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BW Businessworld

Book Review: Where Trust Is Key

Stephany points to the basic foundation of sharing economy’s success in the western world — human trust in each other, writes Siddharth Puri

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From the vantage point of CEO of Justpark, a successful startup, author Alex Stephany analyses the sharing economy from the point of view of consumers, VCs, old-world corporates, the government and, most importantly, the entrepreneurs, with one chapter dedicated to each in The Business of Sharing.

Skillfully traversing the interdependent domains of economics, human behavior and history of modern enterprise, Stephany uses the book’s canvas to paint a multi-dimensional picture of the sharing economy. What makes this book come alive is his brilliant recounting of entrepreneurial journeys of several sharing economy startups, including his own. The description of his meeting with Sequoia Capital is hugely entertaining to read, as are the stories of Relayrides, Lyft, Etsy, Poshmark, and Quirky, among several others.

Stephany also alludes to sharing economy as an idea whose time has come; one that will have transformational impact on the way businesses and big corporates run. For example, the sharing of MP3s via Napster almost brought the giant recording industry to its knees, but the coup de grace was finally delivered by the likes of Apple iTunes. The music industry itself was forced to evolve, and fortunately, is thriving today in the form of upstarts like Pandora and Spotify.

The threat to powerful incumbents like taxi unions from the sharing economy startups like Uber may well be existential, but make no mistake; these startups disrupt each other just as well. In one of the book’s great insights, Stephany describes how Couchsurfing first nearly disrupted the budget leisure travel industry by allowing people to stay in each others’ homes for free, but, in turn, got disrupted by Airbnb, once the latter told the same hosts: why not charge for your room?
In a world increasingly self-absorbed and overrun with material consumption, the future of business innovation may well be in creating great and memorable human experiences. And yet the question remains, are we ready for the sharing economy in India yet?

Stephany points to the basic foundation of sharing economy’s success in the western world — human trust in each other. One of the biggest reasons for the enormous success of startups like Airbnb and Blablacar in Europe, he notes, is because Europeans are more trusting of each other, even when compared to Americans. This makes you wonder about the immediate future of the sharing economy in India like it has in the West — we are after all culturally not as trusting of each other as to stay in each other’s homes or take intercity rides in each other’s cars. Possibly this is the reason why both Airbnb and Blablacar are yet to achieve the same degree of success here.

Regardless of the cultural barriers, the need for sharing economy services like carpooling or ridesharing is starkly evident to anyone who lives and works in any of India’s metros. Perhaps our governments can embrace carpooling and ridesharing as part of their urban transport planning. In fact, the Indian government has just the right influence to make or break the sharing economy, as do governments around the world. The book is an insider’s exhilarating perspective on what is arguably the biggest economic trend shaking up corporate boardrooms and the seats of government today.

Puri is CEO, Tyroo Technologies