Will The Sharing Economy End Capitalism?

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As companies that comprise the share economy — like Airbnb, Uber and others — blossom into ubiquity, there has been rampant speculation by myself and others on what it means for the future of business. Peer-to-peer markets, on the surface, challenge capitalism as we know it — a fact that has not gone unnoticed by economists and industry insiders.

Economic journalist’s Paul Mason’s article for the Guardian, provocatively titled The End of Capitalism Has Begun, understandably made a splash upon publication last July. The piece describes shifts toward sharing and alternative markets as they relate to the rise of information technology, and what it means for capitalism. As industrial capitalism flounders, Mason argues, cognitive capitalism is the natural next step. But because mainstream economics proceed from scarcity, a market based on abundant information is incompatible with capitalism as a concept.

There are many kernels of truth within the article, but some people, including myself, find issues in the details — not to mention the conclusion that capitalism is fading, to be replaced by a share-driven utopia. The future isn’t certain, but the factors that indicate that a change in capitalism — driven by new technology and collaborative consumption — do not necessarily constitute its demise.

Mason (who has written a book on the topic called Postcapitalism) compares the emerging economic situation to a Marxist theory called the “Fragment of Machines,” which envisions an economy in which social knowledge is the a more productive force than the making and running of machines. Not unlike today’s information age, the idea of a general, connected intellect would in theory benefit all of humanity and “run capitalism sky high.”

I, on the other hand, am not so sure that information technology and the collaboration it fuels is incompatible with capitalism. Mason suggests that large tech companies attempt to control information and discourage access, and will fail as the value of open knowledge prevails. But it seems to me that, though not without their issues, major corporations are cooperative with the share economy, which thrives within the world of capitalism rather than in spite of it.

After all, Google is the very company that fuels free access to information; companies like Facebook and Twitter fuel various types of free digital sharing too. That doesn’t mean that all or even most corporations are altruistic; only that they generally support networking and the sharing of goods and ideas — because that’s what their users value.

Even companies that are “sharing economy” posterchildren don’t operate quietly or without capitalism’s benefits, nor do those that use their services. There are many reasons to rent or host via Airbnb, but they mostly have to do with saving or making money conveniently, rather than anti-consumption purposes. And though many including Mason think new technology and business models will mean less work overall, it would take ages for employment as a human necessity to fade.

All in all, it’s clear that the sharing economy (and the information technology that makes it possible) is a trend likely to have enormous implications on the future of work and, yes, may even reshape capitalism for better or worse. But it seems to me it’s far more likely the two will blend together rather than the former displacing the latter.

Photo: Sage Solar via Flickr. 

Going Green With Airbnb: Travel More, Waste Less


Homesharing is a fun, exciting, easy and innovative way to travel. Airbnb exemplifies this growing form of tourism, aided by its savvy business model, good reputation and approachable campaign — not to mention a behemoth valuation of $25 billion. But if you need any other reason to respect the company and their place in the short-term vacation rental industry, here’s one: they’re environmentally friendly, too.

Historically and even presently, the environmental impacts of tourism have been nothing to brag about. From travel emissions to facility construction and resource depletion, travelers put stress on the environment by staying in hotels that may erode soil, pollute land, and pressure natural ecosystems. Airbnb rentals aren’t completely without carbon footprints, but research suggests they are more eco-friendly than even the greenest of hotels.

An Airbnb survey of 8,000 guests and hosts, prepared with the help of Cleantech Group, found that North American Airbnb renters use 63 percent less energy than hotel goers, while European ones use 78 percent less. In a year, North Americans saved about 270 Olympic-sized pools of water with Airbnb, and avoided the greenhouse emissions of 33,000 cars. Europeans saved the equivalent of 1,000 pools and avoided 200,000 cars worth of emissions.

Airbnb stays also avoided the energy use of 19,000 homes in North America, and 68,000 in Europe. Airbnb properties also avoid much more waste than hotels, as over half do not provide single-use toiletries. Both hosts and guests, the report found, are generally more environmentally conscious, using more public transportation, recycling almost always, and owning sustainable products.

