Friday, August 2, 2013

Matchmakers in the "Sharing Economy"

The "sharing economy" is one of 2013's biggest trends. Sharing (or peer-to-peer) actually means paying for something--paying for renting a consumer's spare bedroom, as an example. This is a viable business model for everyone involved: The person who rents the bedroom makes money, the renter of the room gets a bargain or at least an adventure, and the matchmaker takes a small piece of the fee for putting the two sides together.

Two high-profile matchmakers in the sharing economy are:
  • Airbnb is an "apartment-sharing" company that specializes in helping consumers rent out a bedroom or house or villa for a night or a week. Airbnb depends on sophisticated cloud computing tools to help customers locate the most appropriate accommodations where and when they want to rent. On the back end, Airbnb provides security and transactional efficiency for both parties. When a consumer's bedroom or home rents, Airbnb takes 3% of the payment.
  • Eatwith is a matchmaker for home cooks who want to attract paying guests for fun dinner parties. The idea is to encourage conversation and new experiences. Founded in Israel last year, Eatwith has expanded through Europe and South America and is only now beginning operations in the United States, with New York City a top priority. 
However, authorities are still grappling with the legal and regulatory nuances of the sharing economy. "In New York City, people who offer meals to the public for money are considered food service establishments and need permits," says a health department official in response to a question about Eatwith. New York City is also pursuing legal cases against some airbnb hosts, with airbnb assisting in the defense of one host who was fined $2,400 for violating the city's short-term rental rules.

Now a nonprofit group named Peers has formed to help members of the sharing economy navigate the regulatory environment and serve as a unified voice for the industry. "The sharing economy is helping us pay the bills, work flexible hours, meet new people or spend more time with our families. We think it’s how the 21st century economy should work, so we’re coming together to grow, mainstream and protect the sharing economy," says Peers on its website. How will the shared economy grow and evolve? And how will established competitors in the corporate world respond to this development in the business environment?

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