Few books are providing a rallying cry for the environmental and social shifts impacting goods and services. The Mesh: Why The Future of Business Is Sharing is one of those books. Its cry is worth a listen.
I listened to its author, Lisa Gansky (@instigating on Twitter), at the first BizTech Day conference in New York, as I skimmed the free copy given to everyone in the audience. A founder of multiple Internet companies and a cofounder of Dos Margaritas, a conservation-focused social venture, Gansky is well regarded by business luminaries such as Seth Godin. After reading The Mesh, I can see why. I spend a lot of time reading articles online and listening to presenters talk about new ways of doing business today. I still felt that after reading The Mesh I read a book that offered original thought-provoking utility.
Using technology to build value through eliminating waste
Gansky reveals how the standard business model has become aligned with the sharing aspects of community and the managed consumption of sustainability, letting entrepreneurs scale with lower costs. She focuses on startups — some familiar and some unknowns, yet all transformed through the use of advanced Web networks, mobile technologies, and sharable goods. Readers will learn about businesses such as lending exchange Zopa, peer-to-peer lender Prosper and custom winemaker Crushpad.
“Mesh business begins with a technological advantage. The billions spent in developing the Internet, mobile infrastructure and certain large platforms… have lowered the financial and time barriers for starting new businesses… From product development to marketing, Mesh businesses can and do deploy assets they don’t own but can easily access.”
Social media plays a significant role in The Mesh. But social media is mentioned not as a newfangled trend, but as an integral network that is the backbone of delivering value.
Gansky reveals the benefits and shares her findings through anecdotes and case studies, all offered in fresh ways. At the heart of the author’s thoughts, however, lies the anxiety that has many consumers rethinking their lives, and that have subsequently created more information and social savvy businesses.
“What if we’ve sold ourselves a very large but fundamentally wrong story? When stuff became cheap, and then credit became cheap, we filled our lives with stuff — not the things we really cared about…. When I traveled to Chile, Argentina, and several places in Europe … this conversation became more ubiquitous and substantially louder.”
I loved the analytics perspective that The Mesh offers in its explanations. It’s not overt, but certainly implied. Gansky nails a great description of Zipcar as being an “information company” and shows how it manages to use data constructively to serve customers better and develop a competitive advantage.
The Mesh shows how small businesses can profit from being meshy, too
The later chapters are useful for entrepreneurs who want to develop a Mesh business but are not sure where to start or look. There are five aspects of Mesh:
- Provide services or platforms that enable and encourage Mesh businesses
- Leverage physical assets as share platforms
- Truly engage partners by mutually sharing resources and information
- Integrate the supply chain, in forward and reverse
- Extend the Mesh ecosystem
Simple “ah-ha” suggestions abound. As an example, Gansky suggests that “Hotels can easily integrate car and bike sharing into their suite of services.” I also liked Gansky’s suggestions for how old, familiar firms can access Mesh aspects, such as the idea for a new kind of tire service for Goodyear.
Product design itself is reimagined, as a Mesh-worthy design is:
- Durable — well built and safe
- Flexible — accommodates different users
- Reparable — Has standardized parts to allow easy repair
- Sustainable — reduces natural resource waste
Gansky explains how this new design approach is the result of Mesh aspects merging:
“For years now, the common folklore in the West has been that the cheapest way to replace many appliances is to throw the old one away and buy a new one. Planned obsolescence has ruled the day…. In Mesh businesses, products are shared. The flow of information about the products, including feedback from customers, is constant. As a result, favored products are built to last and keep functioning, adapt to different users, and be capable of repair and upgrading.”
Gansky then relates the significance to environmental concerns:
“As transparency about real costs — specifically the cost of generating and managing waste — increases, environmentally responsible companies are more likely to be high performers financially…. Mesh businesses are poised to thrive, because they are based on using resources more efficiently.”
Included in the book is a directory that gives wonderful Mesh-related resources on subjects such as home improvement, books and real estate. This will give you an industry-based starting point for incorporating Mesh characteristics into your business or life.
Learn how you can improve your business, your community and our planet
With The Mesh, Gansky collects excellent examples and truly enlightens with her knowledge, rebooting your sensibilities like a splash of water from a morning shower. The Mesh offers small businesses a means to develop a profitable model based on sharable goods, as well as ideas for augmenting current offerings at a reasonable costs. I am delighted that Gansky developed a book that truly combines business acumen, ecological concerns and Internet sensibilities into a startling, unique, must-read package.
I read a little about this book in The Economist – very interesting concept. I am not sure if sharing can ever completely overtake sole ownership, but it is definitely a form of trade that can benefit everyone.
Pierre, Do you think it is a risk that the Mesh mentality is caving under to the environmentalist movement’s agenda?
@Steven and @Martin,
I don’t think it’s a “caving” in as much as a combination of industries and product uses that were not available at one point. Kinda like how Apple got into music and movies to a degree with iTunes, better computers, and better distribution of files. The environmental aspect comes into play with how goods are made. Cars are a great example — they last longer than they did 15 years ago, which gave rise to robust used cars and auto part sales. Compact discs gave rise to used music sales (and helped Amazon). The examples in Mesh cover more than these products, but I think what start ups are discovering are new ways to serve products more efficiently, which dovetails into some of the environmental concerns and economic concerns in a neat way.