you travel, it’s often really hard to find a meeting space, and why isn’t it as easy to book a meeting space as it is to book a hotel room. They then realized that if you look at office utilization and space utilization, it’s extremely low — it’s around 30 percent. They’ve done something really smart in that they’ve done big partnerships with people like Accenture and Marriott Hotels and taken all those spaces that would otherwise be sitting idle and actually made them liquid. When you’re traveling on the road, you can book these meeting spaces in under five minutes.

In terms of conferences and big events, I don’t think they’re going to go away. I think they’re going to grow in importance, as workforces become more distributed — and I don’t mean mobile workforces. It’s kind of like the second wave of outsourcing. [Companies] are saying, we’ll keep our client-service managers as part of the team, but the talent we actually need for the project is not a cost-effective model – to have these really big teams and large overheads when we can sort of on-demand that talent. There’s a new network in the U.K. called Lawyers On Demand that is doing phenomenally well, where it’s taking all these disgruntled lawyers from top law firms and giving them a marketplace to sell their services.

What’s going to happen is, I believe, that the face-to-face meeting will become equally important because people will have a lot more virtual interaction, so they will want to come together at different points in the year. I think what’s going to change is the way those meetings are used. They won’t just be information shares and knowledge exchange. A lot of relationship building is going to have to happen in those meetings.

I do think, though, the way conferences are put on and the way conferences are run will change. I have a close relationship with the founders of TaskRabbit [an online-based task and errand service]. They just recently launched jobs, which means that they can take on tasks that require more than an hour or a day but can actually take a week. I’ve known people in the conference business that, rather than having big teams now, they go into different markets and hire rabbits. And these rabbits are getting so good, there’s such a passion and energy for doing these conferences, it’s like, why would we have this full team of people that sit there for most of the week and then they’re on when we’re doing a conference, when we can hire these people on demand? It’s a bit like cloud computing. You can scale up and scale down based on the actual needs of your business versus having asset-heavy models that don’t necessarily make sense.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.