Considering the basic model of the sharing economy, the results are far from surprising. By staying in pre-existing spaces, where everything from food to water is shared by inhabitants, travelers have a much lighter impact overall. It also makes sense that both Airbnb hosts and guests are already environmentally conscious, as early adopters of new services, startups, and technologies tend to be forward-thinking individuals that lean into socially conscious trends. Travelers in general have an appreciation for the wonders of the planet — why wouldn’t they want to preserve it?

There is still much more to the idea of sustainable tourism than staying in someone else’s house. And because environmental consciousness is becoming less a trend than it is a way of life, there is more those in the industry can do to emphasize the value of treading lightly and wasting less. Airbnb and other companies in the share economy have the right idea in beginning to spread awareness on these factors, so long as they remain honest and committed to the cause beyond just appearances.

Photo: Thomas Huang via Flickr. 

Home-Free with Airbnb: A Couple’s Year in NYC, One Rental at a Time


Cobble Hill: Matthew Hurst via Flickr.

As far as neighborhood intimacy goes, there’s hardly a better option than Airbnb for better or for worse. Travelers that use this service are immersed in the unique quirks of their destination — including their host’s personal decoration choices, bustling neighbors and rodent problems. While some may prefer the cookie-cutter comfort of hotel rooms, Airbnb provides lived-in spaces for a lived-in experience. It’s as local as local can get.

Elaine and David’s experience was, by David’s telling, illuminating in many ways. From an insider’s perspective, their experience speaks to the benefits and drawbacks of the short-term rental business — especially in big cities like New York, where the service is hotly contested.

I’ll start with the bad news: in an expensive city like New York, “home-free” living is hardly cheap. As David notes, Airbnb and other vacation rental startups democratize travel to make it more affordable. But a $100-per-night rental adds up to $3000 a month; though this is the average for renting in New York City, it’s on the lower end of quality. After experiencing some moderate issues, the couple had to contact hosts renting for up to triple their budget. The lesson here? Sometimes you have to fork up more money than you’d like for comfort’s sake.


East Harlem: Chrissy Hunt via Flickr.

Their experience also speaks to how Airbnb handles rentals gone wrong. The startup proved extremely accommodating when one rental turned out poorly, expensing a Midtown hotel room for the couple and offering various alternatives.

Like anything, there’s a learning curve to Airbnb. Elaine and David learned to spot red flags, and came to understand the benefits of growing an online reputation as respectable guests. The two were able to get to know the distinct flavors and communities of the East Village, Williamsburg, Cobble Hill, East Harlem and elsewhere. Prospective long-term renters may want to consider taking notes — there’s really no other way to get first-hand experience before signing a lease.

Though most people don’t use Airbnb for day-to-day life like Elaine and David, frequent users of the service may have similar experiences. Peer-to-peer rental succeeds in submerging travelers into the lifestyle of the home’s original inhabitant; thus, travelers have no choice but to relinquish attachment in favor of adventure. It also encourages them to try out other sharing services like Citi Bike and Uber.


East Village: Dan Nguyen via Flickr.

David writes that the experiment invoked in them a form of “indulgent minimalism,” prompting them to sell and donate many of their belongings to make moving easier — and why not? Airbnb rentals are fully stocked with furniture, decorations and supplies. Hopping between rentals, they found, is a way of life that can be disorienting and exciting, and unique every time. This notion may resonate with frequent Airbnb users, or anyone that moves often from place to place.

Those with their eye on the short-term rental industry can glean from this story the astonishing extent to which Airbnb is flourishing. Designed for vacationers, that two people can live comfortably in a dozen rentals over a year proves that the business model is functioning beyond its original intention. What other possibilities lie beyond the startup’s design? It’s up to brave souls like these two to experiment and find out. I’ll be taking note!

How the Sharing Economy Creates Value From Unused Capacity

For a generation often branded as narcissistic, today’s millennials certainly benefit a lot from sharing. Though millennials may have been first adopters, as they are for most new trends, they’re hardly the only ones participating in an emerging system that’s been christened “the sharing economy.” People ranging from teens to retirees are on board with peer-to-peer startups like Airbnb and Uber, which create value through the sharing of homes, cars and other assets and skills.

