A decade into the sharing economy, things look a little different than the utopia predicted at its outset. Back in 2009, peer-to-peer connections were supposed to cut out the middleman and empower community connections. Couchsurfing was the way to travel and meet locals; Kickstarter was a new way to finance creative projects. Zipcar, which had just bought Flexcar, was facing a new competitor: UberCab, which didn't have the expensive overhead of a fleet of vehicles to weigh it down.

But Uber evolved, and for better or worse, the sharing economy has transformed into what we now call the gig or on-demand economy, all but laying to rest the utopian ideals of Silicon Valley circa 2009. 

Getting Ahead of the New On-Demand World

Launching a gig economy app now requires more than ideals. It means fortifying your concept with good use of data, differentiation and scalability that doesn't overreach. Here's how to achieve that.

1. Build your app to fill a B2B need. 

IKEA's purchase of TaskRabbit shows that if you can design an app that fills a need for a bigger company -- and not just for the consumer -- you can maneuver for a big acquisition. On the surface, TaskRabbit is a smart fit for IKEA because it provides quick, convenient help with furniture assembly. But it also gives IKEA a window into people's homes, providing them with valuable data that could save loads of research legwork and money. Identify the kinds of data your app generates, as well as who will benefit from that data.

2. Have a clear differentiator based on competitors' blind spots.

It's hard to compete with Uber and Lyft, but smaller startups are doing it by distinguishing themselves with clear differentiators. What are Uber and Lyft doing wrong? For starters, they don't exactly have sterling safety records. That opens a window for boutique alternatives like ScoopM to fill a need left by the bigger companies' oversight. The brand uses features like panic buttons, mandatory driver FBI checks and live-streaming dashcams so your loved ones can see you're safe. Identify the blind spots of your biggest competitors, and leverage them. 

3. Don't let scalability run away with you.

China's bike-sharing craze exploded well beyond market demand, leaving hundreds of thousands of derelict bicycles littering the streets and at least one company, ofo, rumored to be bankrupt. In a similar pattern, China's car-sharing app TOGO has faced throngs of angry customers demanding their deposits back, some even storming its offices and taking computers as collateral. Scaling too fast can be dangerous. Meet demand where it's at, then develop viable new growth strategies.

The gig economy isn't what we thought it would be. But there's as much opportunity in it as ever for savvy entrepreneurs. We're just thinking about it differently in 2019 than we were in 2009. A good idea, fortified with B2B value creation, competitive differentiation, scalability and a financially sustainable model can still strike gig economy gold, whether it's utopian or not.

Published on: Aug 18, 2019
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