Collaborative Consumption

Ryan Card delivers the 35 zafus to his client on Friday evening, Dec. 14, 2012.
Ryan Card, an employee of Exec, a San Francisco-based service created to accomplish a variety of tasks through the web and an app on your phone, delivers the 35 zafus to his client on Friday evening, Dec. 14, 2012.

Words: Kelly Leslie
Photos: Jessica Worthington

Ryan Card stands between eight-foot-tall glass dividing walls that separate the rooms of the small office building he works in, located on the two hundred block of Carolina Street in San Francisco. His iPhone silently buzzes in the pocket of his forest green skinny jeans. Without letting a minute pass, he slips the phone out of his pocket, swipes the arrow to unlock the screen and opens a mobile application to check his most recent notification. “Green apples”, says Card.  The person on the other side of the app has made contact. They are sending him to Whole Foods grocery store, with an urgent shopping list to be delivered immediately. Card swiftly zips a black and white hoodie that displays the company name “Exec” under the right-hand shoulder, over his multi-colored plaid button up shirt and prepares to leave the building. After responding to the job request and grabbing his small, colorful shoulder bag, he is ready to get to work.

“Whole Foods is two blocks away, so in this case we’ll be able to walk,” says Card who has shoulder length, pin straight brown hair and wears three or four necklaces around his neck. The most prominent necklace is adorned with a strawberry-sized crystal pendant in the middle. “Normally I would use my car,” explains Card, who notes that it is easier if the “execs” have access to a vehicle.  “It’s more efficient, and works out better for everyone that way,” he says.  Card has been with the new, start-up company Exec since May, and has seen it undergo many different changes.

Exec, founded in January of 2012, is a company that allows people with busy lifestyles to get local help with errands and other miscellaneous tasks that they do not have time for, for the flat rate of twenty-five dollars an hour.  The idea was born when the CEO of the company, Justin Kan, wanted to be able to call someone to have them run his errands for him.  “I wanted it to be something easy, convenient and low effort,” says Kan.  “It’s all about simplicity if you’re really busy and just want to get something done fast.”  Kan says that it only takes roughly two minutes to assign the task to an exec, the person who actually does the job, once it has been posted.

Ryan Card  communicates with a client about the task at hand.
Ryan Card communicates with a client about the task at hand.


To guarantee both customer satisfaction and safety, all execs are hired by the founders of the company, before they are assigned to the job. There are roughly two hundred and fifty execs in the system, according to Kan, and all of them have undergone an extensive application process, which includes an online application, a video interview, a phone interview, an in person interview, and several different background checks. All communication between execs and job posters is within the active mobile app, which is available for both iPhone and Android operating systems.

Matt Lewis, who has worked behind the scenes for Exec since the company was founded, likes to think of it as where magic happens. “Really our goal is to make it as easy as possible… to have it work like magic,” says Lewis. “[All of us who go out and do it], we’re the magic makers,” chimes in Card.

Exec is currently only available in San Francisco, but Kan, Lewis and the rest of the company hope to see it expand in the near future. They also hope to make it where, “more and more things people want done can be done through exec,” says Kan. “Right now we are really good for some things, especially delivery, but eventually we want to add more things that we are good at.”

For now, people who are looking for a service similar to Exec, but don’t live in the city, should call upon a nation-wide company known as TaskRabbit. TaskRabbit “is a website and mobile app where people can go to outsource small jobs and tasks to people in their neighborhoods,” says Johnny Brackett, who handles all of the marketing for the company. It was founded by Leah Busque, who realized she was out of dog food at the same time that she and her husband were already on their way out the front door. “It was February so there was a ton of snow on the ground, and the cab was already on the way to pick them up to go to dinner,” said Brackett.  “They had a one hundred pound yellow lab at the time who didn’t miss very many meals.”  Leah told her husband she wished she would be able to pay someone from the neighborhood to help them out, and that is when the idea for TaskRabbit was born. “Leah quit her [engineering] job about four months later, and started the first version of the site,” notes Brackett. The company headquarters and market were later moved to San Francisco in 2010. TaskRabbit is now available in nine major metropolitan cities across the United States, which includes: San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Orange County, Portland, Seattle, Austin and San Antonio.” The market also covers the suburban areas surrounding those cities, explains Johnny.

