September 10 2014

Is Collaboration The Future of the Sharing Economy?

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There’s been plenty written on the sharing economy, the new breed of startups worth billions that are built on the premises of helping people make money off what they already have, whether it’s spare rooms to rent on AirBnB, their cars through services like Uber and Lyft, or their time in the case of TaskRabbit. Now the sharing economy is starting to take on a whole new dimension— startups that share their brand clout with worthy partners to mutual benefit.

Just as back to school season ramped up into college move-in weekends all over the country, Uber partnered with Bellhops to create #UberMovers, an on-demand moving service that debuted in Atlanta, Nashville, and other cities. The Tennessean reported that “new and existing Uber users can use the company’s app to request help for a number of moving jobs, such as moving a sofa, loading a truck or unpacking new furniture.” Uber wins because they are able to offer a new service to existing customers and fans. Bellhops wins because their employees and business model get exposure under the umbrella of one of the hottest startup brands in the game.

The move, pun intended, is an interesting one for Uber that suggests what the future might hold for the innovative, fast-growing company. Uber offered up its mailing lists, popularity, and social media might, along with Uber’s proven technology. Their app allowed people to request moving help from #UberMovers teams. All they offer under the #UberMovers concept is the word Uber, their mailing lists, their social media exposure, and their popularity. However, as Bellhops Marketing Manager Tripp Stanford explained, “The service doesn’t rely on their network of drivers and vehicles,” explained Bellhops Marketing Manager Tripp Stanford. It’s not an entirely new experiment for Uber— they’ve tried other forays beyond their well-known alternative to traditional taxi service, including a bike courier program in New York City and even deliveries of free ice cream.

This is the first such partnership for Bellhops, who unlike Uber are doing what they always do— mobilizing a vast army of student movers who independently contract through the Bellhops site to perform fast, efficient moves with an emphasis on insanely great customer service. Only this time, however,  they’re bringing their usual A game to an even bigger audience of Uber’s brand loyalists on some of the busiest moving days of the year as Vanderbuilt, Belmont, University of Georgia, and Emory see students flooding back into dorms and surrounding neighborhoods.

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We often hear about startups competing for market share, exposure, and customers. Uber and Lyft have a fierce rivalry, and Facebook has a habit of clearing out potential competitors by purchasing them, as they did with Instagram. Yet in the #UberMovers partnership, we see an alternative to the usually cutthroat world of Silicon Valley competition. For one thing, Bellhops isn’t even based on the West Coast. It’s headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a hotbed for startups sprouting up around the gigabit-speed internet offered by the local Electric Power Board. For another,  #UberMovers gives the sharing economy a whole new meaning.

In this case, the startups are behaving like their own customers, leveraging what they currently have to help them get ahead. It’s a bold move in a world of mergers and acquisitions. Yet collaboration, not competition, just might be the new best practice in tech. It’s a smart tactic that only enlarges the sharing economy while previewing potential future purchases. It will be interesting to see how the latest batch of giant, growing startups navigate their next generation business models. Like Amazon and Ebay before them, the sharing economy businesses have smartly positioned themselves to grow in a variety of diverse directions.

There has been a great deal of speculation that AirBnB is making similar plans to diversify after it unveiled its new logo and branding. Tomio Geron wrote for Forbes that Brian Chesky told him that he “eventually he wants to provide a complete travel experience. That could mean partnering with (or buying) startups to provide home cleaning services for the host from services like Homejoy or tour guides for travelers from services like Vayable.”

Much as Amazon has experimented in numerous industries from publishing to shipping and now to possibly pioneering commercial drones, Uber and AirBnB’s experiments in bringing new products and services to their existing customer base are smart attempts to answer the all-important question of what their business will look five, ten, or even fifteen years down the line. One thing is for sure, it’s an exciting time to be a startup in the sharing economy, with endless possibilities not only to serve customers, but partner with some of the best companies in the business.