As well as being Europe’s largest tech conference, LeWeb is also the most international, attracting attendees from around the world. London, with the growing Tech City initiative, has become even more important in the digital market, attempting to position itself as Europe’s answer to Silicon Valley.
The idea behind this year’s central theme, “The New Sharing Economy”, turns the principle of capitalism on its head, proposing consumer access to goods and services is more important than owning them. This is not a new idea and was created by a generation of entrepreneurs who understood the importance of doing well after surviving a series of crises. However, like any new idea this produces challenges as well as opportunities, especially as most people’s natural instinct is to view any change from the status quo with suspicion and therefore resist it.
There has been a clear catch-phrase in this year’s LeWeb in London: the Sharing Economy. But what does it mean and should corporations see it as a threat or, instead, an opportunity?
Jeremiah Owyang is an analyst at Altimeter Group, named as one of 2010’s “Five Most Creative Small Businesses” by Fast Company. They provide research and advice for companies challenged by business disruptions, helping them seek new opportunities by doing business differently.
Mr Owyang believes “The Sharing Economy” is already having a significant impact and this will continue to increase in the same way as the internet, which also began slowly. He feels strongly the only way for individuals, businesses and governments to meet this challenge is, instead of fighting it, they should embrace it.
He told euronews:
“The sharing economy is actually the next phase of the internet. The first phase of the internet, people shared information. The second phase people used social media and anybody can share. Now we’re here today with the sharing economy which is the third phase of the internet. People use the same tools to share products and services and it is actually a very disruptive trend to existing corporations, governments and businesses.”
Google’s Eze Vidra run’s the company’s “Campus” in London, a hub for start-ups to have a workspace and to take use of mentoring schemes. He told euronews:
“It is really interesting that this sharing economy can be divided into different areas like social sharing and then there’s commerce applications like collaborative consumption. I think we are in the beginning of a really interesting change where people are trying to do more with less or utilise what they already have instead of consuming more.”
San Francisco’s Popexpert is another company that uses this same idea but for a completely different reason. Ingrid Sanders, the founder and CEO, wanted to learn more about meditation and yoga but found more of her time was taken up by travel and finding the right teacher, a problem shared by others. Her business enables potential teachers and students to interact and train over the internet, conducting classes via video-link at times to suit both of them. If for any reason the chemistry isn’t right students have the chance to find another teacher they feel more comfortable with, minus the hassle of enrolling with a number of other teachers, possibly further away.
“The sharing economy in a lot of respects, I think, is transitioning us into new ways of thinking. In the older economic models a lot of the focus was on what you can buy or consume, in the sharing economy we have shifted and people are thinking a lot about what they can give. They are coming from a place of giving first rather than taking, I think it’s a really interesting transition.”
With travel usually our second biggest expense after accommodation, car-sharing isn’t a new idea. Therefore when Martin Voorzanger ditched his car in bike-friendly Amsterdam, hoping to take advantage of all the cars with only one person in them, he was surprised to find no service available. Founding car-share company Toogether, Mr Voorzanger gave Amsterdamers the opportunity to travel together if they have the same journey with both saving money and possibly making friends at the same time.
“What you spend on travel is huge and actually you don’t have to spend so much, you can share with other people your rides and get a nice reduction in your costs from sharing and at the same time meet new people who are interesting to talk to.”
Despite different businesses and backgrounds, these people are all very much in favour of the “Sharing Economy” seeing this as the future, for both their own businesses and society overall.
But what does the future hold and what are the trends that corporations need to be aware of? According to Mr Owyang:
“Social media was disruptive, we saw that information and media was being exchanged bypassing corporations. Today’s movement the “Collaborative Economy”, also called the “Sharing Economy” is disruptive, because people buy once and share many times. It’s going to get even worse: the next movement is called the “Makers’ Movement” and this is when people make their own products and don’t need the companies at all. So prepare for that movement to come next.”