Rent or own? The new sharing economy values access over ownership
To rent or own, that is the question posed by the burgeoning sharing economy. For a growing population engaged in this high-tech, low-cost 'collaborative economy,' access to cars, clothes, cuisine – or even a cat – is better than ownership.
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Nicholas Crawford, who moved with his wife and 3-year-old son to San Francisco from Milwaukee in April, makes a living now by offering his services on TaskRabbit, an online marketplace where people can access the time and skills of those in their community.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The Sharing Economy
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Mr. Crawford, 30, has a degree in urban forestry and an MBA and had run his own company, the 25-person Crawford Tree and Landscape Services, before he moved. His wife, Esther, is working on a start-up, Lifebook, which connects foster families to adoption agencies (the couple adopted a daughter in March). Mr. Crawford needed to start earning money, so he answered ads for yardwork on TaskRabbit. His work got good reviews and his ranking on the site increased; now he is the family's breadwinner.
"It's become the way I'm living my life, in the broader economic sense," he says. "I'm part of Sidecar and Zimride, and I'm a Zipcar member."
When Crawford took a TaskRabbit job driving furniture out to Reno, Nev., for $275, he went to the Zimride site and posted his trip, saying he had extra seats in the car. A man who works as a ski instructor drove with him (sharing his knowledge of the mountains around them with Crawford), and on the way back to San Francisco he gave two women rides. He charged $25 a seat. "They paid for the gas and we had great conversations. It was fun," he says, noting that, in total, he made $350 for the task.
Kendra Wiig, social marketing manager for Closely, a promotions marketing start-up in Denver, is a fan of CouchSurfing; she's been a member since 2007. When she uses CouchSurfing for traveling, she gets more than a bed; she gets an insider's perspective on the area she's visiting.
"That's very valuable," she says. "When I visited Los Angeles for the first time I stayed with a guy living with a houseful of film students who took me to a weird little sushi place, and I stayed with someone else who was a personal chef to celebrities."
Jeff Orlick offers ethnic foods tours in his Queens, N.Y., neighborhood through Vayable for about $59 a person. One is a 2-1/2-hour midnight tour of Roosevelt Avenue food trucks that cater to the immigrant population of night-shift workers in the area. By day, Mr. Orlick works in TV production. His Vayable earnings aren't substantial, but he enjoys meeting new people and sharing his knowledge of the neighborhood.
Lynn Tao used Vayable to learn more about her home – San Francisco – where she has lived for three years. She and some friends bought a sailing trip with a local sailor on his boat.
"I don't know anyone that owns a sailboat, and I didn't want to take a tour with a lot of people," says Ms. Tao. "This was like six people on this guy's small yacht."
She also did an architectural walking tour of San Francisco, offered by a city planner there, for about $10. Tao says a business like Vayable allows her access to experiences she wouldn't otherwise have.
"It's not really about the price, although that makes it a lot more appealing to me, but it's the experience. It almost feels invaluable, to get a peek into a different life or lifestyle," she says.
Getting past pepper spray precaution
Early adopters brim with confidence about this combination of technology, philosophy, and economics, but the sharing model – which requires a certain leap of faith in dealing with strangers – has had a few growing pains.
The two women who hitched a ride with Crawford from Reno using Zimride warned him up front that they had pepper spray in their bags. Although he understood they took the precaution because they were driving with a man they had never met, Crawford says, "I thought to myself that I was glad to have prescription glasses and that I better keep them on."