From Surplus to Sharing

This post was originally published on Collaborative Consumption.

I started playing soccer when I was eight years old. Today I continue to enjoy the thrill of the great “passing game”. A squad works together to move the ball from one end of the field to the next, one player pops it in the goal, and the victory is everyone’s to share.

The journey of a start-up is similar, particularly when you make sharing your business.

Two years ago when I moved from New York to San Francisco, I was surprised to discover that a pay-it-forward ethos dominates the start-up scene. This is a different concept than pure networking or favor exchanges that prevail in New York. In the Bay Area, everyone from the powerless entrepreneur to the Almighty VC expects to share their specific knowledge and resources with those who lack them, despite the highly competitive climate. This is what powers Bay Area start-ups.

But for collaborative companies such as ours, sharing is more than a custom, it’s our lifeblood.

At Vayable, we joke that we are “powered by Airbnb.” You see, in a sense our first round of funding came from Airbnb, not in the form of loan, but in an enterprise that has been mutually beneficial in moving both our companies forward.

In the first few months of starting Vayable, each member of our team was either renting or hosting on Airbnb, and using the extra cash to pay for basic expenses as we bootstrapped the company. Two of us even moved in with friends and rented out our own apartments full time to vacationers.

TaskRabbit also played a big part. Busy at work building our community and product, we would send TaskRabbits out to clean our apartments, greet guests, and one time, even show a guest how to use the television remote.

For an entrepreneur the commercial benefits of collaboration are clear and quantifiable, while the more subtle benefits of connection, idea sharing and building community are harder to measure but invaluable.

Sometimes on weekends and late nights our community manager, June, and I will work from the Airbnb headquarters, where we share much more than desk space and wifi with their team. Two am conversations turn into community initiatives and product ideas. This model of collaborative conception among our teams is a powerful demonstration of a whole being larger than the sum of its parts.

And when we travel, we take our habit of sharing with us.

In New York, the Vayable team works out of LooseCubes, a start-up that connects people looking to co-work with co-working spaces. LooseCubes not only taps into a market of space-sharing, but also one of knowledge sharing – a benefit we experienced first hand, collaborating with the LooseCubers on marketing and business strategies.

I also enjoy regular collaboration with the founder of Skillshare, another New York marketplace focused on classes and learning. We’re learning from one another and our products and communities are better for it. Michael offers a tour on my site and I offer a class on his.

As the economy forces us away from surplus and toward sharing, entrepreneurs are building businesses around the redistribution of these goods and services. We’re seeing more overlap among collaborative consumers: people who need a place to stay also want something to do, as well as help getting things done. This means that as one of us grows, we all grow. Conversion from Airbnb to Vayable is higher among existing users, as they’re already acclimated to the sharing model and many of them are emphatic about it.

And it’s no coincidence that those who have shared the most knowledge, resources and time with me as a first-time entrepreneur have been the founders of Airbnb, Kickstarter, TaskRabbit. They are not only mentors, but also trusted friends. And as the Airbnb and Vayable communities join together in New York next week, and TaskRabbit and Vayable team up this fall, it’s becoming more clear that the “passing game” at the heart of community-based marketplaces is not only a viable business model, but also a viable way of launching and growing a dream.

Jamie and founders from four other collaborative consumption companies are candidates for a panel at SXSW entitled, “ F*#k Talking about Women, Let’s Build Companies!” where they will discuss how to build collaborative companies. Read more here.

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