In September 2012, at the Business Innovation Factory annual confab, BIF-8, I had the opportunity to hear Robin Chase tell her story. She talked a little about what she learned from co-founding Zipcar, and a lot about how she wanted to push the envelope with her newest company, Buzzcar.Robin conveys infectious enthusiasm, not just about car-sharing and environmental sustainability and making our cities livable communities. She’s also enthusiastic about a “new” business model which she has studied and adopted. She calls it “Peers Inc.” I really like the way that Robin has “unpacked” a business model that has become very popular in the past decade. Her main point is this: if you want to grow a sustainable business really fast, you should COMBINE a peer-to-peer network with a company. The company does what companies do best: It provides economies of scale, it invests in long-term assets and intellectual property, it mitigates risk, it provides recourse, and it wraps that all in a brand promise. However the company doesn’t provide the products. The products and services are provided by the customers. That means they can be highly customized, specialized, localized, and diverse. Customers use their own social networks to promote their wares and to attract other buyers and sellers.
Robin exhorted her audience to consider using a Peers, Inc. model not only to grow businesses, but also to solve big complex problems (like climate change). As she says, a Peers Inc. organization “delivers the speed of collective action while preserving the ingenuity and creativity of individuals. It’s a fabulous partnership. The internet has empowered people. Peers, Inc., takes it up a level with the power of companies.”
Here's the case study I wrote after hearing Robin's talk at BIF-8: