Collaborative Consumption Will Change Our Economy

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Are you a fan of services like Uber or Lyft? Ever opted to stay in an Airbnb apartment instead of a hotel? Then you, like me, are feeding into the concept of collaborative consumption.

There are so many resources in our world that there is wasteful overlap. People own cars that they don’t utilize. They take vacations and leave a home or apartment vacant. We all own clothes that we’ll never wear again. Enter the concept of collaborative consumption. I first learned about it as a formalized concept via a namesake website, and the basic tenet of this way of thinking is that sharing should be made easier.

Technology is supposed to make things more efficient. From speeding up stock trading markets (think Bloomberg) to communicating in a more efficient manner (think Skype, WhatsApp, etc) to even consuming content (think Twitter, FlipBoard, etc), we want what we want in an efficient, streamlined manner. Technology is a (mostly) egalitarian way of routinizing any market to ensure maximum efficiency, but we aren’t necessarily doing that yet.

I am constantly fascinated by the idea of maximizing the efficiency of our things. My favorite example of the collaborative consumption concept is Bib + Tuck, a site that allows you to post gently warn (designer) clothes in a sleek fashion to a site, and then trade those clothes for “bucks” that ultimately allow you to buy others’ gently warn clothes. The concept may seem like a massive thrift store, but I’ve gotten some of my wardrobe staples from the site. The idea is brilliant, because I have a closet full of clothes I don’t wear.

Education is another seemingly unrelated example in which we have seen collaborative consumption pick up. Companies like Coursera and Skillshare allow non-academics to leverage their knowledge base and skills to teach others. I have taken Skillshare classes ranging on topics from “how to network in BD” to “how to move from finance to tech.”

Finally, crowdsourcing and more particularly crowd funding from companies like Kickstarter are a great example of collaborative consumption. Leveraging the masses to raise money, solicit opinions or advice, or rally excitement are all done to great effect in a collaborative consumption effort. The difference between this and tapping into your social network is that collaborative consumption demonstrates a market efficiency, matching all of the potentially interested parties.

In my opinion, the next phase of collective sharing is to enter the world of social capital and social good. I’d love to see political, non-profit and NGO realms leverage these concepts to make their orgs efficient and streamlined, and to match up interested parties to get the ball rolling. The combination of preventing waste and overlap with finding maximum efficiency sounds to me like the perfect symbiosis.

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Collaborative Consumption Will Change Our Economy

Thank You Note Etiquette

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The thank you note is one of the few forms of interaction that hasn’t changed much in the digital age. Written thank yous are still considered obligatory in most circumstances (both professional and personal), and I would hope that these manners are perpetuated despite the changing media.

This weekend, however, @davidneckstein, @countdasilva and I found ourselves disagreeing about content and length of a thank you note. One of us received a lovely, yet lengthy, email from a prospective candidate for one of our teams. While the email was thoughtful and harkened back to exactly what was discussed during that meeting, I believed that the correspondence was much too long. The email was 3 paragraphs of text that included highlights from entire conversation and why he or she was excited about the opportunity. Some other the readers thought that it was sincere and earnest, but even they felt it was a little over the top.

In my opinion, the perfect thank you note is 3 short sentences. I’ll use the example of a post-interview note of gratitude:

Dear X,

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. I especially enjoyed our conversation about xxxxx. I look forward to being in touch soon.

Best,

X

What I think is so crisp here is that you show gratitude, harken back to something in the conversation to jog their memory and show that you were listening, and then allude to future steps. In my opinion, anything beyond that is gratuitous. Also note use of the word today: don’t ever send a thank you note more than 24 hours after the meeting/dinner/party/interview, etc. In the age of instant correspondence, this is tardy.

On another note It used to be the case that interviewers would bring business cards to the interview. At some point in the discussion, either before the interview has started or as it is concluding, the interviewers hands the prospective candidate the card; in part for posterity, in part so that the interviewee remembers that person and what their job title was, and most importantly because for their email address. My banking superdays were filled with these, and I wouldn’t have been able to sort through the whirlwind of discussions without them.

In tech, however, although I usually wear the hat of an interviewer these days, I notice that this tradition is no longer alive. It is now customary to go through the recruiter to email a note of thanks to the interviewer instead of emailing directly. I would speculate this has something to do with regulating the notes and limiting the number of email addresses that are revealed. I generally don’t care, and usually provide my email address if asked.

If you forget to ask an interviewer for the best way to reach them, don’t forget to email a thank you note through an intermediary. Something is better than nothing at all.

Finally, since I have been both the sender and recipient of thank you notes, I will mention that a quick 1 sentence reply/acknowledgement of receipt is important. Saying “you’re welcome” or “it was a pleasure” in return can brighten up the day of the initial sender.

So I’m curious: what are your thoughts on thank you note etiquette? Am I wrong in thinking they should be short and sweet? Send me your thoughts @ellenjdasilva.

