The sharing economy is a term that we’ve all been hearing a lot lately to describe companies like Airbnb and Uber. But it’s a concept that is a little tricky to define. In a recent article for Management Today, Jack Torrance (@theJackTorrance) interviews Nicolas Brusson, co-founder of BlaBlaCar, who has some pretty bold claims to make about Uber.
BlaBlaCar is a French startup that helps people share the cost of a car journey. It has been compared to Uber, but Brusson says the two services are fundamentally different. BlaBlaCar is focused on sharing, whereas Uber is focused on profits.
“There’s nothing wrong with Uber, it’s a fantastic service, but it’s not sharing economy,” said Brusson. “If I take an Uber, where is the sharing here? I’m pressing a button, there’s a guy coming with a car, I tell the guy I’m going to the airport. He drives me to the airport, I step out of the car, I pay £20. What’s being shared?”
Brusson finds the sharing economy to be defined by two things: something you are doing anyway, combined with the effort to share costs. He says, “If it’s profit-making, you’re not in the sharing economy anymore, you’re doing business.”
But wait a second…
Later in the article, Torrance asks Brusson if he has any plans for taking his company public. He discusses keeping BlaBlaCar away from an IPO because the company is not profitable, and he doesn’t expect it to be for at least three more years. So by Brusson’s standards, BlaBlaCar will no longer be a sharing economy company after it sees its first penny in profits.
At its core, sharing economy systems unlock the value of an underused asset and involve sharing. Although Brusson’s argument makes use of a very literal definition of sharing, Uber’s business model promotes the sharing of drivers’ vehicles, even if it is for a profit. And at the end of the day, there are many terms that are interchangeable and intertwined that attempt to specifically categorize every type of business model. Sure, Uber is more of an “on-demand” or “gig-economy” service, but they also operate under the idea of sharing one’s own underused assets to make money.
Test your knowledge with these 10 Must-Know Sharing Economy Terms.