By Nona Phinn
As consumers say goodbye to traditional means of doing business such as renting, owning and buying, they’re realizing their parents were right after all — it is okay to share.
Think back to when you were two years old.
Now answer this: What was one of the hardest things for you to do? Could it have been…SHARE? One of the first words we learned after “Mom,” “Dad” and “no”, is the word “mine.” The infamous terrible twos kicked off our territorial nature in declaring all that we touch and own is mine.
My five-year old daughter is not the best at sharing. I have to talk her into sharing with others. At times I wonder, how I could persuade my daughter to think differently about sharing — help her to see the bright side to letting others play with what she has declared to be hers. How much more would she be willing to share if she knew that this learned behavior could lead to a life of additional monies in her piggy bank?
Today, the sharing economy is proof that we all can learn to share — with the right motivation. Who could have imagined a marketplace dominated by peer-to-peer sharing of goods and services? It’s simple, yet brilliant. No longer are we forced to own, buy or rent from traditional businesses or everyday brick and mortar retailers. Instead, we can “borrow” the product and/or services we need from our neighbors, co-workers and everyday individuals, who are willing to share for the right price.
This collaborative consumption model extends beyond our own imaginations. From social lending to car sharing, there is no telling how far this groundbreaking business model can take us. To explore this model further, we reached out to a few pioneers of this marketplace, to find what is behind the success of the sharing economy.
Last summer, I took a vacation to Orlando, Florida with my daughter and mother. Before leaving, I rented a car from one of the rental companies available at the airport. Upon our arrival, we headed to the car rental counter where we fought off all the extra fees the company graciously offered us. We then made our way to the parking garage to find our car. When we arrived at our numbered space, my mother and I dropped our bags and mouths at the same time. Our compact car resembled the Power Wheels I had been saving to buy my daughter. As we tried to fit our suitcases and ourselves into the car, it felt more like a scene from a sitcom than vacation. Oh boy! This is where Turo steps in.
Turo is a peer-to-peer car rental marketplace that emerged in 2010. The company’s mission is to put the world’s one billion cars to better use. The birth of Turo began with an idea sparked by founder Shelby Clark when he was a student at Harvard Business School. While riding his bike through Cambridge during a winter storm to pick up a rental car, Clark wished that getting to his borrowed vehicle could be as easy as renting one of the many parked cars he passed along the way. Clark nurtured this idea and brought Turo to life.
Car owners with idle vehicles are empowered through Turo to rent their automobiles to travelers or local neighbors in need of a different “ride” for whatever reason. In the beginning, known as Relay Rides, rental durations through the company were short and used mainly for local errands. As the concept evolved, so did the need in the market. Rental durations increased to days, weeks and even months and Relay Rides eventually underwent a makeover, to become Turo. Now operating in more than 2,500 U.S. cities and 300 airports, Turo has materialized into an attractive alternative for travelers.
There are a number of reasons to go to Turo before a traditional car rental company. Renters save on average 30–35 percent over a rental company. The owner brings the car to you or where you deem as convenient for both drop-offs and pick-ups. And, you get to handpick the car. No more selecting categories of cars and being surprised about the vehicle you’re given. Renters are now given the power to control the car rental aspect of their journey.
A car once thought of as just another entity to help a traveler get from point A to point B, is now seen as an inclusive part of this voyage. That is what Turo envisions for all car renters. Travelers can now be in control of the adventure, including what vehicle comes along for the ride. The car now becomes a part of the story, impacting and shaping the plot. For my last vacation, I had no choice but to include the comedy of trying to squeeze 15 clowns into a car made for two. For Turo renters, the story is for them to own.
There are also great benefits for car owners. The average car owner that rents out an automobile through Turo earns $600 dollars a month, helping to offset the cost of car ownership. If you’re not convinced this is enough to hand over your precious “baby” to someone you don’t know, Turo helps make the transfer of keys to a stranger easier by offering car owners a one million dollar insurance policy paid by Turo through the duration of the rental. As long as your car is in the hands of a Turo renter, your “baby” is covered. In addition, the exchange of keys happens in person and has become an important element of the process. It instills a sense of community and places a human aspect in the exchange. “When you look someone in the eyes and you take their car, you are going to treat it like you are borrowing it from a person you know, rather than from some anonymous car rental place,” describes Steven Webb, Director of Community and Communication at Turo.
Trust is one of the keystones of making our company a success.”
Both the owner and renter can feel at ease with a few more tools of trust Turo has put in place. Turo offers 24-hour roadside assistance for the entire rental time. If anything goes wrong while the car is in the possession of another, Turo is ready to help. Also, car owners and renters are both screened before becoming a part of the Turo community. An additional safety and trust protection layer comes from reviews. Turo offers a two-way rating system where both the car owner and renter are reviewed and rated. “Trust is huge, instilling trust on both sides is the most important part of making the sharing economy work, as a peer-to-peer marketplace. Trust is one of the keystones of making our company a success,” emphasizes Webb.
Aaron Hirschhorn, Founder and CEO of DogVacay, agrees that trust is at the core of the sharing economy. “Businesses everywhere deal with the issue of trust. Brick and mortar businesses deal with the trust of their customers just like new economy businesses deal with it. The only difference is that trust doesn’t just come from trusting a company itself but from trusting the company’s process, ownership and perspective,” explains Hirschhorn.
Hirschhorn began DogVacay in 2012 after he and his wife took a vacation and left their pup, Rocky, in a local kennel. Upon their return, Hirschhorn and his wife were greeted to a very expensive kennel bill and an estranged Rocky. After this experience, the couple began to use their own home to offer a more personalized and less expensive form of pet care to local pet parents. Immediately, their concept of in-home pet care took off. The proof was in the more than 100 dogs that Hirschhorn and his wife cared for in just eight short months. Hirschhorn was not the only pet parent who saw his dog as more than a companion but as a family member. He discovered a great need in the marketplace and met that need through DogVacay.
