Last night at USV, we hosted the latest of several recent meetups on the “Peer Economy”. We are in the process of organizing a number of companies and organizations that represent a certain sector of the internet economy in NYC, with an eye towards building a more formal coalition (perhaps in the model of San Francisco’s BayShare) at some point in the future.
As is to be expected, we spent the bulk of the discussion trying to figure out what it is, exactly, that ties us all together. I think there’s a pretty strong thread, but it’s not immediately clear how best to describe it. So I hereby invite you, the Internet, into the conversation.
So, as a thought experiment, how might you describe the common approaches and values between:
- peer-to-peer marketplace platforms like Etsy, Krrb, Skillshare, Shapeways and Zaarly;
- collaborative consumption networks like Airbnb and Carpooling.com;
- crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and LendingClub;
- co-working and education/development spaces like General Assembly and the DUMBO Startup Lab;
- support networks for independent professionals like the Freelancer’s Union;
- communications and media networks like Twitter, Tumblr, SoundCloud and StackExchange.
At USV, we have a word for all of this, which is simply “networks”. That’s great and effective as an investment thesis, but it’s actually rather abstract as way of communicating the idea widely. In Steven Johnson’s recent book Future Perfect, he uses the term “peer network”, which is better but still somewhat problematic (as peer means “pier” to most people and “napster” to others). And our working description, as you can see, is “peer economy”.
Anyway, rather than try to “draw a box” around all of this — we instead attempted to (at Matt Brimer’s suggestion) focus on the center — on the core opportunities, values, and methods that all of these communities believe in and operate around.
The ones that stood out to me the most were:
- valuing creativity, self expression & individualism;
- increasing personal freedom through community support;
- creating economic empowerment;
- valuing authenticity and real human connection;
- built on trust (as developed within each community);
- and perhaps my favorite: Andrew Wagner’s “as New York as a slice of pizza”
In my world, I focus a lot on words like “innovation” and “networks” — but I think the thing that really stood out to me about last night’s conversation was the centrality of the human component. Empowering “real people” to do new and awesome things. To access new economic opportunities for themselves, while at the same time rediscovering community.
The idea that stuck in my head last night is about the “Indie Web” — what’s so interesting about the web and the networks of people on it is that they are at the same time individual & independent AND hyper-connected. The fact that we’re connected lets us be independent. It’s almost a paradox.
And what makes most (if not all) of this possible is the ability to be an indie entrepreneur, whether that’s through an open source project, a meetup, a web app, or even a venture-backed company (which is, admittedly, a certain flavor of “indie”).
The point is, that on an open web, we have the unfettered ability to make new things that enable people to do new things. Which is pretty awesome and exciting.