We’re now reinventing capitalism with something called Peers Inc

1 Nov 2016

Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar, speaking at Inspirefest 2016. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

What is Peers Inc? It’s putting collaboration at the core of business, using today’s technology to improve on yesterday’s industry. Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar, explains it better.

What the InterContinental Hotel Group achieved in 65 years, Airbnb did in four. Uber and Hailo are replacing traditional taxi companies. This is a new age.

“Skype is built on my laptop I paid for,” said Robin Chase when speaking at Inspirefest during the summer. “It uses my video camera, that I paid for, and relies on my internet access, that I paid for. They built a telecommunications company with my stuff!”

Robin Chase

Chase is describing Peers Inc, her description of the modern business environment. Many of today’s biggest internet companies are leveraging other people’s assets.

“Why did we invent companies?” she asked. “We did that to do things we can’t do. If it costs millions of dollars, we can’t do it. We need an organisation or a government. If it needs multiple skills, we need an organisation or a government. If it’s something that requires standards […] these are all ancestral strengths.”

The internet, though, has rendered many traditional, ancestral obstacles as obsolete. Information is accessible everywhere, and expertise and delivery of materials are also at the touch of a button.

“We can deal with lots of small parts because of the internet,” she said, which underpins a brand new collaboration called Peers Inc. “Each side is doing what they do best and leaving it on the table for the other guys to do their part.”

Excess capacity is something Chase hones in on consistently to describe this new age. Excess capacity can exist in multiple ways.

The hotel industry, for example, was built on creating room capacity in areas of interest. Airbnb spotted that there is excess capacity already built all over the world with spare rooms, holiday homes etc.

Capitalising on this, it had 650,000 rooms on its books after just four years, the same number as the InterContinental Hotel Group achieved in 65 years, and more than Hilton did in 90.

BlaBlaCar is a company that Chase namechecks as one that best encapsulates this Peers Inc world. Starting in 2006, it’s what she called a “real ride-share” company, which works on people driving from, say, Berlin to Madrid with unoccupied seats in their car.

The company’s growth curve shows six years of very little movement before it exploded in 2012. BlaBlaCar now transports 4m people every month without laying a train track, building a car or anything.

This, according to Chase, is a typical growth model for platform companies. “It takes a long time to get the company right, most fail, but if you get it right, then there is this exponential growth.”

Looking beyond the basics, opening up the data achieved by companies like Airbnb or Zipcar can offer a platform for yet more people to capitalise on. Better still, states, cities and regions can provide even more value.

McKinsey did a report recently that showed over 40 countries opening up their data sets, such as census figures, with an estimated value of $3trn.

What companies are going to find a way of monetising all of that in future?

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get half-price Super Early Bird tickets before prices go up on 15 December.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic