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Making Money with Collaborative Consumption

I’m not certain when and where it all started (perhaps with CouchSurfing?), but collaborative consumption is making a huge splash these days thanks to technological advances and the peer to peer (P2P) social community model. In case you aren’t aware of what collaborative consumption is it can be defined as an economic model based on sharing, swapping, bartering, trading or renting access rather than purchasing goods or services directly. It’s not a new idea (think public libraries or exchange type stores), but it is one that has been redefined by technology. In 2010, collaborative consumption was named one of TIME Magazine’s 10 ideas that will change the world.

Two years later, in 2012 you can find collaborative consumption working in a wide range of sectors from housing and transportation to banking and food. It all makes me wonder; could you support yourself simply through collaborative consumption? What would it take to live a natural life free of work constraints simply by sharing, trading, bartering and renting the assets you already have? Let’s take a closer look at all the ways to make a buck collaboratively.

Here’s one area most of you are probably familiar with. Peer to Peer Lending (P2P Lending) has a large following and is actually become more and more mainstream with sites such as Prosper and Lending Tree and the U.K. based Zopa having pretty large followings and advocates. The basic model is that everyday people who haven’t been able to get credit through traditional means (banks and credit unions) can use the P2P lenders to source small loans from their peers. Those lending the money get the principle back as well as interest payments. So far the model seems to be working with default rates ranging from 5.2% (Prosper) to a mere 0.9% (Zopa). And with ROI’s ranging from 4.3% (Lending Tree) to 9.3% (Prosper) investors are making out like bandits compared with the interest rates being offered by banks and on short term treasuries.

Here’s another strong area in collaborative consumption and it all started with CouchSurfing. Back in 1999 Casey Fenton, the founder of CouchSurfing, sent an email to 1500 students at the University of Iceland looking for a place to crash after an unexpected flight from Boston to Iceland. Over 50 students responded and thus the idea of CouchSurfing was born (although the website didn’t come along until 4 years later).

While CouchSurfing provides free accommodations, a new and rapidly growing service called Airbnb let’s you post your spare room, apartment or house on their site for potential renters from around the world. One of the co-founders of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, says that the average New York users of the site makes $21,000 per year. Maybe not enough to live in the Big Apple, but certainly not chump change either.

One further addition to the travel collaboration field is startup Roomorama (launched in 2009). They are extending the travel collaboration experience by adding special rates, tours, laundry service, even language classes to their offerings. I suppose they are the upscale version of collaborative travel.

If you have a car you may be able to make some profit from it as well. let’s you list your car for rental on an hourly basis. It’s in Beta and the selection isn’t huge, but there are plenty of different models on there. Those looking for a splurge can rent a Tesla Roadster for just $75/hr or if you are more frugal look into the Volvo V70 rental at just $5.75/hr. Most cars rent in the $6-10/hr range. One other downside is that it appears to be limited to California right now.

If you are looking for more flexibility then ZipCar is another option. I believe they were the first on the scene to offer car sharing and as of now Zipcars live in 50+ cities across North America and the UK as well as 100+ university campuses across North America. They have an interesting model and a pretty large selection of cars too. Rates vary from city to city so you’ll have to check out their website to see rates for your area, but they seem pretty reasonable to me. The ZipCars are parked in various locations (usually off street parking) throughout each city and access to the cars is through the ZipCard you receive when you become a member. Rentals can be by the hour or by the day and can be done either online or by phone. ZipCar isn’t a way to make money (they own their own fleet), but it can be a good way to save money by foregoing traditional car ownership.

ParkatmyHouse is a unique collaborative consumption startup that offers users the ability to rent out their driveways or other parking spaces. Rental rates for spaces in major cities run about $12/day to $200/mo with rates in outlying areas about half that. If you have an unused parking space this is a great way to utilize an untapped asset. ParkatmyHouse is currently available in the UK, Ireland, Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and The Netherlands and considering their partnership with BMW, I can assume they will continue to grow.

If you have cooking skills or extra land you aren’t using you can even make some extra cash there. Housebites is a site where you can order gourmet food delivered to your house, or if you are an enterprising chef (or chef wannabe) you can join up and cook for others. Small downside…it’s only available in the U.K. at the moment.

Another food focused U.K. site is Landshare (they are also in Canada and Australia and are looking to expand) where you can rent out land for others to use as garden space. Or if you aren’t interested in the cash you can barter for a share of the produce. What a great way to utilize unused growing space AND get fresh produce for free.

If anyone knows about sites similar to Housebites or Landshare operating in the U.S. please leave a comment below.

Education and Tourism:
As you might imagine, there are plenty of opportunities to use your existing skills and knowledge to make a side income. Those who are good teachers can sign up for sites such as Tutorspree and make cash in their spare time tutoring students in any subject you can imagine. The site claims that top tutors make $1,000- $2,000 a month on a part time basis. If you are more interested in teaching in groups you can also do that at sites such as Skillshare whose tagline is “Learn anything from anyone”. There are already thousands of teachers doing just that in over 90 cities around the world.

Another interesting concept in learning is SideTour which lets you share unique one of a kind experiences with others. Current SideTours include a day long discovery of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, learning how to make fresh pasta from a Brooklyn chef, a consignment store trek hosted by a fashion reporter and many other walking tours focused on museums, neighborhoods, food and drink and photography. Currently SideTour is only available in New York. Pity.

If you are looking for a tour guide in other parts of the world though you do have an option. The site is called GuideHop and it gives you a way to find experienced locals in places such as Egypt, Belize and Italy to act as your personal tour guide.

Other Collaborative Consumption Sites:
TaskRabbit is a site where you can get paid to do tasks for others. This includes running errands, shopping, event planning, house chores, research and many other tasks. It works on an auction type system, so when you place a task that needs to be completed all the qualified Task Rabbits are free to bid on your task. The lowest bidder gets the job task.

If buying and selling for a profit are your thing there are now alternatives to Craigslist and eBay too. Called “hyperlocal” exchanges because they operate on a local scale, these marketplaces bring people together to buy, sell and barter goods and services. Included in this growing list are NeighborGoods, Zaarly and TradePal.

As you can see, collaborative consumption is a strong trend and has been expanding rapidly over the past few years. You can literally make money from almost everything you own and any knowledge or skills you have. Currently the largest opportunities are in urban areas, but this trend is expanding into smaller suburban areas as well. Perhaps in 10 years time we will all be sharing and bartering in lieu of the rampant consumerism that the final decades of the 20th century saw.

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