Collaborative consumption: eBay, entrepreneurship and Africa’s mass potential


Technology has changed the world, no doubt about that. By extension it has changed the way we live our lives, do business and make money.

Collaborative consumption is of course nothing new. Long before the advent of the internet and smartphones, we had carpooling and timeshares. The beauty of technology is just that it has made the sharing economy so much more accessible. Now you, the potential investor (or sharer) just need to figure out how and why it works so well.

For those unfamiliar, the sharing economy, or collaborative consumption, refers to a marketplace that provides access to products, talent, and services that reaches beyond individual ownership. In its most basic form, it takes what a community has to offer and makes it available collectively.

In theory, this increases the value of the shared entity, because it allows a greater number of people to benefit from it. The sharing economy also provides points of profit for the actual owner of the product, service, or talent by allowing them to capitalize on their commodity while still benefiting from said commodity themselves. So essentially, sharing with benefits.

Collaborative consumption entered the internet back in the early technological age with the advent of eBay. The service allowed everyday merchants to market and sell things they already owned, without having to deploy a middleman or another business. Conversely, cheaper, used products became available to virtually anyone online, thereby benefiting both the buyer and the seller.

In recent years, the internet has learned to further exploit the sharing economy. Subsequently, the market has expanded, and almost anything can be sold online: not just products, but services and talent as well.

Since anything can be bought and sold, everyone can get in on the action. Anyone can become an entrepreneur, and everyone online can benefit. It’s a shared experience after all.  Subsequently the job market has drastically expanded to anyone willing to contribute a touch of passion and whole bunch of elbow grease.

Take the application Lyft: it’s a ride-sharing platform that matches drivers to people looking for a ride.

Lyft facilitates a sharing economy that benefits anyone with a car wanting to make a few extra bucks, along with people who need a ride every now and then. It’s currently operational in more than 30 US cities allowing thousands of people to access the shared economy. Unfortunately, you need a vehicle to reap the monetary awards, making it an unfeasible income generator for most.

A more accessible example for toilers looking to turn a quick buck would be TaskRabbit. The online platform is based on outsourcing daily tasks and errands to trusted, screened, individuals in the community.

TaskRabbit hand picks their rabbits, but their employment is completely based on how well they do, and how many contracts they bid on. If you have an errand you would like to outsource then you upload the task and TaskRabbits in your area can bid on the work. You, the user, then picks either the lowest bid, or the person you think is most equipped to handle your task.

The platform works because it holds both the temporary employer, and temporary employee accountable. If the TaskRabbit does a good job you give them a good rating making them more likely to get hired by others in the future. Conversely, if you are a good employer, that pays fairly, then you are more likely to retain good TaskRabbits. Currently TaskRabbit is located primarily in major US cities, as well as in London; however, many of the tasks can be done remotely (like proof reading or research), so you can sign up as a remote rabbit if you don’t live in a TaskRabbit city.

If you are looking for some collaborative consumption that’s a bit more locally based, and you are a designer, then check out Springleap. The Capetonian platform connects brands, designers, agencies, and brand fans to facilitate creative solutions and democratise design.


Basically, brands submit briefs, creatives from around the world submit designs, brand fans select their favourite submissions, and then the brand picks and funds the winner. Springleap is awesome because it pushes creatives to produce excellent work while connecting them to legitimate clients and funding (if their work wins). So far the platform has paid out over US$3 million to its community of over 18 500 creatives.

Collaborative consumption has taken the internet by storm. Although the concept is still in its infancy in Africa, we expect it to grow astronomically in the years to come, providing thousands of potential workers with jobs within their skill set. How will you leverage it to your advantage?

Marguerite Heyns


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