Sunday, July 21, 2013

Four Success Factors For The Human Economy

People want to do business with people they know, people who make them feel comfortable. Photo by José Maria Silveira Neto via Flickr. No endorsement for Heineken or any product expressed or implied.

The company of the future is Airbnb. Some high points from Thomas Friedman's article in The New York Times, 7/20/13:


  • Origin: Roommates desperate for cash rented out air mattresses in their apartment to people who were also desperate, to attend a 2007 conference. Read the story in their own words here
  • The Name: It stands for "Air Bed & Breakfast."
  • Success: Six years later, competing in the big leagues: As of July 12, 2013 they have 140,000 guests in 34,000 cities and 192 countries.

4 Success Factors That Translate More Broadly
  • Trust: Before Airbnb the concept of blindly renting a room out to a stranger, or of renting a room from one, was alien to most people. Yet as Friedman points out the founders created "a framework of trust" fueled by technology. Buyer and seller are not anonymous to each other and the rating system ensures that your reputation follows you for better or for worse.
  • Comprehensiveness: You can rent more than a room from AirBNB. There is a whole "ecosystem" of "ordinary people" who will take care of everything associated with rentals. This makes it easier for the customer to use the service.
  • Humanization: The customer does not deal with a nameless faceless corporation but rather another regular person just like themselves. It should be clear that this person is a brand -- that the future is about establishing one's personal reputation -- rather than acquiring any particular credential. This is especially true because it is almost impossible to be the best at anything. Friedman phrases this well: "In a world where, as I’ve argued, average is over — the skills required for any good job keep rising — a lot of people who might not be able to acquire those skills can still earn a good living now by building their own branded reputations, whether it is to rent their kids’ rooms, their cars or their power tools."
  • Customization: No two properties are the same, no two owners are the same, and so every journey is really a singular interaction -- a memory that cannot be replaced. 
All of these concepts together are really about something more than sharing - it's humanity. About getting back to a more natural way of life. One in which people do business with each other without having "Big (Corporate) Brother" get in the way. Cofounder Brian Chesky is quoted in the article:

“It used to be that corporations and brands had all the trust,” added Chesky, but now a total stranger, “can be trusted like a company and provide the services of a company. And once you unlock that idea, it is so much bigger than homes. ... There is a whole generation of people that don’t want everything mass produced. They want things that are unique and personal.”

If you have time, read the analysis in full. It is a prescient view into the future.

* As always all opinions my own.