Juho approached me about two months ago and told me that I would be doing a workshop about collaborative consumption and the sharing economy at Onnistamo 2012. My natural first instinct upon hearing this was to google Onnistamo 2012, and so I did. The website popped up and I swiftly browsed to the “What is Onnistamo?” page. It said that Onnistamo is an event for social entrepreneurs and those interested in social entrepreneurship to come together and discuss their doings and ideas. Sounds good, I thought, as I started crafting ideas for my workshop. How was I going to pull off my first workshop?
I decided that my approach would not be that of a preacher, trying to convince everyone that collaborative consumption is the way of the future with an arsenal of graphs pointing towards the top-right and Power Point slides filled with buzz words. Instead, I wanted to set the stage for a discussion. I was going to introduce the crowd to the concept of the sharing economy and then let the conversation run loose. Hopefully I could note some key aspects of sharing, such as trust and convenience, and keep the conversation on track. To be honest, I was going to be testing our own hypotheses with my audience, as I wanted to see if they would come to the same conclusions as we have while designing Kassi.
This was my plan.
On Friday morning I arrived at Onnistamo 2012 in Hub Helsinki (formerly the offices of Rovio) to hear the introductory speakers. After the administrivia of the event we heard from various entrepreneurs and experts, such as Kate Bull, the main guest speaker and co-founder of The People’s Supermarket, and Tony Tavi of Herb Basics. While each speaker did impress me and I found all of them interesting, I was looking forward to the more unofficial program and getting to talk to people directly (which most would agree is the best part of any conference).
Soon it was time for my workshop and as I was getting the technical side of the presentation ready, people were starting to arriving in my small meeting room. It quickly became clear that my audience was completely Finnish and having the workshop in English would have been rather somewhat corny. So we improvised and held the workshop in Finnish and I was forced to wave my English notes and presentation material goodbye.
After my initial rant talking about access over ownership and giving examples of some companies in the field, I opened the floor to discussion. I asked people to voice their first impressions about the idea of sharing. What obvious benefits do you see in collaborative consumption? What problems do you see with the sharing economy? How do you think sharing should be done to make it efficient, safe and fun? I would like to list some of the key points that were addressed over the conference.
Convenience. Sharing needs to be easy. The whole thing boils down to a simple equation: if it is easier to buy a new item than borrow it, one will buy the item. If the value of the time and effort used to borrow an item is more than the monetary value of simply buying it, collaborative consumption will never be able to flourish.
Sustainability. This was a point I had not really focused on before. A woman from the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Reuse Centre noted that if you need to drive to the other side of town every time for an item, you are not acting sustainably. Driving may prove to be more costly to the environment than simply owning the item yourself. This idea ties in with convenience and, more specifically, location. People need to be sharing with those around them.
Trust. This is a well-covered topic in the area of collaborative consumption and something that many startups are trying to solve. In the past when people lived in smaller communities and knew their neighbours, we trusted people. It was the norm to trust someone until proven otherwise. It was also commonplace to use items collaboratively in those communities because of that trust. Now as those small village communities are rare and we live without knowing our neighbours, we need to start building trust through technology in order to facilitate the same behaviour we were used to. How does this happen? Ebay does it through constant peer review. Some startups are talking about reputation as a currency that can be measured through a sophisticated algorithm tracking our activities online. How about your Facebook friends? Do you trust them?
I was happy to see that when I presented my own views they were met with general consensus and optimism. Kassi focuses on already existing communities that also share a geographical location (universities, offices and neighborhoods mainly). This allows us to solve those three points rather well. Trust is built through the community that exists without the aid of the Internet. You may not know the person borrowing your bicycle pump, but you may have a friend or two in common from your office. It also helps the convenience factor as members share a physical location they visit regularly, like a campus. Similarly the sustainability factor is addressed, as you never should need to go far for your item.
All in all, I was extremely pleased with the conference. I met fascinating people and had many interesting and illuminating discussions throughout the two days which really made me think about my our business in a new way. I was happy to see that social entrepreneurship has such a heavy presence in Finland and that people are passionate about what they are doing. Everyone in Onnistamo 2012 is connected by the will to make a positive change on society and creating something more than a business.
I will be writing more about what I learned in the following weeks. My next post will be discussing the differences between corporate social responsibility and social enterprises and how social entrepreneurs can use soft power to leverage themselves.