Just like the execs that are hired, people aspiring to be “task rabbits” also have to undergo an extensive interview process, but the assigning and pricing runs a little bit different.  Rather than a flat twenty-five dollar an hour rate, there are two ways that pricing is determined, which goes hand-in-hand with the way that the task rabbits are assigned to jobs.  The job posters can either choose how much they are willing to pay and then TaskRabbit will automatically assign that job to the closest person in the area who bids that amount, or the poster can wait and choose the best price that is offered to them, which also allows them to choose who fulfills the task.  “It’s kind of like eBay,” says Brackett.  “Except you don’t type in any form of monetary value.”

TaskRabbit is for everyone, but the key demographic of users does tend to skew slightly female, according to Brackett, who says that the majority of the demographic is young professional women ranging in age from twenty-three to thirty.  Beyond this, the user ship jumps to older women who tend to be busy mothers with small children at home.  As far as the people who work for TaskRabbit… that’s pretty much everyone as well.  There is a large variety of people ranging from college students, to young professionals who live in expensive cities and want to make a little extra cash, and even moms who are already out running errands for their own families and don’t mind picking up other people’s groceries while they are at it.  Perhaps the most interesting category of people who work for the company happens to be senior citizens, according to Brackett.  “These are people who have had full-time careers and are using task rabbit to stay active,” he says.  “They want to utilize the skills they don’t use every day and go out and meet people and talk to people and tell their story.”

Exec and TaskRabbit are only two of many new start-up companies of this form that are popping up all over the country.  Whether it is paying a neighbor to run your errands and build your Ikea furniture, or profiting off of sharing your home or car with someone who needs it, the possibilities are endless.  If a company hasn’t been created to make it happen yet, the chances of it showing up around town soon are very likely.  As these companies begin to flourish, the lingering question that remains among many is: why now and not before?

It’s all thanks to the up-rise of technology, and the idea of collaborative consumption, according to Brackett, who says people are learning to benefit from each other’s resources.  “Services like TaskRabbit are allowing people for the first time to share resources in a streamlined way,” he says.  “With TaskRabbit it’s the sharing of your free time and skills, but these other companies that fall under collaborative consumption are sharing underutilized assets.” He says consumer habits in modern days are different than they were in the nineties and early two thousands.  People no longer want to go out and spend money on things that they don’t necessarily need to own, and it is beneficial for them to be able to make use of someone else’s that may happen to be underutilized as it is.  “It’s peer to peer rather than the mass consumption that we saw [before],” Brackett notes. “It’s definitely fascinating and something that’s up and coming.”

According to Brackett, there are three key components that make companies such as these able to operate in modern times and they are all technology based.  These three things are: mobile, social, and location based technologies.  By mobile, Brackett is referring to the recent invention of mobile smartphones that allow people to have access to their communities and the outside world at their fingertips.  By social, he is referencing social media sites that allow people to socialize and be in touch with each other and even strangers on a regular, very instant basis.  These are the sites that make it possible for people to communicate with each other in order to share resources.  Location means that we are now able to find the resources and services that we need locally, because of the present technology. “If you think back to five or six years ago, social networks were in no way what they are today,” says Brackett.  “Five years ago the things we are doing now hadn’t even been imagined yet.”

Adam Werbach, cofounder of the start-up company, Yerdle, says that “the big idea here is access over ownership.”  This is the notion that, in regards to recent economic times, it is more beneficial for people to have access to a commodity rather than being able to own it as part of their own personal belongings. This is because many things these days are unnecessarily pricey and people should be able to benefit by sharing their resources with each other instead of having to pay for their own.  Yerdle, which was founded in San Francisco, and is based on this principle, is a company that allows people to share things with their friends for free through utilizing social networking communities and sites.  “You shouldn’t have to buy something new when your friends already have it and aren’t using it,” says Werbach.

Launched on Black Friday, which was November 23rd of this year, Yerdle is very simple and easy to use.  All you have to do is log in with your Facebook account, and then you can pull together a list of all the things that your friends and people in your neighborhood, are sharing.  Most people will have about three hundred and fifty things just waiting for them as soon as they log on, according to Werbach, who says this is that the company is all about the idea of making things that we already have work more for us.  “If we use information about what our friends have, we can get things without having to buy them new,” he says.  Say you want to go camping and need a twelve person tent, but don’t have one, according to him, it’s as easy as knowing that you already have access to one and then you won’t have to go spend the money on it.

