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MiNDFOOD Questions: Rachel Botsman Answers

Rachel Botsman is the global thought leader on the collaborative economy, here she shares how collaborative consumption is changing our lives.

MiNDFOOD Questions: Rachel Botsman Answers

You say we’re “wired to share”. Why is this?

Sharing is a core part of human nature. We use to share in small groups, packs and pods directly been individuals that were in close physical proximity. Today, technology has literally wired our world to create the efficiency and trust to share in ways and on a scale never possible before. In the first wave, we experienced how this interconnectivity made it easy to share information via email. We then entered the second wave whereby the emergence of social networks enabled the exchange of photos, video, and music. What is happening today is the rise of the third wave, where it is now possible to share everything from a house to a ride to a power drill.

 Have we always been this way?

The behaviour of sharing and collaborating is innate to us. Think back to villages and markets –  sharing, bartering, swapping, renting, lending, and trading directly with one another is what we did for thousands of years. Back in the day, a neighbour used to be able to get a cup of sugar from another neighbour, or borrow the lawn mower. This kind of neighbourly sharing faded out as a ‘me’ system of consumerism encouraged each and everyone of us to own things. But new systems are rapidly emerging that are reinventing in ways that are relevant for the Facebook age.

What is collaborative consumption? How is it changing the way we live?

The theory of ‘collaborative consumption’ is defined as ‘the reinvention of traditional market behaviors—renting, lending, swapping, sharing, bartering, gifting—through technology, taking place in ways and on a scale not possible before the internet.

It changes the way we live by changing our perception of ownership. We don’t have to individually own things such as cars that sit idle in our garage or home tools that have limited use, but can pay for shared access. Technology enables us to unlock the  ‘idling capacity’ of assets redistributing usage through networks and marketplaces. Secondly, it changes our relationship to trust. The rise of peer-to-peer lending platforms such as Zopa or home sharing platforms such as Airbnb, signal a massive shift in how people view trust.

Where is the collaborative economy having the greatest impact?

We have currently seen it impact hospitality (Airbnb, One Fine Stay), transportation (Uber, BlaBlaCar) and financial services (Zopa, Kickstarter) the greatest. These are sectors where there were inefficient systems of supply and demand but also where there was consumer appetite for reinvention because the existing system was broken or did not serve a latent or unmet need.

Now entrepreneurs are taking the same principles of unlocking the value of underused assets and bypassing traditional intermediaries to create products and services that will transform everything from food to healthcare, utilities to logistics.

How are traditional companies embracing it?

Traditional companies are starting to embrace that the collaborative and sharing economy are not a start-up trend but a transformative lens on how we think about assets, trust and behaviors. The typical strategy is to:

1. Invest (For example, Hyatt has invested in One Fine Stay, Google has invested in Uber, Westpac has invested in Society One etc.)

2. Partner (For example, BMW has partnered with JustPark; Marriott has partnered with Liquidspace; GE has partnered with Quirky, MetroBank has partnered with Zopa etc.)

3. Reinvent the business model (For example, many of the major automotive brands are realising that the future of their business is probably not in selling cars, but in providing mobility services. Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler have either launched or acquired carsharing services.)

How are you personally involved in the collaborative economy on a day-to-day basis?

I use Airbnb to rent out my house or rent accommodation when I’m away travelling. I use Lyft when I am abroad and UberX when I am in Sydney to get around. I often use Airtasker for chores around the house that I cannot get my husband to do! I did not own a car for years and just rented a car when I needed it through a carsharing platform, but owning a car became a necessity because of my two small children. I give and sell things on platforms from Freecycle to eBay and I enjoy buying directly from artisans on Etsy. Regardless of the type of asset I am exchanging, it always feels more personal, the opposite of a faceless transaction.

Rachel Botsman is one of the speakers at Wired for Wonder, in Sydney on August 26-27 and Melbourne on August 28. See for more information. 

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