There’s a growing trend in the sharing economy toward aggregation. No, this doesn’t mean more mergers, but companies offering competing sharing services are allowing their services to be marketed together in comparison marketplaces. It’s an exciting moment for the sharing economy because it suggests that participants in major parts of it—namely accommodation and transportation—are not only strong enough to hold their own, but want the benefits of being marketed together.
But the aggregation trend isn’t just good for companies. Think of all the online platforms you could use to, say, share a car or borrow a power tool or offer your services to peers. There are probably too many to count. Now you can turn to platforms like Bright Neighbor in the U.S. or Compare & Share in the U.K. to find many of the available sharing opportunities in one place, sourced from other sharing platforms, near you.
I recently had a chance to ask Randy White, founder of Bright Neighbor, to explain how his platform works, why it’s good for those of us who share, what his greatest challenge has been, and where Bright Neighbor is headed next.
Jessica Conrad: How does Bright Neighbor’s new model work?
Randy White: We realized that people looking to participate in the sharing economy might actually miss what’s available in their neighborhoods if they didn’t visit the right websites. So we thought, well, why not create a one-stop shop for all goods and services in any neighborhood? That’s when we started partnering with other sharing-based services, such as Getaround, sharing customers, and aggregating opportunities for sharing.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re looking to rent a car within five miles of your current location. The Bright Neighbor website pulls data and imagery from Getaround’s site to show you all the available vehicles that meet your criteria. If you want to rent one of those cars, you’ll get bumped over to Getaround’s site to make the transaction. It’s really cool because it both expands people’s options and we bring business to our partners.
We think we’ve created something super innovative that will bring the sharing economy to the next level. Plus, the model aligns with the current movement toward The Internet of Things. Instead of having to visit Spinlister to rent sports equipment or Getaround, Lyft, and Move It Around to hitch a ride, with Bright Neighbor you can search and see all your options in one place. In that way our platform also offers price comparison. That’s our niche.
Jessica Conrad: Are there any restrictions on what people can post?
Randy White: People can’t post anything illegal, but we’ve never had any trouble. Our policy is basically if a community member finds something offensive, we’ll review it and decide whether or not it needs to be taken off the site.
You can find all sorts of cool stuff on the site from a virtual reality headset to a solar backpack. What’s so cool is not just the fact that it’s those things are available via Bright Neighbor, but that these are very expensive items that you might not have access to otherwise.
Jessica Conrad: What’s your revenue model?
Randy White: When we send someone to Getaround, for example, we attach a string of code to the referral that says the customer came from Bright Neighbor. Then we get a small finder’s fee. So instead of competing with all these other sharing platforms, we’ve decided to partner with them. It’s truly a win-win situation.
Jessica Conrad: Have other companies been receptive to the idea of partnering?
Randy White: Almost everyone we’ve approached has been excited to partner. We’re currently working with Getaround, Spinlister, Knok, GetMyBoat, Cruzin, and FunToRent.com, and what they’ve said is “Well of course we’ll partner up if you’re willing to send us more customers.” Even though we were all competing before, now there’s a real “high fives” spirit because we found a way work together.
Jessica Conrad: What has been your biggest challenge?
Jessica Conrad: Do you have plans to scale up and bring the service to other locations?
Randy White: Bright Neighbor is now a nationwide service, but our users are primarily located on the west coast because our operations are split between Seattle and Portland. But we’re actually learning a lot from the way Taskrabbit and Airbnb built their user base. The Airbnb team went and slept on the couches of their first users and helped them take beautiful pictures of their homes. We’ve made plans to start an ambassador program this year.
Jessica Conrad: What has been your biggest surprise?
Randy White: We first launched Bright Neighbor in 2008 as a sharing platform for the City of Portland, Oregon. It was the first of its kind. You could explore a place, sign up for an event, connect with people, request or offer a ride, share or swap goods, offer community-based learning opportunities, and more. Portland eventually licensed the technology from us because they thought, “Wow, this is the future. We want all of our neighborhoods to have a robust community resource.”
But we quickly realized that we couldn’t license our technology to every city in the U.S. Instead, we needed something that could scale fast and keep up with the sharing economy’s evolution. We realized that we had to make the shift to aggregation in order to keep up with the market.
So our biggest surprise is simply that we never could’ve expected that Bright Neighbor would become the service it is today.
Jessica Conrad: When did you switch to this aggregation model?
Randy White: We switched models this year, so it’s very new and exciting.
Jessica Conrad: What’s next for Bright Neighbor?
Randy White: We’re currently working on developing an API that will help sharing economy technologies talk to one another. And we’ve also done some consulting around helping firms develop referral programs. Its been fun and we’re looking forward to seeing where this year takes us.