Thriving in a Shared Economy

Uber. An unfamiliar word to most Americans until recently. If they had heard the word, it was either from a pretentious friend trying to over impress or from a bonafide European explaining how great something was. Not just regular great. More like super great – uber great, in fact.

In just the blink of an eye, Uber has become part of the American vernacular – just like Google, Smartphone and Dropbox – with its very own new meaning.

‘How did you find parking downtown?’ asks a friend. ‘Oh, I didn’t drive – I Ubered it here.’

Just a few years ago, even the most trendy of hipsters would have had no idea what you meant. Now, even a hip Babyboomer grandma knows what that means.

Besides being an app that has revolutionized personal transportation – transforming the way we get from point A to point B – even as we speak, the word itself is evolving into a broader concept … Uberization.

Uberization has become the poster child for living in our current shared economy. It’s how technology is connecting disconnected people. It’s what all the ‘cool kids’ are doing. They’re transforming every thing they touch into a shared experience. Work isn’t cubicles and a Rolodex any more. It’s a flexible, hip space for creativity and collaboration.

It’s peer-to-peer networks sharing everything. Need a hammer? Don’t go buy one – use an app that lets you rent tools and you’ll have a dozen new pals pinging you to rent theirs. And coincidentally, one lives in your same building. A new friend to add to your community. Moving to a new place? Don’t go to the hardware store and buy cardboard boxes – use an app to rent them. Save a tree – more like a whole forest. Everybody wins.

In this era of newfound collaborative consumption, previous benefits of ownership are now seen as a personal burden. Young up-and-comers don’t want a nice house or car. They want a cool Instagram feed, a good reputation, close friends, solid relationships and an abundance of enjoyable experiences.

Plus they want to save money and lower the environmental impact. Sounds so very utopian. Sir Thomas More would be so pleased.

While the users of a shared economy might be seeing only the kumbaya benefits of a shared economy, those creating the innovations are seeing dollar signs.

Take Airbnb, for example. Guests love the service and it’s a deal compared to hotels in pricey areas – pretty much any area compared to local rates. But those renting out their rooms aren’t just doing it to share their space – to be part of a community. They’re in it for the cash. Some can make thousands of dollars a week for little to no effort.

They’ve got a room. Someone needs a place to stay. Connect via an app. No brokers. No memberships. Easy transactions. Everyone’s happy.

Everyone’s happy, that is except for all of the middlemen who have been cut out of the equation. An on demand app seamlessly does all the work. And takes a share of the profits.

Just like with Uber. You need a ride? Use an on demand app on your Smartphone with a phone-enabled geo location system. Seamlessly pay with the app so you don’t need to carry cash, or even a debit or credit card. Arrive at your destination without having to help foot the bill for all of the licenses, fees and permits a taxi driver needs to pay for.

Uber took something very complicated and made it very simple. They removed the middleman. Uber is the dispatcher that used to separate the passenger from the cabbie. Same thing Airbnb did. No more travel agents. So is every on demand app. They’re all turning a profit from removing some kind of middleman.

But what does the future hold? Innovation only lasts so long. It’s fleeting. Sometime in the future, Uber will be the Blockbuster of today.

Then what? The middleman is gone. What’s next? At some time down the road – maybe in the near future – Uberization will be totally passé. ‘Oh, Uberization! Remember having to share everything – that’s sooo 2015!’

In the meantime, savvy business leaders ahead of the curve are laughing all the way to the bank. And just as all of these shared economy concepts are in vogue today, they will pass away just like the railroad and cafeterias, and those same shrewd entrepreneurs will already be on to developing the next concept – revolutionizing the next wave of contemporary American culture.