As recent as the mid-2000’s, Americans prided themselves on living lavishly and well beyond their means. Hummers were abundant on the roads and seemingly average wage earners were living in sprawling homes. The financial crisis corrected this behavior for most, although this lifestyle can still be seen today by some. But what the financial crisis did for most of us is make us realize that we can live without the actual ownership of some luxuries, as long as we they are readily accessible at a reasonable price. A cultural shift of “doing less with more” to “doing more with less.”
Now the goal of these is to provide you with a great user experience (from booking to use of the asset). I think most are doing a great job of this, whether that be expanding the number of locations (Zipcar, Divvy), or providing instant gratification via GPS-based bookings and refining their business (drivers) via reviews (Uber/Lyft). So very minimal effort by the customer to get what they want, whether it be a bike or car when they need it.
So to my original question, fad or new way of life? It’s my personal opinion that much of this will be a new way of life, with an asterisk*. Number one reason? Let me answer that by asking another question, how are companies like these to grow? They can expand their reach, go global for instance, or they can charge more for their services. It’s a classic instance of renting versus buying a home. At some point the costs converge. Currently, in most cities, largely in the Midwest, it’s much cheaper to buy a house (when all things are considered and you plan to live there longer than 7 years).
*This is the asterisk that makes me want to say it will be a longer fad*. So the venture capitalists will win in the short-term and average Americans will lose in the long-term. If these companies go public, like Zipcar once was (until acquired by Avis), they are under much more pressure to grow. I personally think that’s why Zipcar sold to Avis. Many of these companies are very one-dimensional and sure you can diversify your revenue stream, but that usually entails charging consumers more, because they have access to a wider range of services. Hence, not making them as disruptive, because their business models converge back to the previous norm (Zipcar in point).
Then you have Uber and Lyft which allows current car owners to sign up to use their car as cab and get paid to leverage their asset, instead of just letting their car sit around collecting rust. The costs of car ownership aren’t cheap and these companies help mitigate those costs, while helping both parties. You as the consumer “hail” a cab via your app, and one of these drivers come pick you up in their car. Leave room for user reviews of each driver, and customers of the apps get a great experience, instead of playing russian roulette with your typical cab and cab drivers (no offense). Businesses like these will be more of the new way of life, helping subsidize the average Americans cost of these services, rather than businesses helping the consumer live completely without these luxuries……
That’s my two cents. And if any of these companies (minus Uber/Lyft) go public, buy on the IPO, sell a few months later, and then short them. One-dimensional companies (take Groupon), don’t fare well in the long term in the public markets.