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Making the Most of the Collaborative Economy

23 January 2016

The Sharing Bros Journey Round-up. Join the movement #collaborate #hopsee

Traveling 21,000 kilometers across Latin America over 7 months using only collaborative economy start-ups makes for an interesting journey. The Sharing Bros reflect on 7 months on the road in this article.

What made you go on this trip?

It all started last September. Ivan and Roro were Couchsurfing in Chile and Uganda while Mathieu had just rented a place in Amsterdam with Airbnb. That’s when it all hit us! It was all so wonderfully weird: so authentic, so homey, whilst so far from home.

We liked it! We liked it so much in fact that we decided to dig a little deeper. A few meetings, readings and conferences later we discovered that these were but two companies of a far greater movement: the collaborative economy.

We were struck by the great energy across the collaborative space, struck by all these new ideas and alternative ways of doing things, but one particular thing caught our attention: all these people brought back ‘heart’ to economic transactions.

However, it felt like for the media it was all about big figures: “Airbnb is valued at $10bn” or “BlaBlaCar raises $100 million”. But in our eyes, that’s not what the collaborative economy was all about! For us, it was about Sacdrac (the Chilean), Conrad (the Ugandan) and Sterre (the Dutch) – those who had welcomed us strangers into their homes. We started wondering about all those stories behind the actors that drive the collaborative space – Who are they? Are they idealists? Socialists? Pragmatics? Hipsters? A little stingier than the others? What drives them? Who and what fuels all that sharing?

We decided to go and meet them and hear their stories. So we took off for a 7-month adventure to do the first crossing of the American Continent, from Vancouver to Rio, using only the collaborative economy! But all of this didn’t make any sense if we weren’t going to share it with our followers… Epiphany! We were going to make a web-series! So every 3 weeks, we’d release a video mixing our adventures and interviews of local entrepreneurs and users of the collaborative economy. We’ve done 11 videos so far.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve come across?

  • Trust High criminality rates and armed conflicts in Central and Latin America have really nurtured fear and fostered mistrust between people. We were told on several occasions, in Mexico or Colombia for example, that the only reason people agreed to give us a ride was because we didn’t look like locals. The internet and user profiles on P2P platforms could be a solution, but it will take time before people learn to trust these numeric tools.

  • Limited availability of platforms It was interesting to see that South of the US border, people are collaborating as they always have. Of course some numeric tools exist and across a variety of sectors (E.g.: P2P delivery, crowdlearning, P2P currency exchange, etc.) but the collaborative economy as we know it is still nascent. In Central American countries for example, some people don’t have internet access and using it to get in touch with one another doesn’t come naturally. In others like Mexico or Argentina, they do exist but people are still weary of giving out their credit card details online. This aversion to the internet hinders the growth of P2P platforms, like ridesharing for example. That means that we crossed the vast majority of the continent hitchhiking but we also managed because the will to collaborate is there. And the tools are emerging...

  • Lack of responsiveness: Hitchhiking is a good laugh but it also makes it harder to predict where you’re going to be when the night comes. We often had to act quickly if we wanted to find a place to sleep. Finding a couchsurfing host on the spot was virtually impossible. Our best shot usually was Airbnb, where people tended to be far more responsive and could answer within the hour at times. Reciprocity helps. However, in some countries where these platforms aren’t as established, we ended up improvising; knocking on people’s doors, churches, an empty cargo container in Panama, the side of a Mexican motorway, anything went.

What would you do differently during this trip?

We got to spend a few days with the Kuna tribe as we were crossing the Caribbean Sea from Panama to Colombia, which was amazing as they have a very old and deeply-rooted collaborative governance system – any law is voted in a collegial way by the whole village. But had we had a bit more time, we would have loved to spend a week in a tribe with a traditional sharing culture, maybe somewhere lost in the Amazon.

Generally speaking, the South of the continent has always been sharing out of necessity, which allowed certain sharing practices to prosper such as collectivos, a shared taxi system, or “phone agents” (i.e.: a guy with a mobile phone in the streets offering people to use his phone for a fare), but we were running on a tight schedule so we couldn’t visit a more traditional sharing tribe.

What’s your favourite country/city that you visited?

Brazil was amazing! The country is a beautiful mix of African and Latino culture. People do what they do with a lot of heart and that applies to Carnival parties as well as business. We were very inspired by the local entrepreneurial scene. For many entrepreneurs we met, the collaborative economy is not so much a way to make money, but rather a tool to tackle social issues unaddressed by an apathetic government. And they’re really going for it! It’s not the country where the collaborative tools were most established but certainly where they were the most innovative.

Would you do it again?

