“I think we are going to pull our heads out of our arses just in time”


Originally appeared in OUISHARE MAGAZINE .
9 April 2014

This line has stuck in my mind since talking to Lisa Gansky for this interview. I’m sure there is a more polite way to start this article, but it’s always good to lead with an interesting opening line… In truth Lisa suggested we start with the sense of optimism she feels based on the Sharing Economy reaching clear milestones; and this echoes the sentiments of Arun in our previous Ouishare Fest interview. Asking around the community there is a feeling of having moved through the innovator stage, the early adopter stage and to now being hurtling across the chasm which must mean the Sharing Economy is approaching mainstream. I excitedly shout out how the sharing economy must be mainstream now because the two friends I have outside the social media, Ted-ster, techie bubble have both either used Airbnb or crashed a Zip Car. Also notably Ice Cube and Conan O’Brien have clocked up over 9 Million views on YouTube in a Lyft car! Does Lisa think the collaborative economy is mainstream? Well, No. She believes that “in the technology start-up community we tend to breathe our own exhaust. We see things happening faster and all at once, which it is not the case for those living outside the ‘movie’”. Although she is always “delighted to go to cities and see car sharing, a tool library and bike sharing, of course, Boris bikes” she believes that “the cultural shift is towards having the Collaborative Economy become ‘just the economy’ is arguably what we are all after, but it is not mainstream yet.” Whenever you have a conversation with Lisa Gansky you walk away with more questions than you arrived with. This is a good thing. I am always left feeling significantly more of a pioneer than I am in real life – an effect I am happy to keep alive. In contrast Lisa Gansky is the Peter Ustinov of the Collaborative Economy space. Whilst she retains a low key persona you only need to chat with her briefly before unassuming phrases like “I was rock climbing with Dan Pink in 1997” or “Me and Mick Jagger were working on a prototype app in San Francisco in 1991” flow into the conversation. (I exaggerate for effect…and of course, some of these examples come out of my own dreamy state) At the same time Lisa sustains a curiosity with ‘where the puck is going’ and how that puck will affect our cities and communities in the coming years. Sharing Economy these days For three years now she has been fascinated by the idea of the ‘urban entrepreneur’ as she believes that “for the first time in a very long time there has been both creative capital and financial capital from the start up ecosystem focused on some of our biggest challenges”, which she considers are in our cities. Since 2010 there has been more people than ever before living in urban environments rather than rural ones and by 2050 75% of the world will live in cities creating both increased opportunity and pressure on them. As she points out “So far a lot of the innovation has been in transit or waste management, how we turn waste into value (food, energy, soil, clothing) – poetically – or waste into energy, increasingly this will be an enormous opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship. Think of the internet of things and the industrial internet playing out and in cities and food – the way that urban food is being rethought even today with peer to peer allotments.”The City as a platform and connectedness Lisa’s view is that there is an opportunity and need for us to learn from each other while creating local and global resilience, the Sharing Economy connects us in ways that make a tighter weave within and between our communities that goes far to creating that resilience. She mentions how some specific accelerators “like Tumml in San Francisco , Popup Cityin Amsterdam, Laboratorio para La Ciudad  in Mexico City and other platforms are inviting partnerships between private start up groups, investment groups and cities to create all sorts of innovation, experiments and platforms addressing some of these big challenges” and she is clearly “very very excited about it!” Lisa describes how most cities are “running out of money and local governments no longer have the capacity to build the infrastructures that are needed from their own staff teams.”  Her view is that “cities are really a dialogue between citizens, businesses (for profit and non) and governments therefore partnerships are a way of solving problems”. Her view is that cities are increasingly experimenting and that in the next three years this will make the role of ‘Chief Innovation’, ‘Chief Resilience’ or ‘Chief Sustainability Officer’ an essential one (note Rockefeller City Resilience initiative) as cities learn to endure population pressure, economic pressure and environmental pressure – climate related events went from 15 in a year some 50 years ago to 950+ in a year. So her optimism in the Sharing Economy is inspired by community driven labs, ventures, commerce networks that she thinks will be connecting us in meaningful ways. Value capture in the Sharing Economy Lisa suggests that “from the perspective of an entrepreneur, investor and community member there are two points regarding value: there is the value creation and value capture point.” A lot of businesses, individuals and communities, including hers, believe that you should create more value than you capture; which translates to leaving the world in a better place than you found it or spurring innovation from new kinds of entrepreneurs. Lisa explains that when you are early you capture value relative to when you are in the life cycle curve of the movement or category. When her team launched the first commercial website in 1993 and sold in 1995 they were followed by the boys from Yahoo who created and captured more value and then came Google with 2.0 which mastered the advertising revenue model and is worth $365.69B at the time of writing. In 1993 Lisa launched a web platform with two prevailing business models e-commence and advertising, but they created the model but did not scale, when Yahoo stepped in they built at scale and then Google improved the model but benefited  from a much bigger, sophisticated global online community. Lisa cites other examples in history. For instance Jonas Salk created the Polio vaccine but didn’t patent it so that the vaccine could have more impact and benefit (this was estimated to have