Taking a step back from the success of Flombaum and Chong, it's clear we're living in a job-anxious landscape with high unemployment and frustrating under-employment. As startups like Skillshare or RelayRides gain traction, peer marketplaces are coming under the microscope. Economists and journalists question whether the technology boom of Silicon Valley actually creates jobs. The Kauffman Foundation reported that the number of new employer-enterprises (business that hire others) has declined since the 2008 recession, despite entrepreneurship rates increasing.
Apple, the most valuable company in the world, only employs 43,000 people, most of whom work in retail stores and earn roughly $25,000 a year. So we have to ask, do gigs--some full-time, some part-time--qualify as sustainable jobs? If I make the majority of my income selling jewelry on eBay or Etsy, or hosting guests in my spare room on Airbnb, is that my job? If not, what is a job?
In a partnership with design firm IDEO, Collaborative Fund attempted to answer this question by imagining ways people might sustain themselves in the future, and identified some of the businesses already reshaping our definition of work. We were prompted by the term the gig economy--a nation of freelancers that now includes one in three working Americans. While many of the new companies facilitating this lifestyle are young, the sector has shown rapid growth, and municipal and federal regulators are taking note.
The regulatory instinct is to resist new forms of economic exchange to protect both buyers and sellers from fraud or danger. But beyond the questions of trust and reputation, regulators and investors alike are wondering: Does it slow down construction if we use Airbnb instead of hotels? Does it slow down Detroit manufacturing if we share cars and rides instead of buying new ones? Does increasing productivity from existing resources hinder economic growth?
Most Lyft drivers or TaskRabbits we've encountered are just glad to have income coming from somewhere. And beyond individual gain, these marketplaces boost local economies. Airbnb hosts have contributed $56 million in spending to San Francisco; $43.1 million of that figure supported local businesses around the hosts' homes. But platforms that facilitate opportunity to create wealth must be built to last. Otherwise their impact is nominal, if not damaging to the ecosystem long-term.
You have to be wary of over-exuberance by entrepreneurs and investors, who could latch onto this trend for quick gain instead of creating a true foundation and scalable businesses. Remember the post-The Inconvenient Truth enthusiasm for startups targeting the green and eco-friendly audience? Much like the "Airbnb-of-everything," today, then we saw the "Eco-of-everything."
Here's the history lesson: Many of those "green startups"--even those with big venture backing--failed because they lacked authentic core values, patience from their investors, and, most importantly, a solid foundation built on real business logic.
The road ahead for collaborative businesses will be filled with many obstacles. Governments will struggle to keep pace with innovation. New businesses without a sound economic plan will fail. In the near-term, our economy will continue to be based largely on consuming new products and services en masse.
However, I'm optimistic. Collaborative businesses are now working their way out of the hype phase and getting tested and refined in ways that will determine their long-term role in the economy. Entrepreneurs and consumers are finding efficiencies and adapting to the reality of a world with fewer resources and latent potential. As jobs evolve away from traditional corporate models and regulatory challenges get worked out, collaborative businesses are poised to generate the greatest financial return on investment over the next decade and beyond.