Thank You Note Etiquette

The Resurgence of the Contact List: My Take on WhatsApp

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You’re probably living under a rock if you haven’t heard by now that Facebook purchased messaging service WhatsApp for $16 billion and $3 billion in RSUs. Twitter is abuzz with commentary about the acquisition so I figured I’d throw in my 2 cents.

Say what you want about the brilliance or insanity of the deal, or the fact that you could buy 64 billion McNuggets with that money, but it’s gotten me thinking about the importance of tech around the contact list. Increasingly we are using our phone numbers as the backbone for both mobile apps and security (things like 2 factor authentication) rather than email addresses. Snapchat is rooted in cell phone contacts rather than Facebook connections or Twitter followers.

The address book feels safe because presumably you are genuinely connected to someone if you have their phone number (except for a few outlier scenarios). Services like Snapchat and WhatsApp make users feel safer connecting with one another because you have their phone number. The address book is also a service most people utilize every day. Facebook is likely looking to capitalize on it since this is an additional point of frequent contact for their users.

Several apps have tried to disrupt the contact list space: services like Cobook and Brewster, but haven’t quite nailed it. Social media collects a different kind of address book, but it’s less personal. I think we’re primed to see more apps predicated on/making deeper use of the contact list, and that will become increasingly valuable as we try to connect the world one user at a time.

What do you think? Tweet me @ellenjdasilva to let me know.

The Resurgence of the Contact List: My Take on WhatsApp

The Organic Mentor/Sponsor Cycle

Helping-Mentor

Mentors are an important part of a young employee’s professional development. Most large companies with standard training programs and incoming “classes” of new professionals have formalized mentorship programs in which a more senior employee is paired with a new, starry eyed one. Mentorship arrangements or programs are an easy sounding board, but are not necessarily the most natural relationships and do not often appear later in your career.

The purpose of having a mentor is two-fold: 1. To have a role model whom you admire and perhaps hope to emulate; and 2. to be able to seek sage advice from those who have experience, and to learn from the mistakes of those who have come before you. A mentor is most often someone you do not currently work with directly, and who can offer a fresh perspective on a circumstance in which they have no stake.

The concept of a mentor is not exclusive to the professional realm; indeed most people have mentors and champions who aid in their personal decisions as well.

Regardless of the context, I feel strongly that the mentor/mentee relationship must be organic.

I hear stories of new professionals emailing more senior people, often without much context or even an introduction, and ask “will you be my mentor?” This habit is cringe-worthy. There is very little incentive for the other party to respond favorably, and there are few circumstances in which this kind of relationship could be natural. How do they know that they want to invest the time and energy getting to know the junior person, and what benefit will it have for them? Very few people have enough time to give the kind of energy needed to become a valuable mentor without thinking twice.

So how to reach out to a mentor? Find a meaningful way to engage with a professional you admire. If it’s a senior person at the company, or someone whose job you find interesting, instead of asking for coffee, ask to help with a project. Demonstrating that you are capable of completing a task, dependable, and willing to go above and beyond the day-to-day will impress almost anyone. In addition, by asking intelligent, thought-provoking questions, that person has the ability to not only gauge how you approach problem solving but also feels depended upon and can walk you through the process. That very act creates a mentor, and then it becomes both parties’ responsibilities to maintain the relationship.

Sponsors, on the other hand, are a type of mentor who seek talented individuals and help promote their talents by bringing them up the corporate ladder. They take an active role in their interactions with the more junior individual and make it their responsibility to ensure that person’s professional success. Sylvia Ann Hewlett coined the concept of a professional sponsor in her book Forget A Mentor, Find A Sponsor, which sparked a dialogue around the value of a more senior professional and their influence on others’ successes.

While mentors can often have an intangible (yet important) effect on your career, sponsors are able to directly move you in the direction you want to go. I would argue that these connections are more valuable, but again the relationship must be organic in order to be successful. I could write a whole blog post on the importance of sponsorships to professional development.

I have been lucky to have both mentors and sponsors who have brought me along on various professional journeys. The relationships have all been cementing by patience, time, hard work, following up and connecting on something deeper than “will you be my mentor?” And eventually, I hope to be successful enough to perpetuate the cycle on both sides of the table.

The Organic Mentor/Sponsor Cycle

2014: The Year of the Consumer App

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We all agree that 2013 was the year of the selfie. So when the ball dropped and we entered 2014, my family spent some time discussing what themes we’d see in the coming year. We were left blank and uninspired – in disagreement about what was to come. It took us until February, but after a rainy weekend in San Francisco, I think we have our answer. 2014: The year of the instant-gratification consumer app.

In the consumer tech world, 2013 was a year of finessing and expanding upon some previously proven concepts. Snapchat blew up, capitalizing on its 2012 successes; I added Lyft and Sidecar to my repertoire, in addition to Uber. Waze replaced Google Maps and then got purchased by their very competitor. In all, 2013 felt like a stale year for new technology especially as it pertained to iPhone and Android apps.