DogVacay offers an alternative to kennels. Pet parents are able to choose a dog sitter based on the specific need of their animal. Similar to a dating site, Hirschhorn outlines that pet parents can now find the perfect match for their four-legged family member while the rest of the family is away. Hirschhorn defines the goal of a perfect match as, “Trying to find someone who will bond with their dog uniquely and take care of their dog for him or her, while providing a great experience. When they find that connection it’s really an amazing moment.” DogVacay is offering peace of mind to pet owners and helping to create an extended family community through their services. Dogs who return to the same sitter time and time again begin to show their owners how thrilled they are to be back in a familiar space by giving their owners a paws up each time they go away.
A unique element in this business-to-consumer relationship is that there is an interpreter involved. Hirschhorn reminds us that the ultimate customer is the dog. “The dog can’t write a review or tell you about the experience, but you can look at the dog’s body language and enthusiasm.” Pet parents use this as a gauge to interpret the experience their dog has with DogVacay. An experience that is much more personalized and specialized, and even includes pet insurance, should an emergency arise, and all day customer care. Best of all, sitters work hard to make missing your furry friend a bit easier. Daily photos and updates are provided by pet sitters to owners to help keep everyone connected despite the distance.
It doesn’t stop there. Hirschhorn and his team at DogVacay are continually working to improve the business model and the experience for all of their customers. When asked how he describes a better business, Hirschhorn without hesitation painted a clear picture, “To me a better business is a philosophy, almost a religion we [DogVacay] believe here that you always have to keep improving, it’s not enough that we have a high bar of trust, but how do we make it better? What new things can we bring to bear?” The vision of the organization is to become the leading pet care company in the world. Going beyond pet sitting services, but engaging in a suite of services centered around pets such as veterinary, wellness and ecommerce services. Already the company has implemented CatVacay and daycare services as an extension of its brand, evolving DogVacay into becoming the trusted brand for pet care.
The company is well on its way. Today, DogVacay has more than 20,000 pet sitters across the U.S. and Canada and millions of nights booked for services. Trust is serious business for DogVacay, which aids in attracting sitters, pulling in pet parents and driving the company towards its mission. This trust is established through current processes and the forward-thinking push of always being better. Only 15–20 percent of dog sitter applications are accepted by DogVacay and done so by a dedicated team that reviews every application, conducts background checks, performs interviews and provides online training and quizzes. Just launched is DogVacay’s community mentor program, where top sitters help to mentor new sitters in the community. Through home inspections and training, mentors are able to help new sitters establish their business.
DogVacay also has a two-way review system, where not only the pet sitters are reviewed, but so are the pets. With more than 100,000 reviews, pet parents can select the perfect sitter; while pet sitters can rest assured they are the perfect match for dogs they bring into their homes. DogVacay encourages a face-to-face meeting with sitter and pup before any agreement of services are put into place. This meeting allows all parties involved to witness the type of connection that could take place before moving forward with services.
With its vision in front of DogVacay and trust running through the veins of its process, the company is well on its way to defining for the world what a leading brand for pet care looks like.
What did we learn from Turo and DogVacay? Consumers crave personal experiences. Whether it’s an experience with a product or a service, the consumer is shouting “Give me interactions and engagement tailored just for me.” There are situations where mass production still works, but more and more individualism takes precedence. Afterall, we are a marketplace made up of individuals and no two persons are alike. The sharing economy aids in catering to this uniqueness.
Both organizations specialize in personalization, but because the product and/or service does not come directly from them, they must also be experts in trust. Turo and DogVacay both ensure all parties feel confident in engaging with the company and each other. From in-person meetings to reviews, they have established safety measures to provide a level of comfort and assurance that makes joining their communities even more attractive.
Communities…what an interesting term used to describe the individuals who take part in these business transactions. Not customers, but community members. Could it be the sharing economy is helping to humanize the transaction that occurs between a business and a customer? In a world hungry for more engaging experiences, could it be that the urge can only truly be met in a transaction that allows all involved to feel like a person rather than just another business or number? Both Turo and DogVacay allow customers to be included in the business and have control of the transaction. Their community members are actual stakeholders in the truest sense.
In the sharing economy everyone involved benefits. Those who take on the role of offering their goods and services can increase their income and by how much is completely up to them, while the purchasers of products and/or services are able to be in full control of their experience at a fraction of the cost of going through traditional channels. For the companies that create the meeting ground for peer-to-peer sharing to take place, the sky is the limit. These companies have invited their customers into their world and created communities involving them, access to customers is instantaneous. Sharing economy businesses are taking advantage of this access. Using their communities to help inform new business development, improve upon processes and drive the vision forward.
Turo’s vision of putting the world’s one billion cars to better use and DogVacay’s mission of becoming the leading pet care company in the world, are evidence that both organizations can see the limitless growth and success that can be achieved through their platforms. The globe is their market and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be. Sharing and collaboration isn’t just a U.S. concept and the communities offering the sharing economy business model extend an open invitation to all.
Webb emphasizes this point, “At Turo we are proud that so much of our innovation comes from our members and I would say that the most important changes we made over the years came from feedback and insights our members gave.”
The next time my daughter has a dilemma with sharing; I know what to tell her. Sharing isn’t about what you can get from it. Sharing is about relating, experiencing life and being better together. The sharing economy works, because we all benefit and we all do it together.