The CEO of the sharing economy’s newest multibillion-dollar company, Airbnb, recently made some very bold predictions about how he and his industry will reshape the global economy. In essence, Brian Chesky wants a world more like the villages of old: highly trusting and filled with micro-entrepreneurs who shared their assets to make a living.
“Cities used to be generally villages, and everyone was essentially kind of like an entrepreneur,” he told a packed room at the Atlantic Aspen Ideas Festival. “You were either a farmer, or you worked in the city as a blacksmith, or you had some kind of trade. And then the Industrial Revolution happened.”
Part-time freelance work, known as contingent work, is on the rise. In some cases, the sharing economy is leading the way in destroying entire industries, such as the taxi industry, forcing more and more people into contingent work.
Contingent work is less certain: it has less legally sanctioned protections for both workers and consumers, though it is often far (far) more flexible. Ultimately, Chesky argues, the added efficiency of flexible contingent work, especially those jobs involved with sharing assets, will save folks struggling in the worst rungs of the economy.
Given Chesky’s influence on this new economy, his new predictions are of interest to many people.
Efficiency will save us from the robots & recession
Chesky argues that the ability to profit from sharing assets is a business model both resistant to recession and to the coming robot work-apocalypse. “There are some things that are irreplaceable. In the service industry, there things that are deeply human that people want to participate in. So I think this is the beginning of a golden age,” he said, predicting that the industry will be able to create upwards of 100 million micro-entrepreneurs.
Already, he says, he gets emails from hosts saying, “because of you we were able to keep our home.”
In other words, as the economy forces rents up and long-time residents out of their homes, the sharing economy could save the least advantaged from the ravages of capitalism. Chesky has a nice vision, and certainly some people are making rent because of Airbnb. What are the tradeoffs?
[Come hear more about how Airbnb is using nontraditional marketing methods and tools to drive its growth on mobile at our MobileBeat 2014 event next week on July 8 & 9 in San Francisco, where Gustaf Alstromer, the company's product manager for growth, will be speaking on the second day.]
Barely regulated people-as-businesses
“We used to live in a world were there people, private citizens, a world where there are businesses, and now we’re living in a world where people can become businesses in 60 seconds,” he argues.
While he welcomes regulation, this third category of micro-entrepreneur shouldn’t need a fire marshal and inspections if they want to rent out their home for a weekend.
This flies in the face of cities like New York who want much more stringent regulation of Airbnb renters, even if it creates friction for would-be renters. This requires a whole lot of trust and thus information about each person.
Choose: Live off the grid or have a reputation
“The more you broadcast your reputation, the more you’ll have access too. you can decide to live off the grid, not have a reputation, and that’s fine and go through life. But, fewer people will know you and you’ll have access to fewer things. I actually think that’s a fair proposition.”
So, people will have a choice whether to participate, but it’s a binary one. What gives him so much confidence in reputation?
When reputation fails, firm first and then government
Some people are really racist, especially when they buy things off the Internet. Chesky is optimistic that the more people stay in each others homes, the more they’ll begin to understand those who are different.
But, when their system flags hosts that are unusually bigoted or destructive to their community, the company has an obligation to remove them from the system.
“The community is the first recourse, the platform is the second recourse, and the government is third recourse, rather than the reverse.” Bad reputation may harm a guest’s appeal to customers, but if some hosts continue to refuse to host any black customers, then Airbnb may just kick them off the system.
Chesky seems more optimistic that Airbnb is a better system for creating an open world than the government.
Fewer big chains, less ownership
“Everything will be small; so you’re not going to have big chain restaurants. We’re starting to see you have farmer’s markets, and small restaurants, and food trucks. But, soon, restaurants will be in people’s living rooms.”
Chesky, of course, is directing this trend. Airbnb are secretly piloting a program to host restaurants in people’s homes. And, it doesn’t end there.
Meet mass private transit
Chesky predicts private car sharing companies taking over much of public transit.
“As big as Uber and Lyft are, there are going to be companies I predict that will be as big or bigger that will also disintermediate the public-bus system…Ever been on Virgin America? Imagine you have a shuttle that felt like Virgin America—it had Wi-Fi and baristas, and it costs less than a city bus.”
A bold, if contentious, future
For internet optimists, Chesky and other sharing economy CEOs are building a collectivist utopia, regulated by transparency and a benevolent corporation. For pessimists, it will strip society of the love of ownership and individualism.
Whatever readers want to happen, some version of Chesky’s future seems inevitable.
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