This is an excerpt from Empower: How to Co-Create the Future. The full 200+ page book is available by donation!

“It is more convenient, more economical, and more…rational…to access something rather than own it full time”

-Robin Chase

excerpt from book

David Passiak: Peers Inc. lays out a vision for a new type of company that combines the benefits of digital platforms and the scalability we associate with industrial production. The book also draws upon your experience as co-founder of ZipCar, a pioneer of this new type of company. What is the Peers Inc. model and why are these new types of companies better than what existed before?

Robin Chase: Peers Inc. basically meshes together what locals and small businesses (Peers) traditionally offer like  localization, customization, and specialization, with the structure, consistency, and industrial strength attributes of larger organizations (Inc.). This new type of collaboration has characteristics that were unheard of before, such as the ability to leverage excess capacity and get co-investment from the peers.

Peers Inc. organizations also enable the ability to have things that are hyper-specialized. I think of it as the right person will appear or the needle can fly out of the haystack because the platform attracted such a diversity of offering and can pull out the finest details at the very right moment. This evolutionary, collaborative way of extracting value profoundly leverages excess capacity, meaning it pulls the right thing at the right moment when excess inventory becomes freed up.

All of this is fundamentally sharing because through shared assets, shared networks, shared intelligence and shared opportunities we are able to extract the most value, innovation and resilience. That is a higher-value way to move foPEard in an economy than the old way, which induced scarcity on the inside and was heavily protected and distinguished from what was outside the company.

David Passiak: Zipcar was one of the pioneers of the Peers Inc. model. You processed the entire transaction through a platform—from purchase online, to hardware and software, to unlock cars and get keys—and lowered transaction costs down to almost zero, versus $8–12 for traditional car rental companies.

Zipcar also tapped into the wasteful economics of current car consumption models, where personally-owned cars tend to sit idle 95% of the time. This was a pioneering example of what became a pillar of the collaborative economy, which you refer to as unlocking excess capacity.

Can you expand upon that and walk us through the early days of Zipcar? What type of assumptions were you testing, and what were the obstacles that you had to overcome?

Robin Chase: The difficulty of the technology was an amazing feat, but when I was raising financing, the change in behavior was most stunning to potential investors. They didn’t believe that we could rent cars without having a person there to do that walkthrough before and after. If we think about the whole peer-to-peer model and the sharing economy, ZipCar fundamentally proved that you could trust people, that you didn’t have to have your own employee on the ground to make that trust handoff.

ROBIN CHASE is a transportation entrepreneur. She is co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, the largest carsharing company in the world; Buzzcar, a peer-to-peer carsharing service in France (now merged with Drivy); and GoLoco, an online ride-sharing community. She is also co-founder of Veniam, a vehicle communications company building the networking fabric for the Internet of Moving Things.

She is on the Boards of Veniam, the World Resources Institute, and Tucows. She also served on the board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the National Advisory Council for Innovation & Entrepreneurship for the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Intelligent Transportations Systems Program Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Transportation, the OECD’s International Transport Forum Advisory Board, the Massachusetts Governor’s Transportation Transition Working Group, and Boston Mayor’s Wireless Task Force. Robin lectures widely, has been frequently featured in the major media, and has received many awards in the areas of innovation, design, and environment, including Time 100 Most Influential People, Fast Company Fast 50 Innovators, and BusinessWeek Top 10 Designers. Robin graduated from Wellesley College and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, was a Harvard University Loeb Fellow, and received an honorary Doctorate of Design from the Illinois Institute of Technology.