Sharing is Caring – Living and Vacationing on Collaborative Consumption

I was planning on doing another entry on Collaborative Consumption a couple weeks ago, but took a spontaneous vacation instead. I was offline for about two weeks.

Because I planned my getaway literally as I was going and didn’t want to spend too much money, I naturally turned to collaborative consumption.

Question: Can I find a place cheap place to stay at the last minute? Answer: Yes!

Question: Can I offer rides and get people to pay for my gas? Answer: Of course!

Question: Can I find a place to stay for FREE? Answer: Yup!

Question: Can I find work during my vacation to make some money? Answer: Absolutely!

During my vacation I stayed free on people’s spare beds and couch through Couchsurfing.

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When I was just passing through and not staying at that city, I used AirBnB.

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I spent about $350 during my trip that lasted 11 days. That’s less than $32 a night. I was in five cities and two countries. Not bad, right?

What was great about AirBnB was that I was able to look through a lot of rooms on my phone and get real-time feedback from the listers. I was able to see the pictures of the very room I would be staying at and compare my options. I could have done this through hotel apps, but communicating with the hotels via a centralized messaging system would have been impossible.

Real-time booking with real-time feedback = Quickest way to find a place to stay for cheap.

One of the better places I stayed at had access to a private beach. It had everything I needed, including a kitchen, mountain bikes, canoes, and a super comfortable pillow top bed. Check out the view!

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On my way up the pacific northwest coast, I had the opportunity to pick up a few passengers through RideJoy. It took a few back-and-forth, but there was definitely a community of riders looking to hitch a ride. I ultimately decided to do my drive alone because I thought it would be more relaxing that way.

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That said, had I taken three to four passengers that were interested in riding with me, I would have made about $260. That would have more than paid for my gas! Ironically, I picked up two hitchhikers on my way back.

hitchhiker A word of advice to those who are considering picking up hitchhikers: Make sure you check that they aren’t armed before you let them in your car. One of the men I picked up had an eight-inch blade on his belt that I didn’t notice until he hopped in my car. That kept me alert the whole two hours he was in my car!

When I was in Seattle, I had the opportunity to drive SideCar. I even turned on my driver app, but ultimately ended up not driving. I did take a SideCar to go somewhere though and had a friendly chat with the driver. He said that the demand there was pretty good.

Why didn’t I drive SideCar up in Seattle? Well, for one thing, I was on vacation. But, really, I didn’t feel comfortable driving in a city where I didn’t know any of the roads. My point is that, if I wanted to, I could have easily done it.

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Think about it. This changes everything. Someone could move to Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or any of the cities where SideCar operates and start working immediately provided that they have been approved by SideCar.

Collaborative consumption create a very mobile and flexible workforce. It could be a great solution to unemployment and underemployment.

In San Francisco, I average about $25 to $30 an hour when driving SideCar. If I had driven about five hours in Seattle and had given rides up and down the Pacific northwest coast, I would have made about $400. Considering I spent about $350 on AirBnB, this means I would have made money on my vacation (not including food). 

images-2Back to Couchsurfing. I love this site. I absolutely recommend it, not only because it’s a way to find a place to stay for free, but also because it helps you to explore a new city with someone who already lives there. It’s like getting a free place to stay as well as a free tour guide if your host is willing to show you around. This is the epitome of the concept of “sharing is caring.”

In my last blog entry, I talked about InstaCart. I think Seattle, where I spent a few days, would be a great place for InstaCart. The locals told me that the City has seen an influx of young professionals lately. They say that there is a growing number of tech start-ups and that Google, Microsoft, Boeing, and Amazon are hiring aggressively.

Young urban professionals who are tech-savvy? It seems like Seattle would be a natural expansion point. In fact, I saw Safeway and Whole Foods delivery trucks several times while I was there.

growthI am not sure what InstaCart’s expansion strategy is, but it seems logical to me that it should partner with new condos, apartments, and even companies to  drive mass-adoption. For example, if you live in ABC apartments or work for Company XYZ, you get a code that gives you a discount or a Y number of free deliveries to get you to try out the app.