been a $7B pass on value capture for Dr. Salk). Also while the Wright Brothers were aviation pioneers they didn’t invent the industry, Rolls Royce and GE built the engines to power the industry. Lisa hopes “we are standing on the shoulders of giants”. This resonates for me with the ideas Simon Sinek presents in his book ‘Start with the Why’. He also refers to the Wright Brothers and he believes that they were intent on flying rather than fame, people bought into what they were doing and this was what created value. Lisa talks about “trying to create the most value possible” and it was great to hear her say that “people in the Ouishare community are keener to create than just capture”. Questions to provoke change Lisa thinks “things change very rapidly, especially on the fringes and  I have found it vital to ask myself where I am at on a regular basis – ideally every six months”. She aims to provoke a new lens on the future by asking questions, to herself and others: “If we were starting the business today would we have the same team, same customer, and same business model, build the same platform? What is possible now that was not possible when we started? What must we now reimagine given how things have actually developed?” Lisa cites a city transportation example “three years ago we would not have predicted there were so many ways to move around London or San Francisco using 3rd party transportation systems like Uber, Sidecar, Lyft, Scoot, Bandwagon, BlaBla, etc. So if we decided three years ago we wanted to start a transit company we would have to ask ourselves a lot of questions here today – is the right place for us to be? Should we pivot from personal transport to delivery services or …? Change our strategy? Is this service or platform even compelling now?” The example prompted me to ask her about learning from her mistakes, she laughed and said she is relatively slow about this. She confessed that when she was working in start-ups she had a “self-created urgency that everything had to be executed at the same time because if not someone was going to eat our lunch. What happens is that objects are closer than they appear – like the side mirror on a car – a lot of the time we have our head buried and breathe our own exhaust so we lose perspective.” From her position the ability to learn from your mistakes is to really acknowledge that you made them. “It has been very helpful to be an arm’s length away from the businesses she works with – as an advisor, investor and especially as an annoying friend. I have been able to come in and say that these are experiments in an A/B test way – if we are detached from the result it allows for honing, responding, refining to build teams, business models and products. Many large companies turn on a lot of things and never turn them off – when you make something a ‘lab’ it stops being about the team failure or people losing their jobs and becomes about learning about what works and what does not.” Fog machines She does not regret so much about business mistakes; in Lisa’s quieter moments she beats herself up more about how she could have managed a relationship better, given better coaching, sought out more coaching or balanced her timing being off. She ‘spiritually’ comes from place of abundance of opportunity and ideas; these are not the limiting factor. The limiting factor is the one body challenge and what she calls the “Fog machine”. When her book came out she ran around the planet “thinking I needed to blabla with people to get the message out. Was I effective?” She was not. Her idea is that the self-created urgency creates the fog machine and we lose our ability to see clearly because it is so noisy in between our ears. “I know it happens to me and it happens to you. There is this sense of self-importance ‘I am the one who has to do all these things’ – this self-created urgency / I have to be in the middle of everything”. Lisa has a clear strategy against fog machines “Being able to really explore ‘what would you do differently’ comes from having a quiet place to look from, so I am a big fan of creating space. Find the source of your fog machine and shut it down, even for a moment”. The age of belonging “We had a visitor from Seoul in San Francisco last year. He shared a lot of experiments his city are doing – one thing that he really echoed with me is that the best translation of sharing in Korean is ‘belonging’. We are poetically moving into the age of belonging and are connected to each other and our things in ways that were never possible before. I am optimistic in increasingly meaningful ways and it bodes well for our shared future. Thankfully, rapidly, even the business models are shifting!” Lisa considers brands need to be more open and transparent rather than the closed models of the last century as people choose where they work based on how brands behave. “Brands are having to reconsider their ‘old model’, I say old because I am hoping it is increasingly old as we speak. The only customers that a PLC had were shareholders but what is happening in this economy is companies are really competing for talent.” Lisa believes there is a shift and that “the community is both the buyer and the seller – that creates a different dynamic, for example brands operate as platforms from Airbnb to ping it by Barclays.” Another example is GE garages, sharing their spaces to local innovators. I suggest to Lisa that the ‘belonging’ she is talking about seems to require an iPhone and a good pair of Ray Ban. I refer to a previous conversation where Arun shared that part of his 2014 research is committed to providing access to the Sharing Economy for economically challenged groups. Lisa agrees “I love Arun and I am with him, I have spent time with – a project in Hackney Fair Finance run by Faisel Rahman have fuelled my optimism, and yes, lot of where the VC money has gone in the Sharing Economy is ‘sharing for rich people’.” What is Lisa’s riff for Ouishare Fest in Paris? “In Paris I will talk about cities as platforms and of course, whatever captures my attention among the Ouishare community of instigators! Lisa is looking forward to conversations about rethinking the structure of ownership. She is interested in open source, in co-ops and structures that enable us to be more nimble and less attached to lawyers. In other words, more connected to each other. But as I said at the beginning Lisa is optimistic; she thinks “we are going to pull our heads out of our arses just in time”.