WHEB Commentary

Seb Beloe

D.R.E.A.M.ing of Collaborative Consumption


In late June I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the ‘Convergence’ Conference in Paris. The conference (known as ‘Verge*’ in English-speaking countries ) brings together commercial leaders from large corporations and a group of social entrepreneurs. One of the key topics at this year’s conference was ‘collaborative consumption’ and the radical impact that this is beginning to have on established business models.

Also known as the ‘peer-to-peer’ economy, collaborative consumption essentially involves the use of platform technologies on mobile devices that allow consumers to use various assets without actually owning them. As Rachel Botsman, the doyenne of the movement has put it, “Technology unlocks the idling capacity – that could be a spare room in someone’s house, the spare seats in someone’s car or investments that you don’t have in the bank.” In other words, these models help to use existing infrastructure whether it be cars, bicycles, rooms, bank balances or consumer electronics much more efficiently with correspondingly reduced environmental impact.

The subject had particular personal relevance as my trip to the conference included accommodation using Airbnb, one of the best known examples of collaborative consumption that is focused on the renting of apartments, rooms and even couches through their on-line platform (I went for an apartment). At the beginning of July 2013 the site had had 10 million nights booked through it, with over 300,000 listings in 33,000 cities in 192 countries. Not bad for a business that was founded in late 2008. One of the most interesting presentations though came from the CEO of a business called BlaBlaCar, a car-sharing service, so-called because when you register on the site you have to register as being either ‘bla’ (not very talkative) to ‘blabla’, and at the top end of loquaciousness, ‘blablabla’!

A critical feature underpinning nearly all of these collaborative models is the need to generate real trust between users of the service. Blablacar has distilled their approach into six key ingredients. Users need to:

  • Declare who they are and provide some biographical details
  • Be Rated by other users of the service
  • Engage the service by making a financial payment upfront
  • Be Active so that other users can see a response
  • Know that the system is Moderated (e.g. payment details confirmed, addresses verified etc.)
  • Be linked to other Social networks which establishes connections between wider groups of people

According to Blablacar, friends and family score 4.5/5 on this framework. Users of the network give each other nearly as much with an average score of 4.2. In fact, a competing company enabling neighbours to rent each other’s cars found that far from being the barrier that they anticipated, meeting neighbours turned out to be the most appealing aspect of the service.

It is still early days in the development of these collaborative consumption models. Most are still little more than disruptive start-ups with significant questions still outstanding around insurance, the payment of tax and questions about liability. A few, such as Zipcar, have managed to make the transition to a public market listing, but it is still probably too early to know for sure how popular collaborative consumption will prove as a business model. What is clear though, is that technology will continue to disrupt existing business models and that sustainability, in the form of lower environmental impacts and greater social capital, will also be a beneficiary.
*Those with advanced conversational French will understand the pitfalls of using this title in France!

Recent posts

  • This year’s new killer
  • Seeing the bigger picture – Cooper Companies and myopia
  • What does 2020 hold for sustainable investing?
  • Politics playing catch-up on climate change
  • The great smog; London’s dirty air
  • Lessons from Woodford
  • Varian and the changing nature of cancer care
  • The bigger picture; declaring a climate emergency
  • Better out of it: the price of oil politics
  • Greta gets clean away
  • Archive

  • February 2020 (2)
  • January 2020 (1)
  • December 2019 (1)
  • November 2019 (2)
  • October 2019 (3)
  • September 2019 (1)
  • August 2019 (2)
  • July 2019 (3)
  • June 2019 (2)
  • May 2019 (3)
  • April 2019 (1)
  • March 2019 (1)
  • February 2019 (2)
  • January 2019 (3)
  • December 2018 (1)
  • November 2018 (2)
  • October 2018 (4)
  • September 2018 (2)
  • August 2018 (4)
  • July 2018 (1)
  • June 2018 (1)
  • May 2018 (1)
  • April 2018 (2)
  • March 2018 (2)
  • February 2018 (1)
  • January 2018 (1)
  • December 2017 (3)
  • November 2017 (1)
  • July 2017 (3)
  • June 2017 (1)
  • May 2017 (1)
  • April 2017 (1)
  • February 2017 (2)
  • November 2016 (1)
  • August 2016 (1)
  • July 2016 (1)
  • June 2016 (1)
  • May 2016 (1)
  • April 2016 (2)
  • February 2016 (1)
  • December 2015 (1)
  • November 2015 (3)
  • October 2015 (1)
  • September 2015 (1)
  • July 2015 (2)
  • April 2015 (2)
  • February 2015 (2)
  • December 2014 (2)
  • November 2014 (3)
  • October 2014 (4)
  • August 2014 (1)
  • July 2014 (3)
  • June 2014 (1)
  • April 2014 (2)
  • March 2014 (2)
  • February 2014 (3)
  • January 2014 (4)
  • December 2013 (4)
  • October 2013 (5)
  • September 2013 (3)
  • July 2013 (4)
  • June 2013 (2)
  • May 2013 (4)
  • April 2013 (2)
  • March 2013 (4)
  • February 2013 (6)
  • January 2013 (2)
  • December 2012 (3)
  • November 2012 (1)
  • October 2012 (4)
  • September 2012 (2)
  • August 2012 (1)
  • July 2012 (3)
  • June 2012 (3)
  • May 2012 (6)
  • April 2012 (4)
  • March 2012 (5)