In an interview I read about InstaCart, its founder Apoorva Mehta said, “The hardest thing is the logistics of people, and managing quality of service on a collaborative consumption model.” Deliveries to the same location (apartment or company) would help with logistics, which seems to be one of key points to InstaCart’s success.

What’s my conclusion?

Collaborative consumption provides a whole new way of consuming and working. It allows people to quickly rent out their homes. It allows people like me to spontaneously book rooms without having to make a reservation a week in advance.

Collaborative consumption allows ultimate job flexibility. I could’ve easily turned on my driver app and made a few hundred dollars or given rides to offset the cost of my gas. I could have turned on my shopper app when I had two hours of down time to do some grocery shopping (that is, had InstaCart been active in Seattle).

We all have idle inventory, whether it’s a spare bedroom (AirBnB), a car (SideCar or RideJoy), or a few few hours of free time (InstaCart). Maximizing the utilization of these unused resources deliverers convenience for the consumers and wealth for the suppliers.

Sharing is Caring – Living on Collaborative Consumption

I don’t know how many posts I’ll write on this topic, but I want to share a bit about my current research on collaborative consumption (I’m using this term broadly).

I signed up for Lyft, SideCar, TaskRabbit, Instacart, and Exec. I am fascinated with share economy, peer-to-peer services, and collaborative consumption. I am convinced that there is a generational trend among Americans in their 20s-30s, especially the urbanites, to shift from ownership and fixed-schedule to sharing and flexibilty.

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When I told my parents about what I was doing, their initial reaction was, “Uhh… you are giving rides and delivering groceries to random people? Isn’t that dangerous?” But once I explained to them how everything worked, they had an ah-ha moment. My parents aren’t up-to-date on the latest apps or web-based services, but even they see the value of what companies like SideCar, Instacart, and TaskRabbit are. doing.

We, young professionals, are transient. We may live in New York for two years and then move to San Francisco before settling in Chicago 10 years later to raise a family there. On top of that, even if one decided to stay put in one place, he or she is likely way too busy with life to run all their personal errands. Wait for the bus when you are running 10 minutes late? Try to find a cab during rush hour? Forget about it! Let someone else pick up your groceries and dry cleaning and pick you up when you need to get from point A to point B!

So how has it been working out for me? Here are the results by the numbers. I will write more about my experience with each of the companies in my next post.

After two weeks of driving around 82 people through SideCar, I have earned $847.20 in donations. Just a side note: If you take SideCar, please tip your  drivers! Please do not pay less than the suggested amount, especially if you get a car late at night or make multiple stops.

From Instacart, I have earned $209.20 after 12 deliveries. I suck at getting groceries for myself because I never know what to get. After seeing what others buy, I now have a much better idea of what to get for myself! Killing two birds with one stone!

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After hopping around the Bay Area to complete six tasks on TaskRabbit, I have made $203.  I’ll write more about some of the tasks I’ve run in my next post, but here is a picture of a task that required me to pack lunches for 40 school-aged kids. In the process of writing this, I got assigned to this task again, except that this time I need to pack for 70 kids! Naturally, I am being paid more for the task. Score!

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So, after having worked part-time for 13 days, I have made $1259.40.

I have not been fully approved for Lyft yet and have not finished my application process for Exec. I intend to sign up for Getaround as well. I am basically doing everything related to collaborative consumption, except for AirBnB since I live in a studio.

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(I want my own pink mustache!)

Now, I am not doing random tasks and driving people around SF only to make a few dollars. If I wanted to make money, I would probably start playing poker again, as my average hourly profit at a casino is about $50.  Or, I could just teach GMAT for $80-$100 an hour. After all, I did relatively well on the GMAT and have an MBA from a top 10 school to prove it. But I wouldn’t learn anything useful doing those things.

This is a great way for me to learn how these companies in the collaborative consumption space and peer-to-peer services operate from the ground-up. In a way, I am investing in myself through this experience.

I have learned a lot already and have suggestions for improvement for all three companies. I also have thoughts on how one making a living through these services could maximize his or her profit. More on that in my next post…

If you need help with some errands, look me up on TaskRabbit: www.taskrabbit.com/jonathanlee00! Unfortunately, you can’t ask for me specifically on Instacart, but I generally work during the day on weekdays. Tips are of course appreciated, and don’t worry I won’t blog about what weird things you may order. I’ll just laugh at you. :-) As for requesting me on SideCar, well, you can’t do that either, but I’m sure I’ll run into you if you are a frequent user in San Francisco.

