Mobile Forecast: Upcoming Sharing Economy App Opportunities

November 10, 2016 - 8 minutes read

 Twenty years have passed since eBay democratized auctions and seven since the first Uber rolled onto the highway, but the “sharing economy” is showing no signs of stalling.

If anything, the trend seems to be gathering steam, with local app developers launching more disruptive sharing economy apps every week.

Startup founders looking for bright app ideas might consider it to be a saturated market, since major industries like transportation and travel lodging are dominated by big players like Lyft and AirBnB. But that’s not entirely true — and the normalization of sharing economy apps actually makes the market perfect for smaller startups trying to win users in a crowded app ecosystem.

One of our most successful app launches this year was with Kirb, a partner sharing economy startup that functions as an “AirBnB for parking spots” here in Los Angeles. We’ve brought many similar products to market in the past, and expect the trend to run strong in the startup industry for years to come.

With that said, the sharing economy has had plenty of growing pains — as lawsuits and worker strikes will attest.

In today’s post we’d like to dissect some of those issues, and predict what trends will be most profitable for sharing economy app developers in the next five years.

Sharing economy primer: connectors vs employers

Something to keep in mind with sharing economy apps is that they come in two models: “connectors” and “employers.”

Connectors include apps like AirBnB that connect people with pre-existing resources, allowing them to share and profit as a sideline.

Employers include apps like Uber that replace brick-and-mortar companies by making it simple for workers to operate full-time as independent contractors.

Trend to watch: Going global

Most startups ignore emerging tech markets. That’s to their detriment, since some of the biggest opportunities have historically been snagged by app developers that entered a market early.

Unlike the US market, countries like Columbia have two major benefits for startup founders: a large population of consumers who have never connected via smartphone before, and a blank slate so far as app expectations.

Startups looking to “break the mold” and create something truly disruptive should seriously consider solving problems in areas traditionally underserved by tech.

Trend to watch: Integration equals convenience

App fatigue is one of the biggest problems facing startup founders as we approach 2017. Users are simply tired of having an “app for everything.” They don’t just want solutions — they want solutions and convenience.

One way app developers can approach this problem is by designing digital products that exist within already-popular apps like Facebook Messenger. Chatbot interfaces and other integrated services are becoming common.

If the service you’re offering is simple enough, consider integrating with apps your customers already use daily — this will make it much easier to reach them and turn a new prospect into a devoted user.

Trend to watch: Loosening regulations and better fine print

As the Republican party takes the White House, startups are counting on them to follow through on the promise of relaxing regulations throughout verticals like finances and MedTech. Regardless of where you fall on the party line, relaxed regulations will undoubtedly create opportunities for fast-moving startups able to take advantage of them.

Problem to fix: The “middleman” issue

The sharing economy has the potential to solve the “middleman” issue that’s driven up prices in many economies. At the same time, workers and users fear that tech giants can get greedy, quickly becoming just as bad as the old system.

You can see this playing out with apps like Uber, which have succeeded at disrupting a broken system but failed at maintaining a harmony between themselves, their workers, and their customers.

The sharing economy is all about connecting people, and connecting people is rarely truly “free.” That said, it doesn’t have to be expensive — and keeping the price as cheap as possible will ultimately benefit app developers entering the arena.

Problem to fix: Worker safety nets

Like many disruptive ideas in tech, the “sharing economy” is controversial. While some see it as a branch we can grab onto as the economy gets tough, others see it as part of the issue. Sure, it’s convenient to push a button on your iPhone and have something delivered on a bicycle — but who’s paying that delivery person, and are they getting the same benefits and safety nets they’d get with a traditional job? Can they even get a traditional job, if they quit?

Figuring out how to account for the gig economy is a problem that’s much bigger than the tech industry, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be engaged with it. Sharing economy app ideas should always have social justice in mind, and strive to bring out the best in people while making life easier — rather than bring out a couple extra dollars at the expense of a less fortunate person.

Problem to fix: Disrupting within the law

Finally, disruptive tech trends like the sharing economy have an overarching issue to contend with: the law.

Lawsuits against companies like AirBnB have been a constant presence as they enter markets entrenched in brick-and-mortar companies (and vice-versa). This is all well and good, and if your app idea is creating competition for existing businesses that’s a good thing. That said, consulting with a lawyer is an absolute must before you launch any app. If it turns out you’re on the wrong side of the law, it’ll be painful to watch a more nimble competitor zip in and take your spot when the paperwork starts flooding in.

The big picture: sharing is expanding

What’s truly exciting about the sharing economy is how it cuts back on all the waste we create as a culture. Why have fancy cabs when you can use a regular car? Why have half-empty hotels when you can just rent a room from a friend? Why pay for parking when a local resident will let you use theirs for a few dollars?

Like any new industry, sharing economy app developers in Los Angeles are sure to experience growing pains. But in the long run, the best app ideas are sure to improve life for everyone that uses them. There’s no greater reward for entrepreneurs.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,