Corporations Will Emulate Collaborative Economy Startups

Dallas Skyline Reflection
Just as this Dallas skyline casts a similar reflection from the water, we see the same pattern in the web industry as corporations copy the startup space to catch up with customers.

My career mission of Web Strategy is to help companies connect to their customers using web technology.   I see a rift occurring between companies and their customers.  My mission is to help companies close that gap.

There’s a Natural Order to Things.  
Death begets life, winter moves into spring, and corporations follow what consumer startups do.  This pattern, which we’ve seen as uncountable at times, is a predictable one.  As Friendster, MySpace, Bebo and Facebook arose, we witnessed the rise of corporations building their own branded communities using software from Jive, Lithium, Mzinga, Telligent, and a ton of other players.  We also watched as Mark Benioff of Salesforce declared the “Facebook Imperative” and launched an internal enterprise version, Chatter, to solve inter-personal communications inside of the largest companies.

Pattern Analysis: 1) The internet emerged, then corporate websites (past), 2) Social media, then social business (present), and 3) Sharing startups, then collaborative economy (future). 

The Collaborative Economy Startups Have Risen.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of the Collaborative Economy, thousands of sharing startups that are enabling people to share, gift, lend, build, develop, store, and transport goods and services to each other.  They’ve used tools like Etsy (co-develop), Quirky (co-ideate), Kickstarter (co-fund), Airbnb (co-live), Lyft (co-ride), LendingClub (co-loan) Sharedesk (co-workspace), oDesk (co-work), Shapeways (co-3D print) enable the crowd to get what they need from each other rather than through traditional corporations.

Get Ready for the Enterprise Versions to Emerge.
Now, we must be prepared as enterprises and corporations seek to build their own programs to catch up to their departed customers.  Savvy enterprise-thought leaders at solution providers have shared their ideas, from Dion Hinchlifee at Dachis Group on the Enterprise Irregulars, or long time IBM executive, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who sees the path, top Salesforce system integrator, Magnet 360, sharing their recap, or Deloitte’s John Hagel and John Seely Brown, who write about this new market opportunity, and acclaimed economist, Tom Friedman, in his New York Times post.  The corporate thought leaders see the opportunity and are preparing for this next phase of the internet.

Breakdown: How the Collaborative Economy Ecosystem Will Emerge 
We’ve seen this pattern before as social media birthed social business.  With that pattern in mind, expect the following to happen