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(Aspiring to be the best dressed SideCar driver. See that Foursquare badge?)

There is an entrepreneurial spirit in all of us. The platform the aforementioned companies have provided is great for micro-entrepreneurs. Trust me on this, this is already big and it’s about to get ginormous!

Be on the look out for my next post. I have some interesting stories to share from my rides and deliveries!

By: Jonathan Lee
Twitter:  @hi5at5

Well, hello HTML, CSS, and JavaScript! (My long journey to literacy.)

I started learning PHP as I mentioned in my blog entry a few weeks ago. And by started, I really mean spent a few hours one Saturday afternoon writing a few lines of code. I saw some similarities between PHP and Python, but also noticed that the syntax was noticeably different. As a novice, I would liken it to an illiterate trying to learn Spanish after only having built an elementary knowledge of English.

Again, I consulted my friends who actually code for a living. Given my goal of wanting to put out a prototype of what I eventually want a more skilled programmer to build for me, they encouraged me to brush up on HTML and learn a bit of CSS. To do that, I went to Codecademy which I test drove when it first came out last year. I got through HTML and CSS pretty quickly. I spent a combined total of 30 hours over two weekends at a local Starbucks. It was fun. I am by no means an expert and whatever I can build looks rather unprofessional. Maybe even ugly, but I can say that I know how to build and design– and I use those words loosely at this point– a website from scratch.

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(Image from: Get a Member Site)

So you might be thinking that I am now back to studying PHP. Not true. I am actually going to be focusing on JavaScript. This is mostly because Codecademy has more lessons for JavaScript than it does for anything else. It actually doesn’t have anything for PHP. I am OK with this change actually. As someone who is a novice and is concerned mostly about front-end development, I think a combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is fine for now. I will pick up PHP and Python soon. What matters to me right now is that I am enjoying learning new languages and building things using what I have learned.

I found this discussion thread on Stack Overflow, which helped me make up my mind to concentrate on HTML/CSS/JavaScript. I’m not looking to switch jobs and become a programmer, but it appears that there are similarities between the Eddie’s friend and me.

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This is going to be a long journey, but I’m enjoying it so far. I don’t mind sacrificing my weekends.. for now. Learning to code is a fun, inexpensive hobby. Back to coding with a tall ice coffee in my hand.

By: Jonathan Lee
Twitter: @hi5at5

Why I am still bullish on Facebook (FB).


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Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) yesterday closed at $19.87 a share-  its lowest closing price to date. That is far below its IPO price of $38 a share, which valued Zuckerburg’s empire at an eye-popping $104 billion. At one point during trading hours today, FB was as low as $19.69. Shareholders are losing confidence in Facebook and experts are predicting the share prices to fall even further as employees and early institutional investors start selling their shares. Is this going to be a death spiral? Was this all just a bubble?


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Naysayers cite Facebook’s slowing growth and uncertainty of the Company’s mobile strategy as reasons to be bearish on FB, but I disagree. Facebook is till a very young company and it is far from its peak. The share price may decline a bit more (although theoretically this should be priced into the stock already) as lockups expire allowing insiders to sell, but FB will make a strong comeback in the next 24 months. There are numerous reasons why I believe this, but I will go over just a few:


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1. Facebook will soon have more than a billion users. If information is power, Facebook is more powerful than most companies out there. Arguably, Facebook may have more personal data than any other company. While it hasn’t yet perfected targeted advertising, Facebook could still do a lot with this data. Plus, it’s not just about display advertising. For example, Facebook could personalize the user experience to provide a more engaging experience. When that leads users to spend even more time on Facebook, more commercial (i.e. monetization) opportunities will open up.


