… for all Airbnb and Uber’s much deserved “disruptive” acclaim, these businesses have older roots than the hype cycle suggests. According to conventional wisdom, Airbnb and Uber enable “regular individuals” to make a few extra bucks renting out an extra bedroom or giving fellow travelers a ride. They unlock a new class of assets, where fellow consumers share in collaborative consumption.
In fact, while these businesses nailed rapidly changing consumer preferences — buying services at time of usage, rather than owning assets fits the post-recession, Millennial sensibility of the moment — the supply side of their businesses does not match the narrative. Supply in these marketplaces is increasingly delivered by entrepreneurial, small business owners, not fellow consumers. Uber and Airbnb are best understood as reimagined franchise operations that leverage mobile data, the social graph, and continuous feedback loops to deliver a better consumer experience.