  1. Venture Capitalists Fueling the Movement.  While VCs sometimes have been wrong about prior movements, we’re already seeing an increasing number of them who are dedicated to, and focused on, this category, they include:  Collaborative FundAndreessen, and new firms, like Structure, fueling the way for new growth.  Social business VCs, like Emergence, August, Sequoia and others, will help cascade the enterprise versions further forward.  Read my analysis and meet the investors of the collaborative economy.
  2. Brand Pages.  Just as Facebook and LinkedIn launched their own brand pages for corporations, I expect to see these same consumer-focused, sharing startups offer a dedicated location for brands to participate.  Imagine if Airbnb offered brand pages for local properties at exotic resorts from a top name hotel chain?  What if top real-estate property managers could have their own listings on shared office space players like Liquidspace?
  3. White-Label Software.  The term “white label ” is a term that describes offering brands the opportunity to skin software to match their brand identity, just as Lithium can be customized for any brand look.  Expect to see marketplace software or Etsy-like software that can be branded for any corporation, providing a customized experience.  Imagine MarriottBnb or Macy’s allowing their own customers to create and share products among each other.  Right now, I know of one open-source, Kickstarter tool called Selfstarter (by Lockitron) that’s available for anyone to download and use.   I expect a new class of entrepreneurs to emerge to address this opportunity.
  4. Social Business Software Platforms Reconfigure New Features:. I’ve spent time with a variety of social business platform players (and have more on the calendar) to tell them about the next phase of features that must emerge.  Any community platform, collaboration platform, insight platform, or brand monitoring platform is ripe for emulation and joining this next phase.  In social business, we know these players as IBM, Jive, Lithium, Bazaarvoice, Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle, and Telligent, for example.
  5. Developer Platforms and an Ecosystem of Applications.  Expect big players like Uber, Airbnb and Lendingclub to offer Application Programming Interfaces (API).  Heck, oDesk briefed me that they already have some read/write APIs available that enable companies that use their services to manage large batches of online jobs.  Expect that the rest of the players will launch their own platforms, allowing a thousand flowers to bloom as a new developer ecosystem emerges to create new value out of these large communities.  We witnessed this when Facebook launched its own platform at its f8 conference.
  6. New Analytics Players and Integration Software.  Just as we saw the rise of social brand monitoring, social sentiment and new forms of index players like Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex emerge, expect to see new forms of analytics players emerge as well.  As APIs emerge from the startups (for example, Airbnb has massive amounts of data), expect a new class of data brokers to emerge, just as we saw in social, like Janrain and Gigya.
  7. An Effort to Standardize Data and Reputation Systems.  Already, in the startup space we saw TrustCloud emerge, which sought to standardize reputation among the various startups.  I expect the collection of startups involved in (an advocacy group for the movement) to foster discussions that will lead to new forms of data standards.  In general, I’m bearish on these standardizations happening, as I’ve seen many efforts in the past launch, but fail to obtain mass adoption.
  8. System Integration and Consulting.  All of this new software requires integration.  New players will emerge and existing players will have to obtain new skills.  I’ve spent a lot of time with Magnet 360 which has hired me to speak at their conference, and to clients who have already published their thoughts on what this next phase could mean.  Management consulting firms will also make the move, offering new, larger solutions for business model transformation during this big change, providing embedded consultants years of work at large corporations.
  9. Agency and Interactive Capabilities.  I’ve spoken extensively to innovation leaders at Wunderman and Kelby Johnson about the opportunities.  Just yesterday, I spoke with digital agency T-3, which sees the opportunity to help their clients with a planned roll-out of their own programs.  These agencies can provide strategy, consulting, content, implementation, branding, and ongoing management through community management, analytics, and other various support services.
  10. New Conferences and New Thought Leaders.  Expect new conferences and workshops to emerge that will help corporations and their partners build these programs, along with a new class of thought leaders that will help guide the industry forward.

Closing Thoughts: These Patterns Occur Every Few Years

These patterns are inevitable:  Startups, fueled by VCs create new efficient tools and technologies.  Customers move, companies follow, and a new industry is born.  Then the process repeats itself.  It’s as inevitable as the tides, sun and moon, and rotation of the planets. I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please comment below.  If you want to dive in deeper, read the full research report, and see the Slideshare storyboard on the Collaborative Economy.  Based on patterns in other markets, what do you expect to see as this next phase of internet business emerges?

Above image used with creative commons licensing by lnmeares


16 Replies to “Corporations Will Emulate Collaborative Economy Startups”

  1. Jeremiah

    I am a big fan of your analysis and find your thinking to be both insightful and challenging. I think you are spot on with regard to the way this new economy will emerge.

    I take exception to the constant inclusion of oDesk into the mix of companies who are leading this space. oDesk provides the same service that vWorker (now a part of Freelancer) and eLance have been providing for years. I started hiring talent through vWorker (back then it was Rent A Coder) back in 2004-2005. The pattern just doesn’t fit for me.

    Airbnb – Let others use my house
    RelayRides – Let others use my car
    Sharehammer (and myriad others) – Let others share my gear
    Couchsurfing – Let others use a portion of my house
    oDesk – let others use my…time?

    I guess in some way you can make it fit in the category, but it’s not unlocking the latent / new value that these other services are. In fact, the casual global labor market is already remarkably efficient. I can find very specific skills anywhere in the world with almost no effort. oDesk is a part of this market, but they were / are not on the leading edge of any new trend. They are new entrants into a very well-established marketplace.

    Thanks again for your work.

