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Tagged with sharing economy

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The secret to the sharing economy: ‘You don’t want the drill — you want the hole’

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Neal Gorenflo had his come-to-Jesus moment with the sharing economy in a parking lot in Brussels.

It was June of 2004, and Gorenflo was well on his way to becoming a bona fide suit. He had worked in the telecommunications business and for an investment bank. Now he was on a strategy team for the global shipping company DHL, up for a promotion, and on a business trip in Belgium -- and he just couldn’t live with himself.

“On the surface everything looked great,” Gorenflo says. “But I felt disconnected from my community and my potential and my loved ones. I went for a jog outside my hotel. I projected myself into the future and I saw a mountain of regret. I stopped in the parking lot of this industrial warehouse and I started to cry.”

That was the breaking point, Gorenflo says. He ran back to his hotel room, resigned from his job on the spot, and vowed to “make a world where people felt like they were part of something meaningful.” He didn’t call it the sharing economy then, but it turns out that’s what he was after, and with a little work, he found it.

Neal Gorenflo.
Neal Gorenflo.

Fast forward almost nine years and Gorenflo is founder and publisher of Shareable, a website dedicated to promoting the sharing economy in all its forms, from car sharing to tool lending libraries and even pet sharing. Shareable is a one-stop shop for everything from the scoop on Jellyweek (sorry, you missed it) to a guide to sharing your wi-fi without sacrificing privacy or bandwidth -- and it is, itself, the product of a whole lot of sharing.

I spoke with Gorenflo for Grist’s series on the sharing economy.

Q. What did you do after you quit corporate America in 2004?

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Office space: Why work alone when you can cowork together?

Just another day of coworking at Cruzioworks in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Just another day of coworking at Cruzioworks in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Just a few months ago, when I would find myself working at my kitchen table, unshowered and still in my pajamas at 4 p.m., the notion of querying ELLE Magazine with an essay on love gone toxic seemed impossible and really, quite laughable. In my new office space, flanked by a small population of entrepreneurs chasing dreams, it doesn't.  It might even be halfway written.

Or that's the hope, anyway, and the reason for this project.

On Jan. 1, 2013, I purchased a 24-hour pass to Cruzioworks, the less expensive of two coworking spaces in my current city of Santa Cruz, Calif.

(For those unfamiliar with the term coworking: It's like a gym membership, only instead of loping along on a treadmill in pursuit of a more toned physique, you sit — or stand — in a shared office, in pursuit of self-employed success.)

Sleek and airy, the coworking arena at Cruzioworks fills the ground floor of an old newspaper headquarters. A wall of windows reveals an amusing stream of pedestrians on their way downtown, or through the ever-revolving door of an adult pleasure shop across the street, where I imagine them perusing French ticklers and leather whips. "That one looks like it will leave some good welts, what do you say honey babe?"

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In my new coworking space, the prehistoric printing press has been replaced by 30 or so well dressed geeks; designers, software engineers, and entrepreneurs with start-up dreams twinkling in their eyes -- like Joey Jelinek, 26, who wears a bandanna every day until he launches his company, "Chimpdig." There is also a built-in cafe, an array of desks and plush arm chairs, and a break room, home to the perpetually empty coffee pot.

If you haven't guessed by now, I am a freelance writer. I just turned 28. And I may be clinically insane.

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Could the sharing economy kill public transit?

Ken Schmier is a Bay Area transit guru. He's essentially responsible for the limitless Muni Fast Pass in San Francisco, and created the NextBus application in the 2000s to help people catch those ever-elusive city buses. But now Schmier is thinking transit may not be all it's cracked up to be.

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“Frankly,” the Bay Area attorney and businessman told Next City, “I think transit agencies are obsolete.”

Blame that damn sharing economy.

Schmier is now all about what he calls “Micro-Transit” -- in other words, ride-sharing, or turning regular cars into taxis.

sharing-economy-detailThe Bay Area already has Casual Car Pool, a long-standing ride-share project that relies on a vintage website and message board instead of the smartphones and big money of new ride-sharing ventures. It’s kind of an organized form of hitchhiking, and it really works.

