It’s been interesting to watch the sharing economy evolve, especially as we’ve added companies like Lyft, Misterbnb, and VaycayHero to the MicroVentures portfolio. We’ve watched old-fashioned carpools be replaced by for-profit ridesharing. Empty apartments and vacation homes have become lodging for travelers. Once limited to local cooperatives and non-profit organizations, asset sharing has become the basis for huge global enterprise, as Uber’s most recent valuation shows.
Nowadays, you can share your kitchen with other diners, share your video games with other players, and share your labradoodle with other dog lovers. Even for consumers who would rather own their stuff than rent it, the sharing economy has a role to play. There are apps that facilitate the shared ownership of cars, bicycles, boats, lawnmowers – you name it. You can even go in with other people on a mortgage. The global Share Guide on ThePeopleWhoShare.com lists more than 8,000 different sharing communities across a wide range of categories.
Naturally, any time a good idea comes along, a million competitors line up right behind it. We saw that happen with the success of Groupon. It didn’t take long for dozens of companies to show up to compete in the online coupon space.
The same goes for the sharing economy – there’s an “Uber” for just about everything now. CNET’s Richard D. Trenholm joked two years ago about a fictional “Uber for owls.” I wonder if anyone has launched that app yet…
Like Groupon’s competitors, not all companies in the sharing economy will survive. Things are already heating up within certain segments, including ridesharing. While Lyft and Uber can claim a substantial share of the market, it’s still a fragmented space thanks to dozens of copycat apps. Here in Austin, where Lyft and Uber have suspended services, there are now around 10 ride-hailing options to choose from. These options include established companies that moved here from other cities as well as local companies that cropped up specifically to serve the Austin community.
There’s no doubt that certain segments of the sharing economy are getting saturated, whether by local upstarts, global competitors, or both. As with any other innovation in business, consumers will vote with their wallets. Whether it’s the “Uber for boats” or the “Airbnb for dogs,” the cream of the sharing economy will eventually rise to the top.
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