Gansky: In Web Startup World, Sharing Is The New Ownership


Ownership is a deep-seated concept in the business world, but the most innovative companies on the Web increasingly are leveraging shared access to goods and talent. Services such as Spotify and Zipcar are early examples and, over time, more products and services will be designed around the notion of sharing.

That's according to Lisa Gansky, entrepreneur and author of "The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing," who traced the impact of sharing on Web business models in a Monday keynote speech at the opening of UBM Channel's Best Of Breed conference in Monarch Beach, Calif.

Increasing population density in cities is one of the main drivers for Gansky's mesh: Within 40 years' time, 75 percent of the world's population will be living in cities, compared to just 10 percent in 1900. Increasing urban populations are adding to the power of peer-to-peer networking, and that's fueling new ideas for startups built around the notion of sharing, she said.

"Peer-to-peer is a huge driver of all sorts of things. The fact that people are always connected and looking at density in urban areas is creating meshing opportunities," Gansky said.

Gansky, who a decade ago was CEO, co-founder and chairman of Ofoto, said the rise of social networking and the near-ubiquitous ownership of mobile devices are combining to connect people with the physical environment around them, and businesses are tapping into the advantages that can be derived from sharing.

"The smartphone is like the remote control for the mesh," she said. "It takes the friction out of sharing and finding things in which you can have access to instead of ownership."

First mover advantage has traditionally been an important differentiation point in business, but as Zipcar has shown, companies don't need to be the creator of an idea to make it successful.

Zipcar, which had its initial public offering in April, has built a thriving business by making car sharing, an idea that has been around for four decades, a better customer experience. Targeting the service to a college-age, non-car-owning market has also been a crucial factor in Zipcar's success, according to Gansky.

Platforms are another unifying feature of The Mesh, Gansky said, and companies that give customers a chance to sample products and services before buying them are finding this an effective way to validate new ideas.

One current example is the Quirky Moneyball Project, a venture capital-funded platform that invites product designers to pitch ideas, chooses two per week, and then moves them through a feedback-oriented development process.

"Platform are an invitation to engage customers and partners," Gansky said. "The message is that if you have an idea for a book, product, or application, you can pitch it and try to raise the amount of money you need to create it."