Sharing Economy Startup Generator

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Here’s a pithy sharing-economy pitch for the venture capitalist in your life. Click below for more randomness.

function ts_sesg_like_generate() {
$companies = array(
return ” ” . $companies[array_rand($companies)];

function ts_sesg_thing_generate() {
$things = array(
‘for cemetery plots’,
‘, but only for beautiful people’,
‘, but you pay with Bitcoin’,
‘for confession and absolution’,
‘for butlers’,
‘for vacant retail spaces‘,
‘for personal fitness trainers‘,
‘for people who want to share their unused assets‘, //
‘for skills‘, //
‘for string quartets’,
‘for standup comedians’,
‘for Vice Presidents of Marketing’,
‘for Chief Financial Officers’,
‘for private prisons and group homes’,
‘for endangered species’,
‘for airline pilots’,
‘for psychoanalysts’,
‘, but people bring you chips and guacamole’,
‘for Lacanian theorists’,
‘for your online reputation’,
‘for your personally identifiable information’,
‘for brogrammers’,
‘, but you buy and sell personal data’,
‘, but you auction your online passwords’,
‘for software engineers’,
‘for software bugs’,
‘for death metal bands’,
‘for brain surgeons’,
‘for heart surgeons’,
‘for thinkfluencers’,
‘on steroids’,
‘, but only for Oxbridge graduates‘,
‘for time-of-flight mass spectrometers’,
‘for personal grooming services’,
‘for unconferences and barcamps’,
‘for random household appliances’,
‘for sharing economy startups’,
‘for sharing economy startup generators’,
‘for unicycles’,
‘for your spouse’,
‘for your dog‘,
return ” ” . $things[array_rand($things)];

function ts_sesg_adjective_generate() {
$adjective = array(
‘an awesome’,
‘a trusted’,
‘a disruptive’,
‘a grassroots’,
‘a commons-based’,
‘a peer-to-peer’,
‘a P2P’,
‘a collaborative’,
‘a sustainable’,
‘an innovative’,
‘a social’,
‘a social media’,
‘a crowdsourced’,
‘a nextified’,
‘a Big Data’,
return ” ” . $adjective[array_rand($adjective)];

function ts_sesg_place_generate() {
$place = array(
‘community marketplace’,
return ” ” . $place[array_rand($place)];

function ts_sesg_inhabitants_generate() {
$inhabitants = array(
‘promoting access over ownership’,
‘engaged in collaborative consumption’,
‘connecting amazing people’,
‘of awesome individuals’,
‘of regular people’,
‘of people and farms you know’,
‘of neighbors’,
‘of people who take pride in delivering exceptional customer service’,
‘of creative individuals’,
‘, but personal’,
‘, generating value at scale’,
‘of people just like you’,
‘of makers’,
‘for underutilized assets’,
‘, but AWESOMER’,
‘of everyday folks making a little extra money’,
return ” ” . $inhabitants[array_rand($inhabitants)];

function ts_sesg_whynot_generate() {
$whynot = array(
‘You must be kidding’,
‘Ashton Kutcher doesn\’t see the opportunity’,
‘Andreessen-Horowitz says it\’s not disruptive enough’,
‘That may fool Jeff Bezos, but it doesn\’t fool me’,
‘Try selling that to Google Ventures’,
‘Not a profitable business model’,
‘Y Combinator would never combine with that’,
‘Insufficiently awesome’,
‘I rate you one star out of five’,
return $whynot[array_rand($whynot)];

function ts_sesg_reload_generate() {
$reload = array(
‘TaskRabbit me another’,
‘share me another’,
‘create me another, micro-entrepreneur’,
‘give me what I want, and give it to me right now’,
‘show me the money’,
‘give me something disruptive’,
return $reload[array_rand($reload)];

$thing = ts_sesg_thing_generate();

// Output
echo “

echo “It’s” . ts_sesg_like_generate() . $thing . “.
echo “– ” . ts_sesg_adjective_generate() . ts_sesg_place_generate() . ts_sesg_inhabitants_generate() . “.”;
echo “

echo “

\”” . ts_sesg_whynot_generate() . “. Now ” . ts_sesg_reload_generate() . “.\”


On Surge Pricing

Lots of controversy about the “surge-pricing” from car-rental outfit Uber, both during a mid-December snowstorm and on New Year’s Eve. Fares increased up to eight times the normal, so that people were getting charged hundreds of dollars for short rides. The company’s response was that surge pricing is here to stay.