The sharing economy by definition is “a socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human and physical resources.” This includes shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services, according to The People Who Share, an online social movement that advocates for the industry.

Why share instead of buy, throw away, or leave dormant? Also called the peer-to-peer marketplace, the sharing economy offers numerous benefits. For one, sharing creates value from waste instead of proliferating conspicuous consumption. By this I don’t exactly mean turning trash into treasure, but repurposing space and objects that would otherwise go unused. Participants benefit and even turn profit through services that facilitate sharing, which have grown larger by the year.

In short, the sharing economy encourages the redistribution, repurposing, or reassignment of unused capacity in a way that minimizes costs and reduces wastefulness. It saves time, money and energy, and funnels money into a new type of industry that empowers individuals financially and encourages transactions that are mutually beneficial.

Let’s take Airbnb as an example. Prior to the startup’s launch, hotels were some of the only options for travelers. But in terms of actual space, many homes and rooms in tourist destinations stayed vacant. Craigslist paved the way for short-term home rental, but wasn’t the most trustworthy platform for various reasons. When Airbnb (and competitors like HomeAway) reliably streamlined peer-to-peer booking and payment, cities suddenly had more room for tourists. Tourists in turn boosted local economy by patronizing more restaurants and attractions.

The sharing economy has been disruptive for better or for worse in a number of industries besides just travel. Uber and Lyft have begun to revolutionize transportation by encouraging ridesharing, made easy through slick platforms that summon drivers to users’ exact locations. The garment industry is shifting from ownership to collaborative consumption, by which people can rent quality clothes from websites or buy and sell from closets in their area. Instead of going out to eat, today’s hungry folks can hire a local chef, and order meals from or dine with their neighbors. Through services like TaskRabbit anyone can hire a neighbor for handywork or errands, rent tools like power drills, or offer up parking spots. All of this puts money into the pockets of regular people, however unique or commonplace their offering may be.


The idea of sharing resources within a village or community is a strangely primitive one: humans have been bartering since the beginning of time, and for centuries people knew and trusted their neighbors well enough to offer and ask for assistance. The sharing economy creates a virtual village in which trust is essential and democracy inherent. Sharing systems these days are digital and ensure accountability to some degree, mitigating risks and thus, the need for personal connection. But the idea is the same: there is untapped value within any community. All you need to do is find it.

The sharing economy is a game changer from the perspective of both sustainability and personal value. As we realize the extent of waste in countries like the US and the damages of unsustainable consumption patterns, peer-to-peer sharing systems are a welcome alternative.

That doesn’t make it perfect, however. When people consume less new products, there can be negative repercussions for manufacturers, retailers and other businesses that create and sell new products, provide professional services, etc.

At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. Some things can’t be shared, and there will always be people that prefer ownership and highbrow accommodations. But there’s a lot of money in these growing businesses, and even more promise in the philosophy behind them. Sharing is caring, after all — and if the interest of investors and users area any indication, a little more caring could go a long way.

The Rise of Airbnb Landlords: How Hosts Turn Profit on Short-Term Vacation Rentals

With the share economy, anyone can be a de facto landlord. Or a car driver, cat sitter, gardener — you name it. There’s huge rewards, but also significant risks involved in jumping into emerging industries that are increasingly peer-to-peer.

Real estate is one industry being revolutionized by innovative rental startups like Airbnb, which property owners can utilize to make a fortune. In fact, this new kind of landlord — one that rents out several properties but also keeps their day job — can bring in significantly more money than a traditional one.

How is this possible? In terms of revenue, renting one property for many short-term stays can be more lucrative than renting it to a singular tenant for a year. Twice as lucrative, according to this Bloomberg article. The revolving door of vacation rentals, facilitated and tracked easily online, can bring in a twenty percent profit margin.


