The Sharing Economy Comes Of Age

At London’s LeWeb conference, kicking off today, there is much talk about the new consumer values: transparency, participation, and collaboration. The businesses of the future would do well to understand this movement.

The Sharing Economy Comes Of Age

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working at jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” – Rachel Botsman, author of What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption


The LeWeb conference in London, which begins today with a theme of the “Collaborative Economy,” should be a wake-up call to corporations, brands, and everyone in the advertising ecosystem. Your lives are about to change. The market has once again spoken, and if you think you’ve already been disrupted by social media, think again. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Loic Le Meur, LeWeb’s cofounder, opened this year’s event with a startling presentation on the Collaborative Economy, a new movement in which consumers, especially the highly coveted and targeted Millennials, have decided to share and rent rather than own things in a dramatic reversal of 50-year trends.

A number of factors have come together to influence this trend; the availability of excess capacity with high idle times, the worldwide recession, the growth of trust networks generated by social media, and a growing need for community.

During my own lifetime, I’ve seen feelings of isolation grow, and the statistics are that the number of people dining and living alone has doubled in the past 40 years. So it’s not just a feeling. I have actually witnessed  the sense of community vanish, and with it, happiness. It was brought home to me in Uganda and Rwanda, where people have less but their communities are stronger, and joy is palpable.

But it’s an ill wind, as they say, and out of this isolation has come Airbnb, now used by 40,000 people a day in 30 cities; Lending Club, the alternative source of funding using friends and investors; and of course Kickstarter, where $320 million has been pledged by 2.2 million people for thousands of projects, including some 25,000 fans who donated $1.2 million for Amanda Palmer’s new album. Lyft, a modern-day revision of hitchhiking, just raised $60 million, and shared car services like Zipcar have replaced car ownership for young people.

Only government regulations hold back the even faster spread of peer-to-peer trends, and governments are going to have to adapt, as they have to music and movie sharing via services such as Spotify and Netflix . We don’t have to own music and movies anymore, nor cars, nor even our meals. Cookening, a startup, uses people to cook for each other.


In the past year, 52% of Americans have rented, borrowed, or shared things they used to own, and 83% of people are willing to do it, despite the $22 billion self-storage industry and homes that have doubled in size (and disillusioned their owners when equity evaporated).

The new generations, committed to sustainability and social purpose, have learned from us that choice and income don’t bring happiness, but community, trust, and purpose might. It’s a new consumer mindset that values transparency, participation, and collaboration. In this atmosphere, the new brand is no brand, and intrusive branding and advertising had better stay out of the way.

[Image: Flickr user furiousgeorge81]

About the author

Francine Hardaway, Ph.D is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned communications strategist. She co-founded Stealthmode Partners, an accelerator and advocate for entrepreneurs in technology and health care, in 1998.