The most prolific examples of the sharing economy today are organisations such as Uber and AirBnB, which have reinvented the approach to the traditional taxi and hospitality industries. But there is a lot going on outside of these companies and no sector is immune from disruption. Where will collaborative consumption strike next, and in what industry are the most interesting opportunities emerging?
PwC’s Imogene Aimers caught up with global thought leader Rachel Botsman after her session at the Ascent Program, to discuss the current state of the collaborative economy. Botsman also talks about her role in setting up the world’s very first MBA course on the subject, at Oxford University, and the lessons she herself took from that experience.
Listen to the podcast using the player below or subscribe to the Digital Pulse Podcast on iTunes. A written transcript of the audio is also included below.
Imogene Aimers: Rachel, thank you for joining us. We’ve heard compelling stories of how different entrepreneurs are applying the principles of the collaborative economy to disrupt sectors from hospitality, to manufacturing, to banking.
Now that people are aware of the disruptive impact of the collaborative economy how are you seeing industries respond and are there any particular industries that are ripe for disruption?
Rachel Botsman: The interesting thing that I am seeing – and there’s been a change even in the last 18 months – is that more established industries, companies, I think were viewing this space as kind of a start-up trend – that this was sort of another wave of technology creating disruption.
Now what they’re starting to ask is, “How is it changing the way value is created? How is it changing the way value is scaled in our particular industry? And if people can directly exchange assets in ways that bypass traditional intermediaries, what does that mean for our industry?”
So, it’s really interesting; when I think of industries most likely to be disrupted, I think of professional services. Legal, consulting, financial advisors… where there is a lot of fat and complexity around the firm, and you can now find that individual expert directly. I think of industries again such as real estate where the intermediary, people question their value, so there’s a redundant process or there is a person, because people are realising there is some direct value of exchange.
The interesting one to me – I mean, in financial services there’s a lot going on – but it’s healthcare. So, we’re just starting to see these ideas of being able to apply supply and demand matching in interesting ways to transform the way people think of not just healthcare but hospital infrastructure, wasted value in these systems.
Imogene: What are common qualities you have observed in entrepreneurs who are building successful ventures in the collaborative economy, and how could their traits and mindset be valuable for leaders in more traditional businesses?
Rachel: I’ve met many entrepreneurs and the first question that I always ask them is, “How did you arrive at this idea?” And it’s really interesting because you start to smell it and they’ll give you this whole story. There are those that I would say are copycat entrepreneurs, so they see there’s this interesting thing happening in the market and they say, “OK, how can we take these principles and apply them to X?”
But the entrepreneurs that are truly successful – and I spoke about it a little bit this evening – are those that are really married to the problem. They find pain, they find frustration that they can empathise with, that they deeply care about, and they realise that this is a pain or a frustration that’s experienced on a massive scale. And they’re not frightened about the complexity of the system they have to change; that almost becomes the exciting challenge. So, for me, they’re entrepreneurs I see doing the start-ups that I think will really last the test of time because they’re creating new forms of customer value.
Imogene: Rachel, you recently finished designing and teaching the first ever MBA course on the collaborative economy at Oxford University Saïd School of Business. What was the motivation behind establishing the course and what did the students walk away with after completing the course?
Rachel: The idea for the course actually bubbled up over the last few years because I was getting emails every week from MBA students, DPhil students, asking me questions about this space and saying, “I want to do my thesis, I want to do my doctorate and we’re just not getting taught these things.” And similarly I was getting asked by professors that the students were starting to ask about Airbnb and Bitcoin and Uber and Lending Club and were there any materials? And I was just like, “OK. Here you have the students and here you have the professors. This is something that people should be learning as part of their MBA; this is a new way to think about business, this requires different types of organisations, different types of leadership skills.” So, the course was really, like I try and do in most of my work, is, “How can you create something that then becomes a catalyst for wider change?” And I knew that if I designed the course for Oxford then Cambridge would want a course and then Harvard would want a course and then MIT would want a course. So the intention was to get universities to recognise that this should be part of the curriculum.
The interesting thing to me when I went to teach it was that 90% of my students were from South America, India, China, so they brought a cultural lens to the topic that I had never explored differently. And I think there were around 70 students in the class, but the one thing they all reported was, it wasn’t so much about understanding the start-ups, it’s that they had a different lens on the world, that they now saw how technology was changing trust and changing the way we create value in ways that were really interesting. So, that, for me, was the achievement. It was less that they understood Airbnb and they understood Uber, but they had this new lens to see problems and see opportunities.