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Sharing - Watch This Space

  |  February 13, 2014   |  Comments   |  

Airbnb, Fon, and Withlocals - it's time to start paying attention to these businesses that are disrupting the economy, which provide services to customers seeking alternatives to the mainstream.

Sharing - to join with another or others in the use of (something).

Digitize this concept and we get the sharing economy or peer economy where owners rent out something they’re not using - their homes, their bicycles, their cars, their Wi-Fi connections, or even their spare time to do tasks.

If you've not stumbled upon these businesses that are helping everyday people provide services to customers seeking options alternative to the mainstream, it’s time to start paying attention to them. Melissa O’Young, founder of the event series Let’s Collaborate!, says the sharing industry is only getting stronger and will pull in $350 billion in transactions in 2013 alone.

Some of my favorite businesses in this fast-growing disruptive economy are:

  • Airbnb, where owners can rent out a room or their entire home to travelers. A recent study showed that the Airbnb community generated US$824 million in economic activity in the U.K. in 2013.
  • Fon, touted as a global Wi-Fi network, where members share a bit of their home Wi-Fi and in turn get free access to millions of other Fon hotspots worldwide.
  • WithLocals, a marketplace connecting travelers from every corner of the world with locals in Asia offering unique travel experiences and home dining opportunities.

Traditional businesses may wonder how these companies are disrupting existing business models and, being a regular buyer in the social economy, I summarize the pluses I repeatedly experience below:

  • Authenticity. WithLocals is an amazing example of local residents providing experiences to travelers wanting to see, eat, and play beyond where tourists usually go.
  • Quality and price. Without high overheads and a board of directors pushing for greater margins at lower costs, what’s offered by sellers are often of high quality and at very reasonable rates. Airbnb is a great example where you can rent an entire apartment for the price of a standard hotel room.
  • Level the playing field. The social economy enables anyone offering a good-quality service to earn extra cash or even turn what they provide into a viable business as it takes away high overheads yet has the potential to bring scale and volume.

Being a fan of social businesses, a company that caught my attention recently is Lensy, which is described as a marketplace where everyday photographers can sell their photos to other individuals and businesses that require stock photography. What piqued my interest, and that of various photography enthusiasts in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore, is it’s value proposition.

The creators came up with this marketplace to address the challenge of finding Asian photographs from traditional stock libraries but also to champion hobby photographers by providing them an opportunity to make their photos available for sale to brands and businesses.

"Lensy is built upon the sharing economy, where people are able to leverage on unused or excess capacity (in this case great photos they've taken and are really proud of but would otherwise just sit in their hard drives and image hosting sites) and monetize these assets," says founder Vincent Teo.

Upon browsing its library, I’m surprised by the quality of photographs as well as the opportunities provided to photography enthusiasts.


So does Lensy disrupt the traditional stock-library business model in a similar way to other social businesses I’ve experienced?

  • Authenticity. Beyond Asian people in the images, the fauna and the composition of the photographs are true to this region.
  • Quality and price. What more can I say about paying $10 for a non-exclusive right to use the photograph royalty free across all mediums and over an indefinite period of time? This makes it affordable for any business to use high-quality images wherever they are needed.
  • Level the playing field. Anyone that has amazing photographs sitting on their hard drives can turn these into assets that earn them extra cash. Lensy’s Tasks also provides opportunities for enthusiasts to work with brands and this represents a very attractive way for brands to develop cost effective content.


The sharing economy and the businesses that it inspires are a natural outcome of the connectivity the Internet fosters. So take a close look at this exciting space if you haven’t already. There are plenty of amazing opportunities for a brand or individual looking to buy or take up a service. And you probably already have something that’s of value to sell.

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Jermyn Toh

Jermyn Toh started cobbling together websites in the mid 90s and went on to work with brands like adidas, Apple, Daimler, DHL, Diageo, GSK, HTC, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Visa in various digital planning and marketing consultancy roles. He is currently director of Experian’s Digital Innovation Group and focuses on market development for Alchemy Social, digital strategy, and product innovation. He can be found on Twitter @jermyntoh.

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