How the Sharing Economy Is Helping Small Businesses Thrive

When a person decides to open up a brick-and-mortar business, push "go" on a startup concept, or venture in any other way into full-fledged business ownership, a lot of questions pop up. Questions about money, product viability, staffing, working space, equipment costs, and about whether their company will be welcomed into the market. One question in particular overshadows the excitement of having a great business idea: Is it worth the risk?

I've witnessed case study after case study of the sharing economy taking this risk off the table for small business founders, and let me tell you: I'm inspired. There used to be only a few inconvenient answers to the question, "How will I finance this?" A founder could get a small business loan from a bank, something that's now so rare it's akin to stumbling upon a unicorn at your local Starbucks. She might be lucky enough to find a willing investor or beg a personal loan from friends and family, but these options aren't available to everyone, particularly on the heels of a recession. She could finance it herself, cash in a 401(k) plan or drain a savings account, but in this economy she may have already used any spare funds to make ends meet. Alternately, if this fledgeling founder is hip to the collaborative consumption movement, she could activate her existing idle resources to generate some startup funds and pare down or offset her living expenses during those first lean years. That's exactly what Jamie Wong of Vayable did. Jamie boot-strapped her collaborative consumption business by renting her spare room out on Airbnb and participating in car sharing programs to save money. Now that's walking the walk.

Once a founder has enough money to get started, she faces another tough question: "Will anyone like what I'm doing?" One of the cool things we're seeing at TaskRabbit is local tech and gaming startups hiring TaskRabbits to test their products and deliver immediate user feedback. As the founder of a tech startup, I can tell you that this type of focus group testing is paramount -- and usually really pricey and difficult to coordinate. We were so inspired by the idea that we now hire TaskRabbits once a week to come into the office and play with our new features. I've also been inspired by the small business owners who've come up with creative staffing solutions via the TaskRabbit marketplace. People like Susan Sarich, who owns SusieCakes, a small chain of California bakeries. Susan's baked goods are incredible -- so incredible that people who aren't in walking distance of her shops are clamoring for them. So she hires TaskRabbits as her delivery engine. This lets Susan grow her business, provides income to local TaskRabbit micro-entrepreneurs, and ensures that she's not paying for a full-time staff member that she only needs sometimes. We've seen similar use cases from businesses staffing events, organizing business travel, or doing one-off tasks like research, bookkeeping, or setting up an office or retail store.

Which brings us to coworking spaces. Collaborative places like San Francisco's Citizen Space, Chicago's COOP, or global options like Loosecubes have popped up, making it easy for startups (particularly tech, nonprofit, and creative ones) to get off the ground without breaking the bank. These communities provide communal access to conference rooms and event spaces, and also act as incubators for new businesses by allowing them to share talent, experience, and contacts. Some, such as TechShop and the shared commercial kitchens listed in the Culinary Incubator, further reduce startup costs by providing access to once prohibitively expensive tools of trade.

By now, you can probably see why I'm so inspired. Used wisely, these collaborative consumption companies can nearly delete the risk of starting a new business venture. Any founder that participates in her local sharing economy enters into a supportive network of people who want to see her succeed. She's also supporting and helping scale the sharing infrastructure that paves the way for future founders to do the same.