  2. Thank you so much for the thoughtful message, I read it a few times, Scott.

    Another way to look at the definition of the category is a peer to peer marketplace of buyers and sellers, using an online set of tools.

    In most of these cases, these tools are unlocking excess: Space, time, skills, or products. It’s about activating unused resources.

    In the case of oDesk/eLance/Taskrabbit/vWorker/RentaCoder, they’re activating idle workers that can work, regardless of location. I don’t see a difference, your thoughts?

  3. In that context, I would agree with oDesk’s inclusion. I think my disconnect was that Airbnb, Relayrides and the others are much newer on the scene and exploring areas that have traditionally been off limits. Therefore, they feel more qualified to be “emerging” to me. The casual labor market feels much older to me I guess because I have been such a heavy user of it for so long. However, I have had enough conversations with people to know that hiring someone from Romania to work for you is as hard a concept to understand as letting a stranger rent your house for 2 weeks.

    I agree with your overall statement above. I think we are entering a time where latent resources will be “fracked” as never before.

    There are other interesting categories to explore here, beyond what we are seeing today with the big players. For example, think about the massive labor pool we have in kids who live in our neighborhoods. I believe we are going to see a time, especially if the economy continues to struggle, where people return to paying kids to do jobs around their homes instead of hiring those jobs out.

    I have spent a lot of time, largely after reading your whitepapers and blog posts, simply observing items around my house and around the neighborhood where things or people go unused for long periods of time. There is opportunity everywhere.

    What about contractors sharing / renting their professional-grade tools with consumers and disrupting Home Depot tool rentals? What about being able to rent the best golf clubs for 2-3 months or even longer instead of spending $1500 on a new set? Or being able to rent high-end exercise equipment from someone down the street to evaluate it before you drop $2000 on that treadmill?

    The market is especially ripe for disruption where prices are high and risk of non-use or lack of interest is high.

    I believe your focus on getting corporations to engage now rather than waiting to be pushed out of the market is spot on. Companies that embrace this have the opportunity to participate in the change. Golf and tennis stores, fitness stores, etc. should all be taking a portion of their inventory and experimenting today. I think dedicating somewhere around 15% of resources would really allow these companies to conduct some great trials and test where the market is going.

  4. Excellent job as usual Jeremiah. I really enjoyed the piece and think you are right on with your thoughts on how Collaborative Consumption will continue to progress. When I think about the space I think it can be further segmented into B2C renters, brokers of idle capacity in existing businesses, and P2P rental & free sharing. B2C rental, where the company owns the equipment and rents it out, includes car sharing services like Zipcar, bike sharing like Divvy here in Chicago, and even Rent the Runway for clothes. Brokers of existing idle capacity include Hailo for hailing a taxi and SpotHero for finding a cheap parking spot. They are not really a part of this space but more of a technology based efficiency tool in highly segmented markets. Where the real excitement lies is in the P2P rental & free sharing space. This is the heart of the Sharing Economy in which technology has enabled regular consumers to be entrepreneurs with their items, space and skills. As you point out AirBNB, Kickstarter and many others are leading this space.

    But the future of the Sharing Economy is in free sharing of the billions of usable household items which have value but are collecting dust in the
    garages, closets and shelves of the world. I wrote a short piece on this earlier this summer in response to a Tina Rosenberg New York Times piece. As founder and CEO of Spare to Share a Chicago-based collaborative consumption startup focusing on sharing & collaboration within residential buildings, I would be curious to hear your thoughts. The Future of, The Future of Sharing:

  5. I’ve only recently started following the collaborative commerce movement and I’ve enjoyed all the articles you’ve written. They’ve provided me with a lot of information about all the different types of collaborative commerce companies out there and I look forward to continuing to read your insights about this area!

  6. Future of the business is really about working together. Working together, we can come up with more solutions. Sharing positive ideas helps us improve businesses. Emergence of social media signals that people like to stay connected and share ideas. Investors are seeing it as opportunity and investing in collaborative projects.


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