Definitely! It’s been the experience of a lifetime. It’s amazing to have 7 months just to focus 100% and work on a topic you like while travelling and meeting people. We’ve had the opportunity to meet such a great diversity of inspiring people. It would have never happened or at least not that fast without the project.

What have you discovered about the collaborative economy that you didn’t know prior to this trip?

  • Reciprocity helps Can be anything (money, skills, time, etc.) but we found that unilateral exchanges are much less likely to happen.

  • Building a community is key It might be harder and time-consuming than one might think but it’s all worth it! Doing a great community-building effort at an early stage has really helped us for our crowdfuding campaign, which was a good test and ended up giving more credibility to the project. We believe you should build your community before launching your app or even your website.

  • Internet isn’t always the answer Internet access is obviously limited in certain parts of the world and even when it is available, having people use it to connect can be a real challenge – Fear of the unknown, fear of fraud, etc. In Cuba for example some crowdfunding campaigns work without the internet only using pamphlets.

What 3 platforms stand out?

  • Nos.vc

    It’s a collaborative learning platform based in Porto Alegre (Brazil) that enables people to learn from peers. You can learn everything; from pizza baking to calligraphy or even zumba dancing. But the most interesting part is that these are group classes, which adds a very social component to the learning experience.

    From what the founder Leo told us, there is a big isolation issue in Brazil for people reaching their 30s. In their 20s, they lead a student life, party all the time, constantly meet people but in time, their friends get married, some might find jobs abroad, and many of them end up lonely. Nos.vc started to appeal to these people and now they’re rocking it! It’s working so well in fact that they don’t even budget for advertising anymore; their user base keeps expanding massively thanks to word-of-mouth.

  • Laboriosa 89

    It’s a community house in Sao Paulo open to anyone where everyone is co-responsible. In other words, you reading this can go there tomorrow, take a key, make a copy and start coming 24/7 without ever having to pay a quid. The only rule is that whatever you do cannot jeopardise the existence of the whole. Madness.

    The whole system is based on people’s generosity and how they value the use they make of the house. The day people lose interest in the house and stop contributing to keep it alive, it will stop. But so far, it’s been working like a charm and there even hasn’t been any security of theft issue.

    At first we thought it was one of those foreign jokes we don’t really get, until we saw it with our own eyes. No one is responsible, there is no hierarchy whatsoever but it works! It was pretty powerful to see that what seems impossible becomes possible when enough people believe it can happen.

  • Cumplo

    Cumplo is Chile’s leading peer-to-peer lending platform. It offers cheaper loans to companies and peers as well as better returns to lenders than other financial institutions. Nicolas Shea (Founder) told us that he didn’t consider himself as the banks’ direct competitor though, but rather a complementary tool helping smaller companies access growth capital at an earlier stage before turning to banks later on. In other words, he developed a tool enabling people to fill the capital gap for themselves.

What is your advice to people who want to integrate collaborative economy platforms in their daily life?

Follow your guts or your needs! But to start off easy here are a few things you can look at:

You can start by renting out your place when you go off on holidays on Airbnb. You can also welcome foreigners in an empty room you have through Nightswapping, to earn hospitality points which you can then use to be hosted anywhere in the world.

Rent a car from another peer when you go travelling next weekend – it’s much cheaper than a traditional car rental company! Next month for example, we’re taking a week off with a few friends and rented a car with some friends to go to the South of France. We’re renting Meikyu’s car through Drivy (French P2P car rental platform) and it’s 3 times cheaper than through a traditional car rental company!

Fancy learning something new? Go on Coursera and learn “How to compose a song” or follow a class from Harvard for free. If you are a freelancer and are getting tired of working from home, go and work in a coworking space close to your home to meet new people and develop your network.

A good platform to check out some of the many other tools on offer is Peers.org, which helps you find the collaborative economy platform you’re looking for, based on ways to find cash or to manage your work.

Sharing Bros by the numbers:

  1. How many countries have you visited? How many cities?
  2. We visited 16 countries and explored the collaborative scene in 13 cities: Vancouver (Canada) – San Francisco (US) – Los Angeles (US) – Mexico City (Mexico) – San Jose (Costa Rica) – Panama City (Panama) – Quito (Ecuador) – Lima (Peru) – Santiago (Chile) – Buenos Aires (Argentina) – Porto Alegre (Brazil) – Sao Paulo (Brazil) – Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
  3. How many platforms have you used?
  4. We discovered 48 platforms, out of which we used 23. Those enabled us to eat at a stranger’s house with Feastly in SF, rent a surfboard from Hillary with Spinlister in SF, work on an organic farm at Dona Cecilia’s in Colombia through Wwoofing or even learn how to make pizza with Nos.vc in Brasil.

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