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2. It’s true that Facebook hasn’t figure out mobile yet. As more people access Facebook from their mobile device (nearly 55% of its 900 million users), Facebook will need to run more mobile ads. Some worry that they may not be able to do this well without disrupting user experience. I disagree. In fact, click-through rate on Facebook’s mobile app is significantly higher than on desktop. Mobile ads can be even more targeted because Facebook can geo-target ads in real-time. If I am on my Facebook app walking near 2nd and Mission, it can send me a coupon to Peet’s. Now, you may be thinking, “Any mobile app can do that.” That’s true, but what’s unique about Facebook is that it knows so much about its users. It knows where they work, where they go to school, where they check in, and even where their friends check in. With some triangulation, Facebook could come up with a super accurate way to predict what ads its users would find interesting. It just needs to try different methods before getting it right. The potential here is enormous because mobile consumption is growing by the day. Just because Facebook hasn’t cracked the code yet doesn’t mean they won’t ever. They will. Soon.


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3. According to Seeking Alpha, Facebook generates less than $5 in revenue per user per year. By comparison, Google makes $30 in revenue per user per year. As Facebook becomes better at attracting advertiser dollars through better advertising and with a bigger sales team, the large gap between Google and Facebook will narrow. I have no trouble believing that Zuckerburg and his army of engineers will eventually unlock the value of all the personal data its users have volunteered to the social network. Facebook’s shares should skyrocket even if Facebook can make $15 per user per year.


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4. Netflix CEO and Chairman Reed Hastings recently bought a $1 million worth of Facebook shares at about $21 a share. Does he know something we don’t know? He does have a seat on Facebook’s board. When he sells massive amounts of shares of Neflix and buys nearly 48,000 shares in a company he doesn’t directly control, that is a sign of confidence. Check out his trades. Hastings may not be a hedge fund manager, but he does understand consumers. Perhaps he sees a future in Facebook that many Wall Street investors fail to see.


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5. Facebook as a platform is just too enormous to fail. While social games’ dependence on Facebook is starting to decrease, the world’s largest social network is still the go-to place on which countless apps are built.  Facebook will soon become a huge ecosystem where consumers and merchants transact  and users go to for new and entertainment. As I wrote back in September 2010, Facebook will continue to morph into something much greater than what it is today. We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Come back to this blog post 24 months from now. Let’s see if I was right to be bullish on Facebook.

By: Jonathan Lee
Twitter: @hi5at5

Why I’m giving up learning how to code (well, sorta’).

I’ve been trying to learn Python for a while using Learn Python the Hard Way. I made some progress, but it’s not working out for me. I had gotten to the point of being able to write a decent “game” in command prompt. But let’s be serious, it’s not really a game if there are no colorful characters or flashing lights. No one wants to stare into a dark box and type in numbers and answers to my questions no matter how funny they are. This is 2012, not 1982.

It’s hard to admit defeat to Python because I hate to lose. I was committed and went through the lessons regularly, but as they got progressively more difficult my progress slowed exponentially. Yes, I can make lame excuses about life being busy, but everyone’s busy. I consulted with my friends who actually know how to code and they told me to download that, set up this, and warned me that even with all the tools it’s just going to more difficult learning Python on Windows than it would be on Mac or Linux.

So yes, I am admitting defeat. You win Python, but only for a short while. At the recommendation of a friend who’s built many successful website, mobile apps, and even hacked into the network of a large institution (which shall nameless because he told them immediately and made their network stronger), I am going to re-start my programming journey with PHP. It’s an older language, but I’m told it would be easier to start with for a complete novice like me. I’ve demonstrated that I suck at coding so I’ll take his word for it.

So technically, I am not really quitting. Me, quit? C’mon, you’ve got to be kidding. I never quit! I hate losing more than I like winning. I’m going after your older cousin first and then I’ll be back for you, Python.

I think I just need a re-boot. Once I get comfortable with PHP and am able to build something I can share with the world, I’ll be back. Oh yes, As T-101 once famously said, “Hasta la vista, Baby.”

By: Jonathan Lee
Twitter: @hi5at5

Opportunities that will enable Square to significantly grow Pay with Square

I’ve written about online and mobile payments before. It’s a young industry with still a lot of room for growth. I came across a few articles about Pay with Square. Based on my personal experience, I am bullish on this new way to pay. Some people believe Pay with Square is ahead of its time, but I think it has the potential to fundamentally change how we pay at the cash register. To me, that’s super exciting. Anything that can reshape culture or established norms gets me excited.

