The name game today is as much a part of the startup strategy as the novelty of the idea or owning a killer URL or app.  We seem to need an apt acronym or a pithy phrase to describe the latest new idea or tech craze in order to render these things--not exactly rocket science to begin with-- real and understandable for the masses. Or at least for the media. Everything is buzzwords and jargon. This critical need to have a catchy log line or two is worth at least as much as your highly-polished elevator pitch. Because the name might be the thing that gets you in the door- long before you have a chance to extol the virtues of your business.

But sometimes the pundits' rush to find a fitting formulation leads to a characterization or description that's more "high concept" than helpful. Simpler is almost always better, but sometimes it's not sufficient to get the story told. Right now, I think we're seeing this process operating on a daily basis with the world's newest fetish - the "sharing" economy. Sharing is part of the story, but it's not the whole answer. Nor is it enough of an explanation to really help us understand what offerings are lasting and what are fads that are mainly just way stations or transitional solutions. There's a fairly obvious reason why Reed Hastings called his business Netflix rather than Mailflix. It's never really about who's first-- it's always about who's best and who's the last one standing. 

So, while it's true that part of the new economy relies on the sharing of certain common assets (we "share" the use of individual Divvy bikes in Chicago and timeshares of all kinds have been around forever), the real significant changes are better described as products and services and apps that are increasingly permitting millions of us to monetize (not share) our excess capacity or our surplus assets. And that's why we need a broader frame of reference for these new economic ecosystems. 

Initially, I was convinced that a far better and more descriptive term for at least the transactional part of this new phenomenon was to call it the "Surplus Economy" wherein each of us would be permitted to market and exploit our underutilized assets and resources. These could be skills, talents, time, labor, property, knowledge-- whatever you have to sell. By using our new connectivity tools to immediately and cost-effectively reach global marketplaces, we can sell and distribute our valuable properties and abilities to others largely independent of time and place restrictions that have historically made such widespread and hyper-efficient marketplaces impossible. Especially on the kind of scale that we are now seeing across a number of different industry sectors. We aren't trying to share our talents - we are quite clearly trying to sell them to as many takers and interested parties as possible, as quickly and easily as we could.

However, this primary concentration on the seller-side demands of these new marketplaces and on the technical nature of the transactions that they enabled turns out to be insufficiently broad to fairly describe what was going on.  Because this characterization fails to account for the buyer-side actions and objectives as well as the very critical temporal (time-based) component of these new services. The sellers clearly want to sell (as sellers always do), but the buyers' demands are more complicated.

First, the buyers need to efficiently discover the availability of the opportunities being offered in the midst of the immense noise, clutter and confusion of our online world and to connect with the parties on the other side of the prospective transaction. Interestingly enough, as important as being global is to the providers of these services, hyper-local solutions have the most appeal to the end-users on both sides of the deals.

Second, they need to authenticate and validate the offers being made. Surprisingly, this requirement is becoming less and less of a concern to substantial numbers of consumers. They don't want to be defrauded or otherwise ripped off or cheated, but - at least until they've been burned once or twice-- they're more concerned with other elements and aspects of these transactions.

 Third, they need to establish credible systems for payment that - for all intents and purposes - are a given these days.

 And finally, and most importantly to understanding the entirety of what's going on, the buyers want it when and where they want it and--most of the time--they want it NOW. Time is the scarcest resource in our lives today and these businesses across the board are selling us time and convenience every bit as much as they are providing whatever product or service we're seeking. You can call this the "on-demand" or the "on-time" economy, but because the expectations of all consumers are progressive and constantly rising, I'm calling it the "Right Now" economy because (a) that's where we are all headed; and (b) if your business or company isn't operating in Right Now time you can be sure that someone is coming up quickly behind you to offer a better, faster, cheaper and more attractive service than yours-- and Right Now.  

 The implications, challenges, opportunities and problems (especially from a regulatory perspective) that these new economic ecosystems present are almost beyond calculation. The new kinds of businesses that they will spawn are enterprises that we are just beginning to imagine. When you consider the degree to which (at least at the outset) these new systems (a) require little or no capital, (b) utilize modest and readily available technologies, (c) build upon existing consumer skills and behaviors, and (d) basically free-ride on stable and well-established distribution systems, it's easy to understand how quickly and globally the Right Now economy is growing, with no end in sight.  

Published on: Nov 17, 2015