Provide a Platform for the Crowd to Become Your Company

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Above Image: Screenshot taken from keynote presentation on the Collaborative Economy.
I’m about to tell you that in the most advanced form of the Collaborative Economy, the crowd becomes the company.

To set the context, this post is the most advanced form of the Collaborative Economy, and is only part of my ongoing coverage of this next phase of social business.  Read the definitive research report or peruse all the posts on the Collaborative Economy topic. Let me restate the definition of this movement:

[The Collaborative Economy is an economic model where ownership and access are shared between people, startups, and corporations.]

Disruption: The Crowd Is Already Replicating Company Functions
The Collaborative Economy is where people get what they want from each other, bypassing corporations.  They fund, ideate, design, develop, produce, distribute, market, sell and support products on their own.  As proof points, here’s a list of over 200 startups across various sectors, industries, and geographies.

Corporations Have Two Options:  Fight or Adapt Movement
As with social media, disrupted companies have realized they must use the same technologies to regain power.  Similarly, corporations have one of two options: 1) Fight this revolution by trying to ignore it or by trying to introduce or influence regulation. 2) Collaborate with this new economy, invite the crowd in and unlock new business value for all.

For the corporations that want to explore the second option, read on.

Adapt:  Advanced Collaborative Economy – The Company Provides a Platform
In our research on the Collaborative Economy, the most advanced use case is when corporations allow their customers to participate in core business functions.  We call this Provide a Platform (software, services, solutions), whereby companies make available a dedicated area for customers to join in.

The Rollout:  How Corporations will Deploy This Concept
In my analysis of this industry, I am seeing business functions from every sector being taken on by the crowd.   They will do one of two things:  1) Partner with the startups that offering this, or, 2) Host the available enterprise software on their website.

The below breakdown shows how it’s already emerging


Collaborating with the Crowd in Many Business Functions

Business Function:  
Element of a company that can collaborate with crowd
Startups:
Disruptors and potential partners to corporations
Enterprise Software: 
SW providers that enable corporations to self-host the experience
Brand Examples: 
Who’s doing it now
Co-Employment oDeskTaskrabbit for business, Crowdflower ManpowerKelly ServicesRobert Half Many companies are already tapping into on-demand work
Co-Ideation and Co-Design Quirkly UservoiceSpigit, Crowdtap, BrightIdeaNn the design side, CrowdSpring and 99 Designs; potentially Adobe Creative Cloud Starbucks Ideas, NikeID product designer
Co-Funding Kickstarter SelfStarter by Lockitron, Ignition Deck (Tx Tanya) Dodge Dart Registry
Co-Development and Production Etsy3D Printers Industry Unknown Unknown
Co-Delivery DelivPostmates Google Shopping Express Wa-Mart considered crowd delivery, but no movement sensed.
Co-Storage Lockitron Lockitron RelayRide partnered with OnStar for instant inventory
Co-Marketing Customers organically share in social channels Extole, BuddyMedia by Salesforce, Wildfire Social marketing examples exist in great supply
Co-Sales In a limited way:  LivingSocial, Groupon Affiliate programs Reseller programs with verified partners already exist
Co-Support Customers do this informally now, often in social networks. Get Satisfaction has been active on this topic; LithiumJive Social support examples exist in great supply
Co-Resell Marketplace EbayCraigslist, and many vertical specific, like Gazelle (electronics) While unproven, the following have potential:  Oracle CXSalesforce, IBM Social BusinessAdobe Experience and social commerce platform, Bazaarvoice Patagonia partnered with eBay on Common Threads; Scottevest points to eBay market
Co-Facilities and Office Space Companies can rent office space to each other:  Liquidspace, Sharedesk, Pivotdesk While many examples are startups, these platforms are open to enterprise corporations too. Some corporations offer innovation labs, opening their doors to the market.
Co-Support Customers do this informally now, often in social networks Get Satisfaction has been active on this topic; LithiumJive Social support examples exist in great supply
The process repeats


 

Note: There are other business functions, such as sharing revenue and IP that could also be extended to the crowd; this is only a small sample of what’s possible.

Challenges Await for all Parties
Rife with opposition, the road ahead will require a business transformation and, with it, a series of more challenges await.  Challenges over liability, IP ownership, revenue sharing, information security, and concerns over quality lay ahead.  Don’t assume that all startups will want to work with corporations.  I interviewed Airbnb for this research, and asked them point blank if they would partner with hotels.  They made it clear that’s not a part of their current roadmap.

Expect New Enterprise Software to Emerge
Expect that many social business suite players will get wind of this space and seek to build or acquire players in this space to assemble a suite.  I’ve briefed a number of the small and large software companies associated with this booming movement and informed them of the opportunities at hand. Expect for now that point players will continue to emerge and, eventually, provide an opportunity for acquisition cycle.  But for now, we’re just at market identification stage.

Conclusion:  Soon Customers and Employees Will be the Same
Corporations that adopt these methods and invite the crowd to be part of the company will benefit from a more efficient workforce, reduced costs, and tapping into loyal customers from product ideation to delivery.  In this new model, it will be difficult to tell the difference between customers and employees, as the ownership of core business functions are shared with customers.

In the very near future, the crowd will become the company.