Schmier wants to make this general idea more efficient, scalable, and tech-savvy. From Next City:

Read more: Cities

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Baby, you can drive my car: How car sharing teaches us to be good neighbors

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When news got out a few weeks ago that car-rental company Avis had purchased the popular car-sharing service Zipcar, many reacted warily, wondering if the deal would kill Zipcar’s grassroots ethos. Others found such negativity overblown, calling the move not only unsurprising but smart, on both Avis’ and Zipcar’s parts. Whatever the future of Zipcar (and it’s hard to imagine Avis changing its model in any significant way), it’s undeniably helped us reimagine our relationship with cars – and maybe, at the same time, with our neighbors, too.

Over the 13 years since Zipcar’s founding, more of us have realized that the mobility we desire doesn’t require owning a car. In fact, for many of us city dwellers, especially young, single, and/or not-very-high-income ones, a car can be more of a burden than a convenience, once you factor in the price of gas and insurance and the hassle and expense of finding parking.

That doesn’t mean that we have no use for driving, however. Whether you’re car-free by choice or by circumstance, you’ve no doubt experienced the occasional surge of longing for a vehicle, when it’s pouring rain and the bus is late, or when you realize, walking home from the grocery store with several heavy bags, that you vastly overestimated your own strength and stamina. Zipcar (and its earlier peers, like Flexcar, with which it eventually merged) showed us that you don’t need to own a car to use one. Cars, like bikes and buses, can be just another element of a multi-modal transportation system -- a system that offers people a range of transit options and makes it easy to combine them.

“The U.S. has always been car-centric. I don’t see car-sharing itself changing that,” says Nick Cole, CEO of car2go North America, one of the latest companies to arrive on the sharing scene. “Not everybody’s going to be able to afford a car … but there’s going to be a need for this transportation.”

Zipcar saw that need and inspired a wave of other car-sharing operations to improve and build upon its model.

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The sharing economy wants to play with the big kids — is it ready?

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If 2011 was the year “collaborative consumption” went mainstream, and 2012 was the year it started to look like a threat to the old guard in the business world, 2013 may be the year that the crazy kids in the “sharing economy” are forced to grow up in a big hurry.

For evidence, look no further than Airbnb, the website that lets us all rent each other’s apartments/tree houses/haylofts for the weekend. A quick gander at the site’s New York City listings last month led the travel news site Skift.com to conclude that more than half of them were in violation of state law.

Airbnb’s response, via its global head of public policy, David Hantman: “We can’t possibly keep up with the law in all the cities.”

But Airbnb's strategy of pleading ignorance or powerlessness in New York, one of its biggest markets, doesn't exactly add up: Here the company actively lobbied against the very rule that so many of its users are apparently flouting. The city’s Office of Special Enforcement has already ramped up enforcement efforts, according to Skift, while a New York Times story about an Airbnb renter who suddenly found himself facing $40,000 in potential fines has Airbnb customers shaking in their boots.

It’s cavalier web startup culture smacking into old-school American bureaucracy, and we’re bound to see it play out over and over in the coming year.

“The tech industry is growing up and learning how to deal with the real world,” says Neal Gorenflo, cofounder and publisher of the web news outlet Shareable.net.

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RE-volv is making a community pot of solar gold

What if every dollar you donated to a worthy cause generated two, three, or more dollars? That's the idea behind the RE-volv community solar fund project, currently closing in on the end of its first stage of fundraising.

Like Mosaic, RE-volv is tapping the collective for funding to back solar projects. But instead of individuals investing for their own individual good, RE-volv envisions a big pot-o-gold seed fund that would be invested and reinvested in community solar infrastructure. These are investments in solar's future -- essentially donations to RE-volv's fund. Here's how RE-volv explains it:

The Solar Seed Fund will use the donations to finance solar installations on community-serving organizations such as schools, universities, hospitals, and places of worship. RE-volv recoups the solar installation cost and earns a return on the investment through a 20-year solar lease agreement. The lease payments go back into the Solar Seed Fund allowing the fund to continuously grow, and finance an expanding number of solar installations.

According to the group's numbers, once 14 RE-volv systems are in place, the revenue from those systems will be able to fund another solar-power system of roughly the same cost -- and on, and on.

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The sharing economy: Grist’s theme for January

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Susie Cagle

This thing we call "the sharing economy" -- the messy, fascinating world of networked goods exchange, freecycling, carsharing, and beyond -- is an unusual hybrid of normally warring sensibilities and belief systems.

