What I know about building a sharing economy business: Debbie Wosskow

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Debbie Wosskow comes from a family of entrepreneurs, particularly female entrepreneurs. She launched her first business at 25 followed by two successful business exits.

In 2011 after watching the romantic comedy ‘The Holiday’ on a plane ride home from a vacation, she founded Love Home Swap (LHS), a home exchange club. It now lists more than 150,000 homes.

Wasskow defines the sharing economy as a model where people make and save money from the assets they have, like their home, car, spare room, boat, skills or even their dog.

When LHS launched the sharing economy was hardly a relevant reality. A PWC report projects that there will be a global revenue of $325 billion by 2025 within the travel, car sharing, finance, staffing, and music and video streaming sectors.

While the UAE government continues to work out the kinks of regulating such businesses, companies like Uber, Deliveroo, Airbnb and Careem already have a strong customer base.

In addition to LHS, Wasskow is the cofounder of Sharestyle, a mobile-only marketplace for personal and home style services, and female-focused funding firm Allbright. Wamda sat with Wasskow to learn more about the growing sector and what it takes build a sharing economy business.

It has its roots in the 2008 recession. That was the perfect storm for an economic environment where people needed to think harder about the pennies in their pocket and how to make their assets work for them. Alongside that was eBay who got us most familiar with the real currency of the sharing economy - peer reviews. The opinion of a stranger became almost as meaningful a currency as the opinion of someone you know. The development of the payment gateway also made it possible to take instant payment anywhere around the world for a sharing economy transaction.

Supply is everything in the beginning. LHS is a marketplace business, which means you need to have supply as well as demand. But if you don't have homes on the supply side then people don't want to come and swap their home. The buyer is the seller so you have got to get people who want to swap or trade, which is not the same as people who want to drive a taxi or hail a taxi. You get momentum with scale.

Curate the choices. The real mantra in the sharing economy platform is that bigger is better. Customers want more choice, but they also don't want choices everywhere. They want you to curate that choice for them and for you to understand your customer based on where they go, what they look at, and what they like.

Develop trust touchpoints for customers. The first thing about LHS is it’s a very different experience swapping a home than it is renting a home or renting out your home because everyone’s got some skin in the game. Since we now trust a stranger’s opinion, we’ll now look at a property and check its rating. All the technology around identity verification and insurance enables you to make sure you are fully covered. On LHS, a person needs to be verified and they have their own home listing on the side of their request. So you can see who they swap with. The essence of LHS is the community of like-minded people who want to swap their homes around the world.

There are four business doing well in the sharing economy. This includes those that focus on environment benefits like ride sharing, those that work on better utilization of space like office buildings and parking, micro-entrepreneurs (like those running very small business or doing things that don’t count as businesses), and the skills-based businesses like Taskrabbit. It’s also more cost effective now to build a sharing economy business, especially with customizable technology tools.

Dubai is a super interesting market. The sharing economy business is about access over ownership. Dubai is centered as a purchasing power, a vacation destination as well as a place where people own assets. Because of its transient community, there are also a lot more renters than owners here. If we look at the audience of the sharing economy it is generally people who want to consume, but are less bothered about ownership, making Dubai interesting.

Feature image via LHS.

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