Yerdle currently has around 2,000 users, “but is growing really fast,” says Werbach.  The company is used by communities all throughout the country, but is currently most popular in San Francisco and the Bay Area.  Werbach hopes that someday the company will revolutionize the way that people shop.  “We see it as a way that people will start to do retail,” he says.  “It’s a new generation of social shopping website.”  Before immediately running out to the store or shopping online, Werbach hopes that people will learn to check whether their friends already have what they need, just sitting on the shelf waiting to be used.  The benefits of doing it this way?  “You get something you need, do something for the planet, and see your friends at the same time,” he says.

In addition to companies that revolutionize the way that people work and shop, RelayRides is a San Francisco based company that has forever changed the way people get around.  It is a peer-to-peer car sharing company that was founded in 2010, by Shelby Clark, according to Steve Webb, the company’s director of corporate communications.  It happens to be the first peer-to-peer car sharing company that was founded in the United States, and “arguably the first in the world,” says Webb.

The idea was born when Clark attended graduate school at the Harvard business college in Boston.  He didn’t have a vehicle and instead resorted to using a more traditional car sharing company, known as Zipcar.  One day while biking in the snow to pick up the Zipcar, which was a few miles away from his home, he thought it would be more convenient if he could just hop in one of the many parked cars along the side of the road, pay the owner what they would charge for him to use it, and everything else would be taken care of.

“The concept [of the company] is very simple,” says Webb. “What we do is enable owners with idle cars to safely rent out their vehicles to someone who has been embedded and approved within our market place.”  This process is complete with background checks and driving checks on all of the renters before they are added to the system, and the owners of the vehicle get to determine the price and availability that there car will be listed at.  According to Webb, this “gives people who don’t have cars access to a vehicle and the possibility of living a lifestyle where they don’t even have to own a car, and they give their money back to a neighbor in return… which is really cool for them.”  There are countless benefits for the owners in this situation as well.  The greatest benefit being the ability to make money off of a vehicle that is quickly decreasing in value as the days go by.  According to Webb, a car is one of the most expensive assets that a person can own, but it is idle almost ninety-two percent of the time that they own it.  RelayRides is a highly beneficial option for car owners, because some who have chosen to use this service in the past were able to make anywhere from two hundred and fifty dollars to one thousand dollars on average, a month.  Some people were even able to make the value of their car back within a year, says Webb.

RelayRides has an insurance policy that covers all drivers who use the service, so if anything happens the insurance will pay for it.  The only requirements for the owners who chose to rent out their vehicles are that their cars are not any older than the year 2000, and have been driven less than 100,000 miles.  RelayRides relies on the owners of the vehicles to make sure that their cars have been serviced and are safe to be driven.  If a car is not in proper condition, or a driver misused the service in one way or another, there is a two-way rating system that allows them to write reviews on one another.  This ensures that other people who want to use this service will be aware of unreliable cars or drivers, so they can avoid any problems they might encounter.

RelayRides is a part of the collaborative consumption movement because it “is definitely feeding into the trend of access over ownership,” says Webb.  Lisa Gnasky, the initial investor of the company, who also happens to be a thought leader of collaborative consumption, said that the company is a gateway for the broader sharing economy, according to Webb.  “In a lot of instances people get their first exposure to the sharing world or find out about it through something like RelayRides and then become interested in other areas of the sharing economy,” he says.  “I think that the really cool thing about the sharing economy is that at its core it is utilizing unutilized assets, which you know as an environmentalist is amazing because it means greater efficiency,” adds Webb.

There have been a lot of companies popping up around the Silicon Valley area and making a real world difference by changing the habits of consumers, according to Webb.  He says that RelayRides is one of those social online companies that “have tangible benefits to the real world.”  There are 1.5 cars in the United States for every registered driver, but each shared car takes thirteen cars off of the road.  Webb says that the future of RelayRides not only has the capability of changing the way people get around, but also by changing the affects cars have on the nation.  “If we were able to get just a fraction of the cars to be on RelayRides we would revolutionize personal transportation,” he says.  “We can also revolutionize things such as traffic congestion and Co2 greenhouse gases, so the potential for benefits across the board are huge.”

So what can be accounted for as the reason there has been such an up rise in collaborative consumption businesses?  Recent studies show that teenagers in modern society identify their personalities most with the type of mobile phone that they have, whereas in the past it used to be based on the car that they drove.  “Formerly recognized as quintessentially American, [cars] used to be a symbol of independence and a teenage personality,” says Webb. “Now all the studies that have come out show that the mobile phone is actually something that teenagers identify more with than a car.  The spread of mobile technology has revolutionized the sharing economy.