sharing economy in the event industryLast weekend, my parents came in from Houston to visit me. Aside from re-arranging the furniture and going shoe shopping (the usual parental visit stuff, I guess), we went to a few very nice dinners. Unfortunately, I made a reservation for a place across town just as the Cubs game was letting out, which meant that every cab in a five-mile radius was filled with a drunk Cub or Cardinal fan. Even Uber, my usual go-to for getting a cab, was saying there wasn’t a cab in most of Chicago. So, inside the Uber app, I flipped the slider from Uber to UberX. Suddenly, a Toyota Camry was only three minutes away and was ready to take us to dinner.

What pulled up was not a cab, but a guy and his car with an iPhone. He turned on his Uber app, listed himself as a car available, and allowed his position to be communicated to Uber. No taxi medallion, no chauffer or livery liscence, just a guy, a phone, and a car he was willing to share with strangers.

What’s the takeaway?

  1. For city-dwellers who live and die by public transportation, here’s another layer of transport. If the trains won’t go where you’re going and the cabs and buses are full, this is a new place to look for help.
  2. If you own a car, you have a job.
  3. The app is great. Tracking, time estimation, mapping, ratings, a picture of your driver, and billing all built in.
  4. The trip was cheaper than a “regular” cab.

This is how a new economy begins: lots of people with excess resources and some time, a marketplace to establish practice and cost standards, and an audience. This is how the internet grew: hundreds of thousands (then millions and then billions) of people putting their passion and knowledge into the public sphere for free use. That was called the Gifting Economy, and it explains why someone would spend a year collecting and documenting stock certificate engravings, writing alternate theories for The Shining, or building a comprehensive database of cover songs.

sharing2But the gifting economy can shifted into the sharing economy. The hardware and materials and ideas that need to be turned into products can all be shared and turned into more with the help of an audience of strangers who will soon be fans.

Look at Kickstarter. You had a good idea and the means to execute, but lack resources. You know your idea would be enjoyed and purchased, but you can’t sell it until you have already made it. So you write it up, make a cute video and post it to Kickstarter, and people will pledge to supporting your idea. Suddenly you have a business making software, a brass or aluminum wallet, and a pocketbook that charges your phone.

Ok, back to transportation. RelayRides lets you rent out the car sitting in your garage to complete and total strangers. You name your price and when it’s available, and RelayRides worries about insurance and connecting you with a buyer. The car was just sitting there, costing you money. Now it can turn a profit. And from a buyer side, it’s the easiest and cheapest way to play with a Porsche 911 for a few hours.

AirBnB let’s you rent out your home (or just your room) to travelers. TaskRabbit lets you farm out your chores to other people. Lyft, like UberX, lets anyone become a cabbie.

Car ShareStill not convinced? Here’s some illuminating data points: Forbes calls it a $3.5 billion economy, and some project it will hit $110 billion in the next few years.

So what does this mean for events?

What would happen if your audience connected to each other instead of a single stage? What if each person shared their own expertise and knowledge without a formal agenda? What if your conference went from logistics and message-planning to developing a marketplace for ideas that each person could participate in as they saw fit?

This sounds like the UnConference model, and how a large group of people can end up making thier own decisions on what to learn about, what to teach, where to be, and what happens next. This allows for a more flexible framework where niche interests and players can play a big role. The need for a more “famous” keynote lessens as people focus on what they really need to know right now. And it increases the leadership role of internal players as they attempt to learn what will resonate and teach in the direction. These are leadership roles that take root back at the office where an organization can use them.

The sharing economy is a disruptive idea to almost every industry, including events and event planning. You may not feel the tremors just yet, but the quake is on it’s way. Have you thought about how to leverage this shift in your business?