If I were on the team at Square running the Pay with Square (“PWS”) program, here are a few things I would do to ensure that it is a mega hit and goes mainstream.

1. Increase the size of merchant base through strategic partnerships.

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Square has many fans (and I am one of them), but the chief complaint I’ve heard is that not that many merchants give customers the ability to use Pay with Square. To address that issue, Square should form strategic relationship that will quickly bring on board thousands of merchants.

Square has grown tremendously over the last 1-2 years. Its current strength is with local small to medium sized merchants, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t pursue opportunities on a regional or national level. Square may have to lower its rate slightly in order to work with large retailers that have higher ticket items, but its 2.75% fee is very competitive for lower-ticket items, such as donuts, coffees, most goods at convenience stores, etc.

I lived in Boston for nearly 10 years. One thing it’s known for is Dunkin’ Donuts. They are everywhere. In fact, there are about 2,000 Dunkin’ Donuts in the Boston metro area. What’s interesting is that a lot of these are kiosks inside the T or Commuter Rail stations. I remember missing the T during a morning commute once because I had to wait for the cashier to print a receipt I had to sign. Square should partner with Dunkin’ Donuts and enable its patrons to Pay with Square.

Bottom line: Square should accelerate merchant acquisition by developing strategic relationships with a network of retail stores or franchises, such as Dunkin’ Donuts. I am sure there are plenty of other examples, but I think I am in the mood for doughnuts right now so that’s what came to my mind first. I think where Square can really shine is high-traffic, quick turnover retail shops with simple menus.

2. Provide incentives to merchants to promote Pay with Square to their customers.

Square must use both push and pull strategies to drive adoption. Once it acquires merchants through partnerships, Square must keep them accepting Pay with Square. To do this, the PWS team should work with the Marketing team to design a marketing program that incentivizes merchants to promote PWS to their customers. For example, Square might consider reducing its fees for merchants that meet a minimum PWS transaction volume each month or create attractive loyalty programs for PWS users. The reduced fees give merchants a monetary incentive to promote PWS to their customers. I talked to a few merchants who use Square and they didn’t seem to really care to promote PWS to their customers. Of course, the PWS team would need to run the numbers with the Marketing team to figure out what’s optimal from a financial perspective.

Now, here are some ideas for what I think Square should to do continue to grow its users.

3. Partner with mobile device manufacturers to get the Pay with Square app pre-installed on phones.

This partnership could take some time to put in place, but it would be a fantastic way for Square to accelerate user adoption. My guess is that Square is already looking into this. It should target Apple, Samsung, LG, etc to get the PWS app pre-installed on mobile devices.

The basic pitch here is that consumers are buying a phone that has “money” in it in the form of bonus credits from Square. Square should give a generous amount like $20 to a new user who signs up through the pre-loaded app. So if you buy a $200 phone, it would actually cost only $180 because you are getting $20 from Square. At the time of setting up their phone, users would be prompted to sign up for an account to activate their app to redeem their bonus.

To convince the OEMs to get on board, Square should do a rev share on the transactions from the pre-loaded app. Users will want to link their info with the app to claim their bonus credit and OEMs will push the users to register because they’ll want to get a cut of the transactions. Obviously, Square would need to run the numbers to figure out the optimal approach (i.e. rev share amount, bonus cost, potential cannibalization, etc.).

4. Work with the Product team to build features that will encourage more frequent usage.

Getting new users isn’t enough. Square needs to get them to use the app frequently. One product feature I would like to see is the ability to add multiple credit cards and other payment methods, such as gift cards or coupons. This would give users a reason to use PWS everyday because they would truly be able to leave their wallets at home. By allowing users to load the PWS app with additional credit cards, coupons, gift cards, etc. Square can become a true “e-wallet.” In fact, this feature might be necessary if Square wants to work with a national retailer and allow them to accept coupons or their branded gift cards (e.g. Dunkin’ Donuts gift card). This may be slightly outside the scope of PWS team’s job description, but it’s a feature I’m sure they would love to talk to merchants about.

By: Jonathan Lee
Twitter: @hi5at5

Can iphones drive?

It’s really amazing what you can do with a smartphone these days. Maybe smartphones will be smart enough to drive real cars one day. Now, that would be really cool!

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