Dear Brands, I’m Unnerved Too

Writing to reach you

Dear Brands,

I just got disrupted.  I willingly let a stranger drive off in my car, and I found it unnerving.

Last week I wrote a heartfelt letter to you that our relationship has changed.  I shared that I don’t want to breakup, but I want to have an open relationship.  I don’t want to buy products.  I want to rent, borrow, share, or swap products.  The world has changed, and with it, our relationship.

Brands are being disrupted by sharing.

I know that it’s discomforting to hear that customers are now buying your products once, and then sharing many times with each other, because it means that your revenues will diminish.  This movement, called the Collaborative Economy (see all my posts on this topic) is on the rise, so I decided to go through the experiment, so I could feel what you’re going through.

I put my own family assets at risk just to feel disrupted.

I put our cherished family car up for rental on RelayRide, a site that allows people to share their cars with neighbors.  As the first person to own this car, I have an attachment to it, and have taken rather good care of it for many years.  Saturday morning, a young Duke University student picked it up from me for the weekend.  I didn’t know who he was, nor do we have any shared contacts.  While RelayRide promised me that they screen renters and provide insurance, I couldn’t but help see a piece of me leaving as he drove off.

It felt unnerving on many levels.

First, I allowed a complete stranger to take my asset.  I asked myself, “What’s he doing with it?  Will it come back in the same condition?  What about liabilities, such as accidents, traffic or unaccounted bridge tolls?  Second, I was unnerved, because my training to be a good capitalist in business school did not prepare me for this new business model.  Third, I worried about what my current insurance company would think.  Finally, it was unnerving because most of our clients at the company that I own serves brands, i.e., I make money from those brands.

The good news is that everything was just fine.

This morning I woke up and there was the car, parked at the curb as agreed.  My keys were left in my mail slot and now I’m $50 richer.  So what did I learn?  This new collaborative economy requires trust.  Trust to let go and trust that the startups that you partner with, and their customers, are trustworthy.  This is just the start.  To take this experience a step further, I’m renting the car out for weeks, and then for two months starting in July.

Business models, as we know them, are about to change.

Now back to you brands.  While I chose to be self-disrupted, for many brands you won’t get a choice.  This disruption is already among us.  There are over 200 startups that empower consumers to buy once – and share many times – without buying again.  Some of you will adopt this trend and change your business model.  Some of you will not and, thereby, risk disruption. In either scenario, you will be unnerved, just as I was.

The collaborative economy is unnerving, but we will explore it together.


Jeremiah Owyang
Speaker, Writer, Business Owner, Consumer