What It Means to Business When the Crowd Becomes a Company

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The crowd is bypassing traditional companies by sharing goods, services, space, and money with each other in the Sharing Economy.  People are being empowered to build their own goods in the Maker Movement by crowd funding, tapping global marketplaces, and preparing to accelerate this with 3D printing.  You see, the crowd, is starting to perform like a company:  self-financing, self-designing products, self-manufacturing, and self-selling to each other.

So, what does this growing trend mean for traditional businesses?

In my closing slides to corporate audiences about the Collaborative Economy, I attempt to tie everything together on this one summary slide.  While it’s best understood after the full presentation, the slide can, hopefully, stand on its own.  I’ll try to succinctly summarize how we achieved each of these insights, so you can quickly grasp the changes that are occurring.  Let’s break down these specific five points into further detail.

1) People are empowered to get what they need from each other.  The Sharing Economy empowers people to get products from each other – without have to buy new from traditional retail or wholesale sources.  Whether they’re sharing cars, homes, or money, they’re depending on each other to get information.  Further, they’re making their own goods and products by tapping a global marketplace of individual makers. Soon, 3D printing become a force that will catalyze this at scale.  It’s not new.  We saw this ten years ago with social media – people were bypassing corporate communications, marketing, and customer care to obtain information from each other.

2) The crowd is becoming like a company – bypassing inefficient corporations.  Of course, this is forcing business change, as the internet tends to bypass intermediaries that don’t provide lasting, value added services.  Rather than buy vehicles, people can rent or borrow cars from each other.  We’re also seeing the rise of peer-to-peer lending in LendingClub (funded by Google), which has served up $2.8billion in loans in a few short years – bypassing traditional banks.  Watch this LendingClub chart carefully.  This growth rate is starting to take a significant bump in a vertical line.

3) Corporations must use these same tools and strategies to regain relevancy.   Just like we did in social business, to match customers launching blogs, video, and social networking accounts, we saw corporations apply the same strategies to engage in the same channels.  Taking a cue from the first phase of sharing, which we call social business, we’re already seeing over 50 corporations that have transitioned into the Collaborative Economy, with significant upward rewards.

4) This requires business model change.  No one said this is going to be easy.  Significant new mindsets and business investments will be required to satisfy this paradigm change.  BMW now rents cars in addition to selling them.  Toyota is giving away 1,000 cars for the social good.  TOMS shoes now offers a marketplace selling other people’s products beyond their own.  Nokia voluntarily gave up their specs to their phone cases to allow 3D printing to occur.  U-Haul allowed the crowd to fund their own vehicles.  We will need internal champions (whom I call catalysts) who are able to lead this change inside of big companies and turn those large gears a different direction.

5) The crowd will become the company, making corporations resilient.  We’ve seen the crowd become the media and the communications in the first phase of social business:  Customers became the marketing and customer support departments.  Just as we saw companies integrate customers into their media and communications, expect them to integrate them into their business models.  Expect new models to emerge where the crowd is augmenting traditional business processes.  They will co-fund, co-ideate, co-design, co-build, co-support, co-deliver, co-market and more for a growing variety of products.  We’ll also see new forms of marketplaces emerge where products that customers make will be sold alongside those of big brands.

Companies that do this will achieve Resiliency:  They’ll be agile, innovative, connected, empowering others, built to last, and profitable.

Want to learn more? Advance and read the full body of work on the Collaborative Economy, or if you’re a large corporations, join the Crowd Companies Association, with 42+ other corporations. This post was originally posted last year, and I’m republishing due to ideal market signals as disruption accelerates.