The impacts of this change are beginning to reverberate, and not all the vibes are positive. Angry neighbors are irked by noisy partiers renting homes families would gladly buy. Local governments aren’t pleased that these services skirt zoning and safety regulations, nor that they leave properties vacant for months on end. Landlords can also evict tenants if rental agreements don’t allow for subletting.

Local bars, restaurants and businesses, on the other hand, get a boost from the extra tourism, as do startups that compliment vacation rentals — for example, cleaning services and key drop-offs.

So there are many things potential renters and investors should take into consideration when getting into this business. Will the return outweigh the property investment? Are the city’s laws in your favor?  What about the lease?

Anyone with extra space can rent their rooms without much trouble. Airbnb estimates that about 87 percent of hosts are the primary residents in the spaces they rent. But some of the remaining 10 percent operate “Airbnb hotels,” a job that requires only several hours a day of time but can bring in up to six figures a year. This is an opportunity, obviously, but also a hazard when it comes to the aforementioned risks.

It’s clear that where there’s opportunity to hit the ground running with a new and profitable businesses in the sharing economy, many will want to get in on the action. So far, Airbnb is winning its legal battles, clearing the path of obstacles for now. This factor could certainly change, but in the meantime, being your own landlord has never been so rewarding.

Fintech Funding News Roundup

Recent fintech news includes a slew of exciting startup funding raised with impressive results. From a new approach to media aggregation to innovations in online lending to a data driven health insurance startup, investors are proving that the future of pretty much every industry is wide open to tech disruptors and agile startups with big ideas. These latest funding rounds will certainly give these entrepreneurs the impetus to turn their big ideas into even better products.

1. Medium Raises $57 Million

Evan_Williams1As Twitter moves to name Jack Dorsey its permanent CEO, his co-founder Evan Williams is also making impressive headway as CEO of blogging platform Medium. The site, popular for its minimalist design and collective publishing platform, recently raised $57 million in funding, led by Andreessen Horowitz. This latest funding round puts Medium’s valuation at $400 million, although the company generates virtually no revenue. Facebook is taking note of Medium’s success and looking to pounce into the media platform territory. The social media giant’s recent revamp of their little known “Notes” feature looks suspiciously like Medium, indicating that the behemoth is looking to get into the increasingly popular distributed blogging platform space. As Medium plans to unveil new features later this month, including possible subscription models for top content generators, their latest round of funding proves that they’ve nailed the basics and caught the attention of other social platforms in the process.

2. SoFi Raises Staggering $1 Billion 

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 4.35.01 PMWinning the title of fintech’s largest funding round ever, online lender SoFi (Social Finance Inc.) recently raised $1 billion in funding, led by SoftBank. This staggering funding round brings the company’s equity up to $1.42 billion. SoFi began as a student loan refinancing platform in 2011, as the first company to enable graduates to consolidate and refinance their federal and private student loans.They have since expanded into other verticals including personal loans and home mortgages. The lending platform has already funded over $4 billion in loans, with projections to surpass $6 billion by year’s end. CEO Mike Cagney responded to the funding round with confidence. ““Our trajectory is clear: we are well on our way to becoming the most trusted financial services partner in the US.” SoFi plans to target “high achieving consumers disenchanted with traditional banking” with extended verticals and features in the near future.

3. Clover Health Raises $100 Million

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 4.36.48 PM San Francisco based insurance startup Clover recently raised $100 million in funding led by First Round Capital. Clover’s goal is to rebuild senior citizen health care from the ground up with a data-driven approach. Speaking with TechCrunch, Clover’s CTO Kris Gale said, “At the core we’re using data and software to build clinical profiles of people, identify gaps in care, and fill those gaps in care.” Clover aims to work with the highest risk patients to improve their health. Clover’s recent round of funding positions them as a viable competitor against the big traditional Medicare insurance carriers, who will hopefully respond by incorporating more data-driven care into their models. Clover is essentially driven by a very real incentive, in that the government pays a patient’s health insurance premiums to Clover through Medicare. Healthy people mean lower premiums, whereas sick patients have higher premiums. So Clover will profit by reducing the overall cost of care for its healthy and sick patients.