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5 essentials for growing a business in the sharing economy

5 essentials for growing a business in the sharing economy

Not long ago I moved into a new apartment and faced what seemed like a potential decade of IKEA assembly tasks. Unfortunately, I’m not too handy with a screwdriver, so I posted the task on Forty-five minutes later, while still in my PJs, a mid-fifties, scruffy-haired guy named Gerry arrived at my door. For a pre-agreed price and with minimal fuss, he got to work. I let a complete stranger into my home with only a cursory glance at his online reputation.

Thanks to the growing power of online reviews, the Sharing Economy has evolved from deeply conceptual and aspirational into a thriving economic force and as it grows, our trust is following suit. Let’s face it – we’ve become more trusting. These days we do not hesitate to jump into an UberX, book a doctor through HealthEngine (I’m a huge fan), hire a bookkeeper through oDesk or hire a financial analyst on Expert360.

Building and maintaining trust is THE essential ingredient in establishing a successful business in the sharing economy, but how can you pull it off? How can you build a product that convinces people that they can trust it? Here are five ways that we have grown our business (and trust) over the past 12 months:


Online reviews are the new currency. When you are growing a business, you need to roll up your sleeves and do what you can to build early reviews. Don’t wait until you’ve built a ratings and review system. Hack it. Talk to customers, find the best product or service providers on your marketplace and pass that on verbally to other potential clients. In other words – you and your team are your version one ratings and reviews system. When it’s chicken and egg (and it is) – make that chicken. Reviews will eventually flow organically and build your product to make that process frictionless and even incentivised.


It’s important to allow your service/product providers showcase what they’re selling. The Internet is a rich source of data about any person or product – so make sure you leverage it, particularly in the early days when it can be difficult to convince people to build user profiles. For example – we leverage Linkedin and Twitter feeds to learn more about people and help them get work. Users will also love that they can leverage their work from around the net to kick start on your platform. Whether you’re selling a restaurant, a pair of jeans, or accommodation, information about products and people already exists, and it is up to you to source it to bolster your business proposition.


At Expert360, we had a problem where 95 per cent of our freelancer ratings were ranked between four and five stars. While this doesn’t seem like a problem, it is because for real trust to be secured, consumers need the truth (and we needed the truth about our freelancers). It doesn’t allow us to find the amazing freelancers vs. the good ones. A few months in, we added a question to our feedback that was private and not shared with the public or freelancer. You would be so surprised about the difference. I’m the same for any public facing feedback – I’m biased. We all are. If someone is nice, lovely, kind-mannered professional – we want the best for them. It’s the same for any sharing economy service provider.

Private feedback can be the biggest driver of real quality, so it’s important to offer both public and private feedback options on your website.


Want to know if a person is legitimate but they haven’t completed a transaction yet? Explore other data points to gauge a service provider’s merit. Take a look at response rates, open rates and win rates. Take a host on Airbnb for example, and you can determine quite a lot from data points such as their average response rate or win rate among a selection of comparisons.


No matter how much focus you put on customer service, you must anticipate negative online reviews as you are bound to receive some. Accept them and deal with them immediately and directly. By responding quickly and honestly you are showing you value their opinion. Timeliness and tone of voice are important too, so it’s imperative that you stay on top of major review sites. Be honest and create a meaningful dialogue. Lastly, take advantage of the feedback and learn from it as a business. People are looking for genuine responses online.

The rise of online outsourcing platforms with transparent reviews and ratings has turned ‘stranger danger’ on its head – we are now prepared to take real world risks based on the wisdom of the crowd.

This so called ‘new era of internet-enabled intimacy’ is no passing fad. It’s a multi-billion dollar global industry and it’s here to stay.

Columnist Thomas Freidman wrote recently in The New York Times that the advent of the shared economy is “producing both new entrepreneurs and a new concept of ownership.”

People are saving money and businesses making money through collaborative consumption and the growing sense of ‘trusting’ strangers. Marketplaces are the new economy, trust is the new capital and ratings and reviews, the new currency.


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