Reflections on Life in the Sharing Economy | Episode 3
In the previous episode, I started sharing with you my experience living for 75 days inside the sharing economy. I told you about organizing a meal via Feastly and obtaining chairs for my guests via Nextdoor. Now, since eating is one of the most important human rituals, especially when in community, I want to share with you how it feels to feast with people you don’t know.
Hey, don’t be a stranger, come for dinner!
Dining out: The new homemade that is challenging restaurants
Amanda and her friend Ally were very busy in the kitchen, but this did not prevent them from greeting us at the door with big smiles and open arms. Shoes out, people in, in the traditional American way of visiting a friend. The only detail: Amanda and Ally were not our friends.
Nevertheless, they were receiving us at their house to cook for us, complete strangers. My husband and I were not the only strangers that night. Karan and Divya, from India, and Nancy, from Taiwan, also were there to be fed by an unknown cook. James, from England, and Eponine, France, completed our group.
Amanda and Ally served their seven guest in a perfectly clean, well arranged and welcoming room, with nice music and fresh flowers. The night’s menu, named “The Fall Celebration,” included: fresh and tasty Fig and Eggplant Salad, truly delicious Braised Oxtail with Creamy Risotto and Scotch Bonnet Salsa (my mouth is watering as I write!), and pumpkin cookie & ice cream sandwich.
In addition to a beautiful meal came great conversation with 5 people I have never met before in my life. But the fact that we were strangers seemed to not matter a bit, to any of us, because, after all, we were just fellow humans sharing a meal together.
New business models are setting the table
Eating is one of the most primal of human rituals. For thousands and thousands of years, we’ve gathered and socialized around food. However, the current reduced size of families and the hectic daily life have contributed to the decrease of the importance of sharing a meal. Moreover, although restaurants are a place to exercise this habit, they don’t seem to substitute an informal, loud, fun, warm and friendly home feast.
Enjoying meals together is still a habit in smaller, country-side communities. However, in big cities like São Paulo, Singapore or San Francisco dining out has heavily replaced home cooking. The amazing dinner at Amanda’s was only made possible to us because of Feastly, a platform that connects cooks and feasters, and aims to transform the way we dine.
As discussed on Episode 2, the curation process is a key part of the sharing platforms, and a fundamental step to allow for trust within community in a virtual world. Especially, if you are trusting someone to cook for you.
What made me comfortable to join a meal promoted via Feastly was the vetting process. Even before the meal at Amanda’s, I registered with Feastly as a host/cook. I was promptly contacted by their community manager, and learned that in addition to the online profile, they speak personally with each potential chef to assess the person’s skills and interests.
Now, fully vetted, and having experience the shared meal cooked by Amanda, it was time to host my own event.
How to host a dinner in the sharing economy
7:01 pm my phone rang and it was Dorian, to tell me she had arrived. My husband and dog went down to pick her up. When they came back, the whole group of guest I was expecting came with them: Dorian and her boyfriend Michael, Patrick and his friend Christie. Nancy had already arrived, a bit early as promised, to give me an extra hand in preparing my feast. A feast to strangers. A feast of the sharing economy.
So everybody was there for my special sharing economy dinner. That day, I had enjoyed some special hours preparing the meal. Strangely enough, I wanted to please those strangers as much as I would have wanted to please my dearest friends. It seemed that the guests also wanted to please the host, because they all brought wine for us to share. They didn’t have to, and that is where the beauty of this sharing thing lies: they are not coming to a restaurant, I’m not offering a restaurant experience. We are, together, creating a new, unique experience. It is up to us, hosts or guests, to be open and willing to connect with others, to see what is possible.
Embracing the full potential of the sharing economy requires you to get out of auto-pilot and be more aware of your options and actions.
While I was serving the first course of my “Sweet and Salty Journey,” we engaged in a delicious conversation about the traveling experiences all of us have had. Nancy told us about her volunteering in the heart of Africa, and Rafa and I shared the adventures of our round-the-world trip.
Finished dessert, we all sat in the living room, and the conversation turned to the sharing economy. I told them about my experiment and how the sharing economy had saved that very dinner. We discussed the risks – from the chance of having a bad moment, not liking the food, not connecting with the others; to the safety risk of opening your house to strangers. We agreed that the vetting and rating processes were critical to bring the sense of trust.
(LEGEND: At the end, my sweet guests registered their satisfactions with a picture of their empty plates. This humble amateur cook-host could not be happier!)
New economic model, traditional human values
Throughout the four years that I’ve been living and analyzing the sharing economy, across United States, Brazil and Singapore, I learned that regardless of the country, the main value of the sharing economy goes beyond financials. The main value of this new system is the rediscovery of the self and the other as part of the same community fabric. With technology bridging people and providing information for renewed confidence, individuals have found more meaningful interaction in the relationships with others than the ones they would traditionally have with corporations.
Fighting the innovation antibodies
All these benefits do not come without a fight. As with innovation in general and, more specifically, with those that challenge traditional and powerful business models, the sharing economy finds many barriers raised by incumbents. Challenging the rules that sustain the business of large corporations usually results in accusations of unlawfulness, tax irregularities, labor issues, among others. With the same passion with which the sharing economy supporters advocate in favor of this new economic model, the dominant players preach its inadequacy to the status quo.
A number of large corporations, however, aware that innovation is the only path to survival, are doing what all should do: embracing, rather than fighting, elements of the collaborative economy.
- Patagonia, the famous manufacturer of outdoors clothing, established a partnership with eBay to create a marketplace for people to exchange used clothing
- Retailer Nordstrom partnered with TOMS, the shoe brand, to solicit shoe designs from shoppers themselves
- BMW’s DriveNow program, for example, offers access to the company’s cars via a subscription-based system, in an alternative to the ownership business model
(Legend: Happy driver cruising in her BMW…well, not exactly hers…)
Those are only a few examples that illustrate how the new economy is expanding its reach beyond local communities. According to Jeremiah Owyang, one of the leading experts in the sharing economy, people are the heart of the new economy. However, to be a sustainable movement, it is essential that governments, regulators and corporations are engaged in promoting its development.
Sharing across the world
Although the movement has had its epicenter in California, a much fertile ground for innovation, it has expanded rapidly to other countries. Almost 10,000 initiatives in 132 countries have been mapped (as of Jun/2017). I’ve witnessed this growth firsthand in Brazil, my home country, and here in Asia. Additionally to the arrival of global players such as Uber and Airbnb, most countries are also observing the rise of local platforms.
- In Brazil, services such as Homestay (hospitality), Zazcar (car sharing), Catarse (crowdfunding), and BeesOffice (coworking space) are just some of the dozens of sharing economy businesses identified
- In Singapore, over 50 businesses have developed around the concept of sharing. Grab, one of the most successful is a car sharing platform that poses a real competition to Uber in the Asian region
Key takeaways from this episode:
- As with all innovation, some incumbents have been open to embrace the change, as others have been in fierce opposition
- The sharing economy bridges traditional concepts of friendship and neighborhood with the impersonal capitalism, in a new proposition to life in community
- Sharing is a global movement
Next episode: What are the new behaviors you need to embrace in order to be part of the sharing community.
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Maria Paula Oliveira is a business executive with experience in corporations and startups, in Asia Pacific, Latin America and the USA. Her work spans strategy, research, M&A, and innovation management. In Brazil, she led Experian to TOP 3 most innovative companies, and had founding roles in two Silicon Valley startups. She writes on strategic innovation, creative ways for business growth, and shares insights with a personal touch about ideas, technologies and business models that are shaping the world. Follow @mpaulaoliveira
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