The sharing economy. We all use it but we don’t really think about it much, or what it means.
In 2014, I was in between jobs, deciding whether or not to move countries, and I needed some cash. So I did what anyone else would do: sign up to drive strangers around with a big pink mustache on the front of my car. Yes, I drove for Lyft.
Reflecting on my time as a Lyft driver and the new sharing economy in general, I’ve thought about my experience and how this ecosystem can bring real and meaningful connections both socially and professionally between people and communities.
Here are three lessons that I learned:
1. Strangers aren’t really strangers.
Lyft’s whole philosophy is that strangers don’t need to be strangers. That’s why when a passenger got in my car, I fistbumpted them as a greeting (the signature hello), sat them in the front seat and gave them goodies like bottles of water and candy.
But more importantly, we talked. I drove around students, developers, artists, psychologists and everyone in between. The overwhelming majority of passengers were curious about me. They asked me if this was a side gig and why I was driving for Lyft. I told them I was in between jobs and deciding whether to move abroad. The typical response was enthusiastic and encouraging: “You only live once, go for it! Sounds awesome!” Just a few minutes prior, we were strangers and now we were connecting on a real and personal level.
Meetup.com is the humble grandfather of the sharing economy that turns strangers into a community. Launched in 2002, their platform connects people through shared interests, providing the media for groups to meet up in person. Other companies in the new sharing economy have a stake at bringing together communities and people. I recently heard about an app called URIJI that combines social networking with ecommerce with a big new-age twist: the main goal of the app is to bring genuine connections between people aimed at helping them reach their future potential and life goals.
A more niche platform is Soundbetter, a marketplace for musicians to find the right talent for their project.
2. Communities form in organic and interesting ways.
In our Lyft orientation, we discussed community a lot. It’s funny to think about your Uber or Lyft driver, or Airbnb host, as a part of your community, but they are. And the more positive interactions you have with them, the community grows stronger.
If you watch Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia’s 2016 TED talk, he also discusses community and trust as hallmarks of the new sharing economy. Sometimes communities form in interesting ways in the sharing economy. Take the gig economy for example: Fiverr and TaskRabbit are the big boys championing this segment of the sharing economy. Newer members of the gig or the ‘on-demand’ economy are Xtras, Gig.com, and Shiftgig, platforms that connect businesses with workers, and employees with flexible and on-demand jobs.
Xtras founder Amit Oestreicher, based in London, reflects on how community is built by way of his platform: “Take into consideration that communities are built mainly because people work in teams. We see it happen a lot when someone comes to work for the first time as the ‘new guy,’ and by the third time he goes out for a beer after work with his co-workers. That's one of the biggest values that we see -- the community, not the beer!”
3. Entrepreneurship and communalism aren’t mutually exclusive.
During my time driving for Lyft, I met all sorts of interesting people with unique stories. I met startup founders who moved to San Francisco from abroad, hustling and networking their way to the top; programmers who told me they wished they could quit their jobs and travel the world; and therapists who run their own businesses and love meeting new people. All of these people had an entrepreneurial spirit and all of them got paid, like I did as a driver, while still fostering community and connection in the process.
The sharing economy teaches us that entrepreneurship and making a living can go hand in hand with being part of a community. Take shared working space companies that make a profit while bringing together a community of entrepreneurs to share ideas (and a physical space). WeWork is one of the most famous, but smaller more socially-minded co-working startups are taking over, like FLO in Tel Aviv. The founders, Dan Nissimyan and Jonah Fisher believe in smaller co-working communities that share common goals and values. In their case, the space houses about 30 social entrepreneurs by day and serves as a community platform at night.
Fisher notes: “We handpick FLO’s members in order to create a shared mindset with diverse array of skills that strengthen the community in active ways. Real friendships form, and each person’s skills are literally shared with others. This environment breeds creativity, new relationships and opportunities, which are essential for success as a community entrepreneur.”
A new perspective.
I think the new sharing economy was born from both a necessity and a frustration with the harshly individualistic values of the previous generation. The pioneering entrepreneurs wanted to create something new, genuine and meaningful while maintaining their entrepreneurial spirit.
Driving for Lyft gave me a first-hand look into the new sharing economy, its values and its spirit. It taught me how it can bring people together to form real connections and community, both personal and professional. I’m curious to see how the sharing economy morphs over the next few years and I hope that the communal values continue to shape our generation within various industries.