It was 2008 and presidential hopeful Barack Obama was inspiring millions of people with his promise to disrupt politics as usual – and a new startup called Airbnb was turning that enthusiasm for change into millions of dollars. Denver, the site of that year’s Democratic National Convention, was expecting 80,000 people to come watch the senator from Illinois accept his party’s nomination. The city had space for less than half.
“Obama supporters can host other Obama supporters,” is what CEO Brian Chesky recalls thinking to himself. In a profile of the company, the Huffington Post notes how that idea was turned into cash. “Airbnb, which lets users rent out part or all of their homes, blasted bloggers in Denver with company information.” It “sold ‘Obama O’s’ cereal around town,” garnering news coverage as “an innovative solution to the city’s lodging crisis.”
Founded in 2007, Airbnb is today valued at more than $25 billion and the for-profit sharing economy it helped usher in is no longer so new.
Like a charismatic politician whose flaws have yet to be exposed, the so-called sharing economy enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame and success. Uber, Lyft, Airbnb — these companies emerged seemingly from nowhere to become economic and cultural powerhouses, and to challenge the prevailing structure of their respective industries.
But 2015 has not been as kind to Uber and its brethren, as the fascination with a new business model has given way to serious concerns over everything from public safety to worker exploitation to unfair market monopolization. In some ways this is not surprising — the honeymoon for startups can be notoriously brief.
But something larger is at play here. In the age of rampant income inequality, the overhyped promises of the sharing economy are running headlong into a growing desire by Americans for a caring economy.
There’s a reason why even Republican presidential candidates,
If you try to play Monopoly with a two year old, you will not win.
Sure, you may be better at buying up property, building hotels and following rules about when to pass Go – good on you. But when the two year old decides he’s playing a different game, like Throw the Entire Board at the Adult, that game and its goals will absolutely trump yours.
Disruption went from Silicon Valley buzzword to cliché years ago, but it persists as an operational goal for countless tech startups and their investors. (See Judith Shulevitz’s excellent 2013 exploration of the term.)