The secret to making more money on the internet

Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, is famous for the words, “this is for everyone.” These words, writ large at the London 2012 Olympics, have never been so apt.

Now, the internet is inspiring a new sort of business revolution, a new way for us to make money and save money together. Welcome to the brave new world of collaborative consumption: a revolution that could lead to the democratisation of business models. It’s tearing up old business models, reinventing better ones and relies on that most philanthropic concept of “what’s mine is yours.”

Making money, together

Technology means that renting, lending, swapping, bartering and gifting can take place on a scale never before possible.

We first saw this trend emerge in the creation of eBay and Craigslist, which grew from humble auction sites and local listing services to become online marketplace powerhouses. This allowed the smallest to the biggest buyer and seller to communicate and transact together.

Their success has spurred on entrepreneurs to take things a step further across a range of industries.

Perhaps the best known example for collaborative consumption is Airbnb, which has turned itself into a multi-billion dollar valued business by providing a platform for you to rent out your room or apartment to tourists. You get some extra income and tourists get a better deal than paying through the nose for a hotel.

Its success has spawned other businesses keen to find a home for visitors’ cash, such as onefinestay.com, which allows you to stay in someone else’s house, or rent out your own. There is a twist. The onefinestay team go in first and deck it out like a five-star hotel – from perfectly made beds to bathrooms full of luxury toiletries.

A good shake up of the behind-the-times renting and letting market can’t be far behind. For once, a house might turn out to be a bit of an earner, rather than just costing a fortune.

Driving through cost savings

But it is not just home sweet home when it comes to collaborative consumption. There are plenty of other old-fashioned business models that technology can and is disrupting with the help of “ours truly”.

Rising petrol costs are driving real change in the transport market. Streetcar – pioneered car sharing in the UK – gives consumers the ability to hire a car by the hour when you want to, as an alternative to owning a vehicle. They were quickly gobbled up by their bigger international rival, Zipcar, who are also subject to a takeover by industry big daddy AvisBudget. They probably wished they had hit the accelerator on their own car sharing plans earlier.

From peer-to-peer car pooling platforms such as Liftshare and Blablacar – where travellers are co-ordinating trips together to save money – through to sites such a parkatmyhouse.com, which allows you to rent out your parking space, collaborative consumption has changed the car market.

With your house and driveway turned into unexpected money makers – what about using your spare time and skills to make a bit of extra cash?

TaskRabbit has gained a fair amount of traction, certainly in the US, by providing a platform for people to outsource their errand and to-do list, from house cleaning to picking up the shopping, to that dreaded Ikea wardrobe assembly. Taskhub, an O2 Telefonica backed start-up, is aiming to make a similar impression in the UK.

If you have a useful skill, you can even set up a course or an experience for like-minded people, using innovative new services such as www.idlovetodothat.com, whose goal is to empower women. Benefit from trying new things by going to theamazings.com which hopes to give people over the age of 50 a new lease of life.

Spare cash

Spare savings such as Zopa – lend it to someone for a return.

Spare things such as rentmyitems.com – rent them out.

Spare space such as www.sharemystorage.com – let somebody store things in it.

You can soon see how a new breed of businesses have emerged that can help you make spare cash every day, in every part of your life.

Collaborative consumption has also spawned a whole range of new sharing and caring services. Perhaps the best known is Freecycle, which matches people who have things they want to get rid of, with people who want to use them.

The DoNation lets you give by doing. Ecomodo styles itself as the market place for good returns. Landshare.net connects people who want to grow plants or vegetables with people who have land to spare. 

Taken a step further, collaborative consumption has spawned the rise of people clubbing together to get a better deal.

Huddlebuy.co.uk enables small businesses to save money by getting a better deal from a complete range of bigger suppliers and brands.

Rising energy costs are spurring people to come together to try and get a better deal. Consumer magazine group Which tried it last year with a mixed result – but it will no doubt spur on others to make their own attempts.

A whole range of initiatives are being set up to get local people to help other locals. Bristol has even gone as far as creating its own currency – the Bristol Pound – to help support the local high-street and traders.

This is just the beginning. Collaborative consumption is here to stay, with ever more innovative and sophisticated services bringing more power to the people in the real world beyond the computer screen.

We are all in this together, and together businesses and consumers can make and save more money than ever before. 

Andy Yates, entrepreneur and director of Huddlebuy.co.uk, looks at key themes and trends that every business needs to think about in a regular series for Real Business.

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