The B2B Sharing Economy

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The B2B Sharing Economy

The sharing economy is built on a simple premise: People who have extra capacity can make money by selling it to other people who need it, without a middleman to siphon off much of the value. Within the past decade, several businesses based on this concept have sprouted up from nothing and turned into billion-dollar enterprises.

For example, Airbnb connects people who have empty bedrooms, apartments, or homes with travelers seeking an alternative to a hotel stay; Uber connects people who are willing to drive strangers in their personal vehicles with paying passengers seeking an alternative to taxis and public transportation; and Lending Club connects individual lenders with individual borrowers seeking an alternative to bank loans.

According to some experts, however, these peer-to-peer consumer businesses represent only the beginning of the sharing economy. The greatest opportunity, they claim, lies in business-to-business sharing.

As economist Robert Vaughan points out in Strategy+Business, half of the desks in a typical office are empty. Meanwhile, 20 percent of factories' manufacturing capacity goes unused.1

If all of this excess capacity could be rented to other businesses, the leasing company could grow its profits, while the renter could gain access to resources without having to invest in building its own capacity. It's the epitome of a win-win.

Some companies are already embracing this new concept. A British website called offers a marketplace that connects businesses seeking short-term rentals with companies that have extra office space.

Marriott International, Inc. is another business that is turning vacant space into profits. As Rachel Botsman reports in the Harvard Business Review, in 2012 a Marriott executive noticed that the hotel lobby and restaurants were crowded with hotel guests who were looking for quiet places to work. Meanwhile, the hotel's conference rooms, which required signing a contract and hiring a caterer, stood empty.2

Acting on this insight, Marriott began offering meeting spaces on LiquidSpace, an online marketplace that allows people to rent office space by the hour or the day. Now 432 Marriott hotels list meeting spaces on LiquidSpace, and the program has expanded the company's reach by attracting local businesspeople from the surrounding area.

LiquidSpace offers thousands of other temporary workspaces. As the company's founder and CEO, Mark Gilbreath, explains on the site, "It's a pretty simple idea: find and book great spaces to meet and work—when and where you need them—in tune with your personal style and needs...

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