The sharing economy is huge, with venture backed startups valued at more hundreds of millions and even billions. But as it approaches its adolescence, there are still soo many things not worked out. Brad Burnham, the only investor in the wildly successful Kickstarter as well as other sharing economy companies, thinks that the likely exits will not be IPO’s, but something like dividends. That is a huge statement, since the valuations of the big companies, the Airbnb’s and the Lyfts, are based on a scenario of traditional venture exits; a sale to another company or going public.

I think Burnham is right. If people buy in, you can’t sell them out. Buying in is what people are doing when they commit the things they own, their apartments and their cars, to a peer to peer marketplaces like Get Around and apartment sharing startups, or couch surfing startups. If I own the Marriott chain, I can flip it to Starwood or some other  big hotelier. I own the assets. They can’t flip your apartment,  or your car and maximize short term return for extractive investors.

The challenges to this market will come in governance; who runs them and who benefits for them, and, of course do they work for more than a self absorbed and self congratulatory hipster elite, but work for all segments of the economy.

Always before, since about 1,500 when the rise of the free market and the Dutch stock exchange freed surfs from medieval feudalism and allowed labor to price itself on the market so people with more skills could make more money, the assets have been owned by the business owner. He could sell stock in his company to investors and they could do with it whatever they wanted. But if the people own the assets and are sharing them across a p2p marketplace, the platform has to be thin; the asset owners, once they wake up to their power, will be the ones to control the terms of trade. The power of finance, including venture funds, will be greatly reduced.

I am not sold on Janelle Orsi’s idea that T Corporations, or rebranded coops are the answer. Just like it’s hard for corporates to think out of the box, it’s hard for coops to think out of the circle. They have not shown they can take on capital to fund innovative growth of new product lines, or that they can fund demand creation if their day to day business is roasting coffee or making chocolate bars, like Equal Exchange. If corporations can’t think outside the box,  coops have not shown they can think outside the consensus circle or allow capital a voice at the table.

There were so many ideas, important structural ideas like avoiding taxes by creating a safe harbor for sharing businesses where sharers make money but the company does not make a profit. People have not figured out the next step, or what exits look like, yet billions have been invested.

For a conference company like SOCAPMarkets that thrives on clarifying emerging markets  through curated conversation, the sharing economy is a huge opportunity. We can help make the market ecosystem, from activists, to entrepreneurs, to venture investors, to corporates, to government and legal, clear to people, and I think we did an amazing job with that this past couple of days. I am hugely proud of the efforts of our staff at SOCAP and our partners at Peers. Milicent Johnson of Peers was the person who had the whole ecosystem in her head. Every first time conference has to have the person who has the ecosystem mapped out in her head and then people show up and are amazed at the vibrant diversity. I’ve done it a few times, and it’s great to be part of other people doing it.

We were really excited that Elizabeth Krueger from our content team could provide the SOCAP speciality of making the convening beyond the usual suspects, but also finding the Valuable Strangers who brought new and unique perspectives. We excel at bringing content diversity that clarifies while it startles you with new and valuable perspectives from people you’ve never heard of.

Our relatively new brand management team of Heather Faison and Leigh Rodwick rocked the place; we trended on twitter both days, the second day without major star social media anchors with huge followings like Jeremiah Owyang and Beth Kanter.

The boiling vibrancy around early markets as they come together and engage in the exiting catalytic act of discovering themselves made this an exciting couple of days for me, because it recalls other times I’ve been around the same phenomenon, like 15 years ago when we built a company that had the biggest brand in  b2b e commerce and again seven years ago when we catalyzed and convened Social Capital Markets, the market at the intersection of money and meaning. We’ve built the new space where impact investors looking to put their hearts into their investment portfolio meet and learn from the entrepreneurs running the for profit mission focused businesses that can return positive capital to investors while creating the change the world needs to solve its biggest problems. Now, with the sharing economy, there is a new space we are part of building. It is exciting, but feels familiar.

 

 

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