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The Peer-2-Peer View on IT and the Sharing Economy

As part of our May Issue in Focus on "Information Technology as a Platform for Sustainable Innovation," guest editor for the month Bart King sat down with Getaround founder Jessica Scorpio to discuss collaborative consumption, sustainability, and the IT implications in a sharing economy.

How has information technology changed the potential of collaborative consumption and made it a viable platform for a business like Getaround?

As the sharing economy grows and individuals assume the risk of sharing personal property, they are turning to technology as a way to mitigate those risks. People renting their homes through services like Airbnb are relying on social network profiles and online reputations of potential renters to gauge who they should share their home with. Similarly, services like TaskRabbit link directly into public records that allow them to perform background checks of prospective personal assistants.

Other services have been using technology as a way to provide access to shared goods. Getaround, which enables people to rent cars from people nearby, allows users to grant and gain access to idle cars through mobile phones - letting users share assets regardless of geographic location. This intersection of sharing and technology has contributed to an “own less, use more” mindset, backed by environmentalists and economists alike.

Do you have any data or anecdotes that show a growing interest in collaborative consumption? Is it generational? Is it tied to the technology? 

The concept behind Getaround is growing, in part, because the average car sits idle 92 percent of the time. Getaround enables cars (and people) to get un-idled. We’re also responding to a growing interest in protecting the environment by tackling what we call “car overpopulation.” Car owners are recognizing the potential to earn additional income from their vehicles, and people without cars gain affordable access.

Among our renters, we’ve identified four main active groups: young professionals, college students, car enthusiasts, and people who love to travel. Among car owners, we see a broad mix of people, all of whom are very pragmatic and share a desire to recoup funds from their under-utilized cars and make a difference in their communities.

What are the IT challenges involved with creating a platform for sharing one's possessions?

Customer service is our highest priority. As a result, we’ve created a website with round-the-clock technical staff. We also offer 24/7 roadside assistance and monitor all social media outlets (i.e. Facebook, Twitter etc.) to see if there are any complaints or good reviews that will help us improve the business.

As a pioneer of the peer-to-peer car sharing revolution, safety is also a top concern, and authentication of Getaround member identities has been an important IT issue for us.  Recently, we announced a special Trust and Safety ambassador—Avery Lewis—who will oversee the integrity of our security, technology and community. Our priority is to make sure transactions are secure, deter theft, and continue to build a strong foundation. 

New members are required to use their real identity online, which is authenticated via Facebook. Prior to their first rental, all members are screened through a secure automated driver record check, which is connected through each U.S. state’s DMV. International drivers are manually verified through our customer support team, and all credit cards are extensively cross-checked for fraud, using over 10 separate fraud checks.

What are the marketing challenges?

People are easily excited about collaborative consumption, but educating them on the concept and changing their mindset around cars and car ownership is the primary challenge. The most common issues/requests we work to answer are:

  • How to put a car on Getaround?
  • What types of cars can I choose from?
  • What is the insurance policy?
  • Will my car be secure? Is it safe to rent out to strangers?
  • What is the process of screening car sharers/renters?
  • How much do I save by car sharing?
  • How much money can I make by car sharing?
  • How a consumer can rate their car sharing experience? (i.e. car ran well, cleanliness, complaints, issues etc.)
Where do things stand with Getaround, and what's next?

We’re looking to expand into the most receptive markets and top-tier cities nationally. We’re also forging key partnerships to drive adoption and developing new product features and technology. Soon we intend to add additional mobile platforms beyond the iPhone app.

Jessica Scorpio is the co-founder of Getaround, a Silicon Valley startup pioneering the concept of peer-to-peer car sharing through mobile technology. Prior to launching Getaround, she completed the Graduate Studies Program at Singularity University, a new program launched by Ray… [Read more about Jessica Scorpio]

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