The argument is standard supply-and-demand, economics 101. If demand goes up, increase the price to increase supply. Or, as the company says:

With surge pricing, Uber rates increase to get more cars on the road and ensure reliability during the busiest times. When enough cars are on the road, prices go back down to normal levels.

But there are two things that I haven’t seen elsewhere (correct me if I’m wrong); not even on Matthew Yglesias’s post at Salon, and he is a magnificent observer of this and all other things.

Thing One: I really don’t care if you engage in “surge pricing” on New Year’s Eve, at rush hour, or at any other time when traffic is predictably busy. Knock yourself out, it’s absolutely fine by me. But surge pricing because of severe weather is something different, because at times of emergency we expect people to pull together: we expect people to check on their neighbours (for free!), to help people who are stuck (without charging!) and to generally be community-minded about things. Emphasizing monetary incentives at such a time undermines (or “crowds out”) community motives: if my neighbour and I help push your car out of a snowbank without payment then we’re just doing the right thing, but if my neighbour is being paid and I’m doing it for free, then I’m just being a mug. Surge pricing for reasons of severe weather is a bad idea. You may get a few more cabs on the road, but you make the emergency worse.

Thing Two: Customers were complaining that they didn’t know about the extra pricing until after they had taken their ride. Uber explained that they must have known: there was a perfectly clear screen notifying them about surge pricing, and they tapped the screen to agree to it. Now I used to do online documentation, and I’ve spent my fair share of time frustrated at the stupidity of users who cannot navigate my crystal-clear and elegant design (“Look: the button at the top there. It’s obvious”). But in the end anyone involved in user experience has to acknowledge that the user is right. What’s obvious to a designer or a trained user is not at all obvious to a casual user.

So if you design an app with the express purpose of making it easy to use without even thinking, and if a customer uses it fifty times and gets the same result each time, then they are not going to be paying attention the 51st time, especially after a few drinks. If you then add one extra screen in the middle of the ordering sequence that’s going to cost users an extra $300, then it’s up to you to test it till the cows come home to make sure that people know what they are agreeing to. Arguing that users should have been more careful is a really bad excuse. We should all read license agreements too, but none of us do. We just click, click, click until we get to the thing we want. Read? Of course I don’t read! And who’s ever heard of a $300 button in a mobile app? Sorry Uber: if you charge people an extra $300 for using your app too casually then it’s your own fault.

This Week in the Sharing Economy: Late Edition

In lieu of real content, another set of links.

Picks of the week:



  • Google invests in housecleaning as Peers member Homejoy hits it big. Homejoy is a Peers partner, but its “professional” employees are, according to Forbes, people who need to show proof of employment to receive government assistance, recruited through municipal employment services.
  • DHL launches its MyWays delivery service, powered by “people who want to deliver parcels and earn some extra money”. Does Peers approve?
  • Meanwhile, Flatclub is like Airbnb but only if you went to a fancy university. Sharing without the hoi polloi.
  • There is a cynicism to the simplistic claim that “systems are broken” and that technology can fix them.
  • Accenture continues to be interested.
  • Lots of actual careers going at Uber (not drivers), Airbnb (not B&B owners), Homejoy (not cleaners).

Softball questions from the media:

Taxis and ridesharing:

This Week in the Sharing Economy: The Move to Professionalism

In separate announcements, two of the most well-capitalized sharing-economy companies (Lyft and Airbnb) announced moves away from their “sharing” and co-operative roots. I suggested they would at the end of this post:

To be successful, the venture-capital-funded “sharing economy” will be forced to lose all those aspects of informal sharing that makes “sharing” attractive, and to keep those aspects that erode neighbourhoods, erode employment rights, and remove basic standards. And if they succeed, they will have used the language of sharing to bring about an unregulated, free-market, neoliberal economy.