Enter 2014. Users seem to be thirsty for an easy-to-adopt service that takes them away from their day-to-day reality for just enough time. Whisper, Secret, Frontback, and the crown jewel, Flappy Bird (RIP) are dominating the smartphone real estate and time commitment from users of many demographics. They are fun, lighthearted ways of passing time, and might be a little too addictive for their own good.

The common thread here is that gamification, both literal and embedded into apps, is on the rise once again. Consumers need to be engaged with the app enough to keep them coming back for more. I predict this year we will see many large consumer platforms acquire or partner with these gamified systems to keep their own users enticed.

PS after 48 straight hours of Flappy bird, 30 is my high score and I’m proud of it.

2014: The Year of the Consumer App

I Read The Circle

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I am an avid reader, to put it lightly, and I ordinarily read fiction. It’s the perfect escape from my day-to-day and I feel like everything else I consume is non-fiction, etc. It’s the English major in me. But I just finished The Circle by Dave Eggers and it freaked me out.

Without giving too much away to those who plan to read it, the book is a dystopian novel set in the current time period about a young woman who goes to work for a major technology company in Silicon Valley. Her employment at the company begins to take a turn as her privacy is slowly chipped away. Eggers does this to great effect by decreasing her freedom and autonomy in small enough increments that it doesn’t feel intrusive, especially to the reader. But when you step back toward the end of the book and realize how different her predicament is, it’s a marked change.

While it’s just a story, there are obvious tones of doubt about the technology we are putting forth and the death of privacy, which I think was successfully solidified 10 years ago when Facebook was invented. In the book, the death of privacy can actually be fatal in certain circumstances, and the notion that complete knowledge makes everything better is what literally drives the human race forward. As we begin to put all of our pictures online, pour our thoughts out in Tweets and blogs (I am clearly guilty of this!), allow websites to track cookies so they know our purchase preferences and intents, we are contributing to the collective knowledge pool yet also unraveling our own abilities to control the perception of our own lives.

I highly recommend the novel, but the more I think about it, the more aspects of existing technology most people use on a daily basis reflect the detrimental technology in the book. There’s also a spectacular twist at the end (it also involves tech) that I won’t spoil.

Has anyone else read it? Any thoughts?

PS the next book I’m reading is non-fiction: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. If you have thoughts on that send them my way!

I Read The Circle

5 Partnerships I’d Like To See

Partnerships make the world better (more to come on that topic to come). Ideally, two services or technologies can join forces to take advantage of benefits on both sides to make the experience more fluid and enjoyable for users. These are 5 partnerships I’d like to see happen.

1.  Uber-Logoimgres

Uber is the easiest (and now cheapest) form of transportation around San Francisco. Although OpenTable can be spotty with reservations, it’s generally the most convenient way to make dinner reservations.

How great would it be if, before your dinner reservation, an Uber car were automatically ordered for you? The service would of course be optional, but the system would know whether or not you are within walking or if you need 15 minutes to travel to the restaurant. It would be a great peace of mind to see these two pair.

2.   NETFLIX-01-22-14 + images

JetBlue, or any other airline with individual screens, has a prime opportunity for a partnership with Netflix. JetBlue has a partnership with DirecTV that makes the ride much more enjoyable for passengers who can watch select channels free of charge. But these airlines still charge anywhere from $5-$10 for movies or TV shows.

The economics of this are simple. Netflix charges $7.99 for a basic package. Ignoring the likely discount Netflix would offer, and technical logistics of supporting a full library of offerings on board, the airlines could attract substantially more customers by offering the service. They would recoup their cost on each seat within 1 flight without having to charge (or baking in the extra ~$5 into the cost of a ticket). It’s a no brainer and would make someone who takes transcontinental flights as often as I do much happier.

3.  imgres-1 + imgres

Jelly is a forum for asking open-ended questions and receiving quick, witty responses with doodles in tow. Policy Mic is a new-age Huffington Post with a policy slant; both writers and viewers are encouraged to express their opinions and engage in debate. The two platforms have similar end goals, and it would be great to spark more dialogue in response some of the questions asked on Jelly. Policy Mic would benefit from the rapid, media-forward call-and-response from Jelly.

A partnership between these two would be both one of distribution and one of engagement, since I believe there is a potential for overlap among parties interested in both services.

4.  imgres + imgres-1

Pay by Phone is among the worst user experiences I have had the misfortune of experiencing. The app is slow. The app is buggy. The app is faulty. And worst of all, the UI involves several screens and user inputs before the payment is processed. Without delving into the deluge of changes the app should make in their own right, it would be beautiful to see them partner with a payments app like Venmo, Dwolla, or any of the other available options. In fact, a partnership like this would not necessarily be mutually exclusive.

It would be much easier to embed Pay by Phone’s services into one of these apps, so if you decide to Venmo money to the ID on the parking meter, that would serve as the same form of payment. Alternatively, embedding part of the payments UIs from one of these apps into Pay by Phone to make the process less cumbersome would be a dream to the average consumer of parking meters.

5.  images + imgres-1

I’d love to see Vine and newcomer Frontback team up, because who wouldn’t love two simultaneous 6-second videos?

5 Partnerships I’d Like To See