It's got enough touchy-feely-huggy utopianism to turn the stomach of any self-respecting contemporary skeptic. But it's got enough market-economics pragmatism to raise the hackles of your typical leftie communitarian.

The sharing economy, in other words, cuts across our assumptions in intriguing ways. That's one reason we've picked this subject as our January theme here at Grist. Another is that the sharing-economy vision offers one imaginable route around that big pileup on the road just ahead of us, where an out-of-control growth economy is slamming into the physics of climate.

Why is there so much buzz and innovation around sharing right now? Part of it is the limping economy, of course -- the "real one," the one that's all what's mine is mine. Part of it is a growing awareness that mindless consumption is a big ingredient in the recipe for our sweating climate. And then there's technology.

The internet has always threatened/promised to remove comfortable middlemen and disrupt existing profit margins. The money newspapers lost on classified revenues when Craigslist came along was also money that ended up, fractionally, in all our pockets when we stopped having to pay cash to place our classifieds.

Rinse and repeat, industry by industry. You end up with a good number of happy Airbnb customers as well as a good number of unhappy hoteliers. Now the car-free population can connect with car owners whose vehicles are idle; they're mostly pretty happy, but the taxi folks are steaming.

How can we square the ethos of sharing with a go-go internet startup culture that typically has at least one eye on IPOs and acquisitions? Are sharing and capitalism really at loggerheads, and if so, what could a "sharing business" possibly mean? Anybody got something good to trade for a set of drill bits? (I only used them once!)

Many of us are excited about the benefits, environmental and otherwise, of an economy that's less hellbent on exploiting resources for profit and more mindful of ways to get fuller, fairer use out of the (mountains of) stuff we've already got. To get those benefits, we're going to have to grapple with some of these tougher questions around sharing. So over the next couple of weeks we'll dig into them here. (Susie Cagle's nifty illustrated explainer is a good place to start.) We'll also try to provide you with some helpful resources. In the spirit of this thing, we trust you'll step up and share some of yours, too.

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The sharing economy, from soup to nuts

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You learned it in preschool, and now it’s back in a more grown-up way. From cars to kids’ clothes to cold hard cash, sharing is caring more than ever before. The sharing economy builds and leverages social bonds, creates a more democratic marketplace, reduces the sheer amount of stuff we need to buy, and creates more resilient communities in the process. It’s the bastard child of market disruption that began on the web decades ago (Napster, anyone?), but it's a child with a conscience.

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The kind of "collaborative consumption" we see in services like Zipcar and Airbnb has the potential to revolutionize the way we live our lives. But it's not all bartered canning equipment and blissful couchsurfing, folks -- the sharing economy is a serious moneymaker for individuals and companies who “share” their stuff for a price. Investors, who prefer the wonktastic phrase "underused asset utilization" to "sharing economy," say the market amounts to $100 billion to $500 billion worldwide, and it’s growing fast.

Here’s a breakdown of the various sharing philosophies, a few of the reasons that sharing is blowing up right now, and some ways that you can get in on the action. Just drag your pointer over the pictures for more info.

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Avis buys Zipcar, delighting investors and unnerving customers

In 2011, Zipcar, the world's largest car-sharing company, was valued at $1.2 billion, but it sold today to Avis for just shy of $500 million. If Zipcar's shareholders approve the sale, it will likely become final in a few months.

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"By combining with Zipcar, we will significantly increase our growth potential, both in the United States and internationally, and will position our company to better serve a greater variety of consumer and commercial transportation needs," Avis Chair and CEO Ronald Nelson said in a statement.

Given the clear downward trend in American car owning and driving, it was only a matter of time until a big corporation got in the sharing game, and the easiest way to do that is always to eat one of the little guys and absorb its start-up life force. According to Nelson, the deal will mean more cars for Zipcar, especially on weekends when most of Avis' fleet is sitting in parking lots. While Avis' rivals Hertz and Enterprise started offering hourly rentals, Avis never did, so the acquisition presents a real expansion of services for the old-timey rental dealership.

It's certainly got investors feeling good -- Zipcar's shares jumped more than 48 percent this morning on news of the deal.