In September Lyft, Sidecar, and Uber (with its Uber X service) were approved in California as a new class of “Transportation Network Companies”. Now both Lyft and Sidecar have done away with the pretence that the money passing from passenger to driver was a “donation” and have instituted a system of formal fares (as Uber already does). The idea that passengers may pay more or less than the suggested donation, which is a part of the casual and informal nature of the exchanges that sharing economy companies appeal to, is now gone for Californians.

In a separate move, Lyft has instituted a new “surge pricing” initiative, which amounts to requiring a 25% additional payment to drivers during periods of heavy demand. Similar to Uber’s surge pricing, this move appeals directly to price as a means of rationing, and assumes that drivers are motivated primarily by money, despite the heavy use of community-focused language that Lyft uses in its marketing. We’ll have to see if the attempt by Taxi companies to raise money to push back gains any momentum.

These moves are part of a rapid shift of the Venture Capital-funded part of the transport side of the sharing economy. They follow the sale of Lyft’s original Zimride Carpool service to rental-car giant Enterprise in July, the sale of Zipcar to Avis Budget in January, and the shift of RelayRides to longer-term rentals. The moves are a fascinating contrast to the success of French company Blablacar, which has a model much closer to the original carpool idea, is growing by leaps and bounds, and is now moving into the UK.

The best treatment I’ve seen of the latest changes in this transport area is by Liz Gannes at All Things D.

The other big announcement came from Airbnb, at a press conference at their very fancy headquarters. In addition to announcing new versions of their mobile apps, CEO Brian Chesky stepped away from his “our hosts are regular people” line to tell them “You’re in the business of hospitality”. Airbnb is bringing back a program calls Superhost, which “is meant to identify and reward some of the platform’s most active and highly recommended hosts”; as well as offering a Host Rewards Program to encourage people to rent more often. So again there is a move away from regular people “occasionally” renting a room out and earning a little extra money, to a revenue model that is driven by higher volume hosts. Airbnb already relies on these increasingly professional hosts for a significant chunk of its revenue as I showed in my look at its New York data: that trend is only going to accelerate.

Again, this week’s steps are part of a rapid movement. Over the last year Airbnb has moved towards a more formal security and identification system, demanding government documents as proof of identity along with the usual Facebook information. Not, it seems, that relying on positive reviews is foolproof, as a Washington DC woman found out recently. Airbnb Brian Chesky increasingly refers to his hosts as “micro-entrepreneurs”: emphasizing the market-driven view of the business that he has, and again moving away from a community model of sharing. The term started, I think, with TaskRabbit, another “sharing” company that is walking the same path: less community, more temp agency in Rabbit’s clothing.

Push back from cities from Berlin and Paris to Roanoke City in Virginia to Grand Rapids in Michigan to Vancouver is growing, and the New York Case continues to roll on, with one notorious Airbnb landlord settling with the city. The danger here is that Airbnb’s hubris will damage other, less arrogant and less revenue-hungry companies who have engaged in apartment rentals for years (including the lovely one in Rome I was lucky enough to rent last spring) and that the venture capitalists, instead of bringing in a new level of sharing, will clumsily damage what’s already there.

Airbnb Business in New York, Revisited

Since I did a post about Airbnb’s business in New York, Airbnb has published its own study and so there has been some follow-up interest in my numbers, here, here, and here.

The data and the conclusions cannot be conclusive because they are a sample (though a big one) of limited publicly-available information. I’m happy to be corrected, but Airbnb would have to release some real numbers to do so, instead of silly 300 word “studies”.

I don’t have new data, and I think there is enough detail in the original post to understand the sources and the limits of the analysis, but here is a PDF presentation that tries to make the conclusions a bit more clear. Here is a version formatted for download and printing.

[gview file=”” profile=”3″ save=”0″]

This Week in the Sharing Economy (November 8 2013 Edition)

Another collection of links (about 75) with almost no commentary. There’s so much happening this may be a regular feature.