The “sharing economy”: A behind the scenes tour.

Before I give you a little peek back-stage to this so-called “sharing economy”, I first want to tell you a quick story about how I came to discover an idea. I’ve been working on the construction side of the events industry for just over 11 years now. Starting off as a stagehand or crewman, years of unloading 44 ton trucks full of staging, AV kit and whatever other hefty gear event organisers needed to put on a good show. Thereafter I moved into working on some awesome gigs through health and safety and venue management for some of the largest events in the world. And one thing I have learnt for sure is that, I freaking love the events industry.

But it hasn’t all been glitzy parties and thrilled crowds. It can quite often get rather frustrating working “back-stage” so to speak. A good example would be where we would often find ourselves spending a couple of days on end rigging for one production company at a swanky London event venue. We would set up a large gig involving truckloads of kit only to be used for a 4 hour event. We would then need to break it all down overnight and load out first thing the next morning only to wait at that same venue for our next shift where we load in almost the same kit for a entirely new production company, working on an entirely new separate event. It’s the nature of our very fragmented events industry.

Like ‘monkeys dancing to a blind organ grinder’s tune’, loading in and rigging almost exactly the same set-up as the one we had just taken out. What a waste! Where was the communication? Frustration is what I mostly feIt, I hated it! Adversely, I would then also notice large media companies bringing several of their owned awards ceremonies and breakfast briefings back-to-back at one venue, where only a short changeover of branding was required between events. This gave them a costs savings of nearly 70% off their venue set-up hire and supplier costs. I would also often work on Christmas party themes that were being set-up at one venue by a savvy organiser and then sold exclusively back-to-back to businesses for their Christmas parties. Alas! In 2014 I really started to ask questions as to why there wasn’t a solution to an obvious problem. Obvious to me anyway. A platform or service where venues and dates were promoted and any great production idea, anywhere in the world, anytime of the year could be shared. And that is when Showslice was born. An award-winning service that helps organisers run easier events by sharing key concepts & costs with a Showslice Partner, giving them more time and money to increase profits or produce bigger and better events.

The above 2 events held at the Hilton London Park Lane Hotel in October 2015 easily shared their event set-up and both saved 35% off their total production costs.

Buzzed! That’s how I felt, when 6 months into developing Showslice my mate Richard Green from evvnt asked me if I had heard of Airbnb or Uber? I had no idea what he was talking about and was amazed to have learned of this thing called the “sharing economy”. A buzzword used to describe a trend where these millennial entrepreneurs were creating communication platforms to solve real world problems in travel, hospitality, money, logistics and pretty much anything you could think of. So it was a “thing”! I was part of a “thing”! I could feel it then and still do now. I felt part of something bigger than me. It was crystal. The Online Economy. Before the year 2000 we were learning about how to get on the internet, after the year 2000 we were learning how to connect with each other on the internet through Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc. and now or more so after the 2008 recession, we are learning how to use the internet to connect offline where we can access our underutilised assets and services and be able to work with our available space and time like never before. Technological advancements, environmental concerns and the global recession coupled with the growth of openness and connectivity through the Internet had all started to influence the way in which people and businesses interacted and consumed. All of us have slowly yet surely started to become a part of this “thing”. Unless you’re my granddad of course, he couldn’t be bothered…

People labeling this innovation the “sharing economy” are just helping to weave the wool that thought leaders and industry players are pulling over our eyes. All this “thing” really is is a better way of doing something that already has been happening in one way or another. It’s just now we are dealing with a more personal form of human activity that is being promoted, traded or in some cases exploited through online marketplaces that are now cheaper than ever to build. Since I can remember there has always been emails, search engines and then the surveillance economy that is social media websites came along and with them a whole new form of real sharing, even if just a photo, a status update or a celebrity chef’s latest recipe. Gone are the days when you were lending a newly bought CD or DVD to your friend for the weekend and it felt like you were handing over something valuable. An underused physical asset of yours. Then Napster and other peer-to-peer platforms came along and those tangible items are now as cheap and accessible as a few megabytes. Even though the art is still as spectacular as ever, when pirated, these artists are finding it more challenging to capitalize on their creations through such a digitally connected economy.

According to Chiefinnovator.com Blockbuster went from 9,100 stores with revenues above £6bn in 2004 to revenues of only $120m in 2013. Neflix went from £270m to £4.4bn within the same timeframe.

There is certainly both a real positive and negative side to this digital age, this new way of consumerism. Most of these, if not all of these hugely successful or profitable “sharing economy” platforms aren’t really sharing anything at all. They are simply helping people and businesses monetize their idle time, assets and services whilst helping consumers with improved access and efficiency. A natural evolution of hyper-capitalism that is utilising the Internet and pushing into new markets with potentially unregulated practices. Unfortunately, consumers are not motivated by altruism or sustainability; they just want something fast and cheap. But without these startups, without the growth in technology, we wouldn’t have need for those true sharing practices and open source systems that I truly admire. Unfortunately, profit driven shareholders aren’t ready to sit around, hold hands and sing kumbaya. Some call this slightly perplexing innovation the peer-to-peer economy, access economy, gig economy, collaborative consumption, on-demand economy or my personal favourite cross-dressing capitalism.

Yes, Uber’s key aspects are self-employed drivers with their own car, easy access and payments through mobile with a ratings system…hhhmm…not too much sharing there.

So many new online services start off by riding the wave of this misleading economy, “the uber of this”, “the Airbnb of that” and in most cases rather inaccurate and self-righteous. Even the collaborative consumption industry experts struggle to articulate it effectively. Craigslist and Ebay… Netflix, Spotify and Amazon. Why not match.com or Tinder? Tech of which is not too dissimilar to other online marketplaces. Where does “collaborative” start and where does it stop? I know for sure that the Internet isn’t called the Sharenet. That’s maybe how the older generation may see it. But it’s about connectivity, communication and collaboration and not just one of the three. I feel most people that try to label any curious spinoff or efficient use of an already aptly named online economy, need to start getting with the times. Pretty soon our kids will just be calling it the economy and maybe we should be doing the same.