What happens when your company's business model doesn't necessarily jive with local law? You go on the offensive. Companies in the "sharing economy" space are doing just that.
Some of the fastest-growing comanies in Silicon Valley have capitalized on the idea of collaborative consumption and asset sharing. The only problem, of course, is that local regulators around the country don't always have such a breezy view of the sharing economy. (Think, for instance, of the Airbnb hosts sued by their cities, or the cease-and-desist orders delivered to ride-sharing start-ups in San Francisco, as well as the legal battles faced by SideCar.)
According to multiple sources, groups of these peer-to-peer start-ups are beginning to band together in the face of regulatory scrutiny. A source at ride-sharing start-up Lyft told Inc. there are at least two initiatives in the works that that will bring together policy (and potentially lobbying) efforts to the sharing economy. It's a little unclear at this point how many groups are actually being formed and who, exactly, is involved, but the wheels are in motion.
In a time when tech companies are starting to behave like industry giants of the past, taking their interests--and their money--to K Street to influence legislation (consider Mark Zuckerberg's immigration lobby), it seems natural that several of these scrappy sharing-based start-ups are beginning to band together.
On May 24, Poltico.com first reported that Airbnb, Etsy, and travel start-up Vayable were teaming up to create a "new advocacy effort." But it seems that more than one group is actually in discussions about how to approach both advocacy and political/regulatory influence.
Airbnb did not respond to our request for interview. However, our request was apparently diverted to FitzGibbon Media, a Washington, D.C.-based communications firm, which confirmed via email that there will be a "major announcement in the coming weeks." Vayable did not return a request for comment.
Etsy, also named in the Politico article, denies its affilition with any particular group. However, in a statement e-mailed to us, its director of public policy, Althea Erickson writes:
We haven't joined any organization specifically, but we've been involved in many conversations with Airbnb and other companies about joint efforts to support the peer economy, which we believe can be a powerful engine for sustainable economic development. Our top priority is to advocate for Etsy sellers and ensure that they can start and build independent, creative businesses on their own terms. A good part of our policy work is to educate legislators, academics and the small business community about how Etsy sellers are a really different kind of entrepreneur.
While it's unclear so far which group, exactly, will be leading the charge, Inc. has confirmed the existence of at least one: BayShare, which describes itself as an "advocacy organization in the San Francisco Bay Area whose mission is to make the Bay Area the best place on the planet for sharing." Its site lists several notable member companies, including Airbnb, Lyft, RelayRides, and several others.
Its spokesperson, Milicent Johnson, says that although the site is live--along with an accompanying Facebook page--the group has not yet officially launched. She was careful not to divulge too much information before its member sites had a chance to prepare official statements.
"So much of this work is in its infancy," she said in a phone interview. "We're still trying to figure out how we want to have our coming out party."
Johnson said the group's mission will be three-fold: To unite companies facing similar issues, to educate the public about the sharing and peer-to-peer economy, and, most importantly, to work with city regulators when it comes to legal matters.
"There aren't that many peers in the sharing economy," she says. "There was a real need to seek out your counterparts."
Not suprisingly, San Francisco politicians have jumped on the collaboration economy bandwagon.
Last March, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced the formation of a "sharing economy" working group, which would "bring together City Departments, neighborhood and community stakeholders and sharing economy companies to...explore policy alternatives and legislation to modernize those laws and/or address emerging impacts and issues."
In a statement, Lee said that the "growing 'sharing economy' is leveraging technology and innovation to generate new jobs and income for San Franciscans in every neighborhood and at every income level...San Francisco must be at the forefront of nurturing its growth, modernizing our laws, and confronting emerging policy issues and concerns."