IN LATE OCTOBER 2010, I found myself in the city of San Francisco for the first time. I was at Hub SoMa, one of the city’s exploding number of co-working spaces, and I was running an event with author Rachel Botsman for the final leg of the US and European tour for her first book, What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (HarperCollins, 2010). The start-up mad city was a global epicentre for a growing movement Rachel had defined as ‘collaborative consumption’ – now better known as the ‘sharing economy’ – and we had organised a line-up of emerging entrepreneurs to talk about their fledgling and increasingly controversial business models. These included John Zimmer, co-founder of carpooling start-up Zimride (which, two years later, evolved to become ridesharing business Lyft, Uber’s most serious competitor), and Brian Chesky, co-founder of home-sharing start-up Airbnb (then just two years old). If both these founders and their businesses have become part of global sharing-economy folklore, our event barely drew a crowd of thirty. This was in part because it was a terrible idea to schedule anything on the night of the second game of the San Francisco Giants’ World Series play-offs in a baseball-mad city – especially when they would go on to win the title after an almost sixty-year drought. But that night I nevertheless realised I had one of the earliest and most unique vantage points to a different kind of history in the making, a zeitgeist that would over the following years become a game-changing worldwide movement and business model revolution.
Six months earlier, I’d met Rachel in Sydney as she was reviewing the final drafts of What’s Mine Is Yours. Like thousands of others would soon become, I was completely enamoured by the possibilities of a world moving towards access over ownership, trust between strangers made easier through technology, and of leveraging the idling capacity of our assets so compellingly articulated by Rachel in her work. When I was offered the opportunity to work alongside her to help spread awareness of these concepts, and to connect the new generation of entrepreneurs around the world making them a reality, it was the easiest leap of faith I had ever made. The book tour in October that year was an initiation into a five-year adventure of a lifetime, as we travelled to cities across Europe, the US, Canada, South America and the Asia-Pacific to talk about the rise of this movement, and meet the companies, entrepreneurs and community leaders driving it forward at the local level. For every US-based start-up, there seemed to be international equivalents emerging simultaneously in cities as diverse as São Paulo, Paris, Seoul, London, Amsterdam and Sydney, and we knew that to build a global movement we needed local knowledge. I spent the next few years building a community of influencers and thought leaders in more than forty cities, who kept us abreast of local activity so we could highlight the truly global nature of this shift. These representatives, called our ‘global curators’, were actively raising awareness throughout the community, and often connecting with local government officials and businesses to advocate for the benefits of sharing economy platforms, especially those that found themselves operating in so-called legal ‘grey areas’.
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