Maria Bartiromo of CNBC sat down to a 4-course dinner with several young entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s who are rewriting the future of U.S. consumption. Together they represented half a billion dollars in venture capital, provided by the venture capitalists also at the table.
They’re seen as being part of a movement … a movement where, in one of those wonderful reversals where we wise older ones may well have a lesson or two to learn from the next generation.
They call it a “sharing economy,” one that is driven by “collaborative consumption.”
What does that mean?
Well, in the post-war economy that many of us grew up in, by standardizing everything through production lines, everyone could have more than they ever dreamed. Consumerism was born. Sixty years later, every nook and cranny of our homes (and storage units) is filled with stuff.
Add to that the Chinese ability to replicate absolutely anything at a price everyone can afford and there is no longer anything much to strive for. We have accumulated a lot, but then so has our neighbor. (And probably a lot of the same stuff.)
Enter authenticity. And a drive for uniqueness. Add to that a disdain for traditional consumerism. And you get this new trend …
As part of the redefinition of the American Dream, home ownership fell off its pedestal as the ultimate goal. Instead of houses being the perfect store of value, the last five years have shown how vulnerable their value can be. So many people now find themselves with houses worth less than their mortgages. As a result, today people who would normally be purchasing a house, especially younger professionals, are renting.
Instead of gathering assets — and “stuff”— they are giving priority to gathering experiences.
And the tech-savvy young entrepreneurs around that dinner table have stepped up to make it easier to fill our lives with experiences … using technology. Whether it’s a lodging rental site that helps them spend a few days in someone else’s home (no, not the old house exchange), or using someone’s nice car that would otherwise sit parked for days on end, or renting a designer dress for a few days at a price they can afford,they are living “Cinderella” moments. Or “Prince Charming” moments.
As one of the entrepreneurs said: after a long work week, she has no desire to go into a store on Saturday to buy something. (Besides, anything she really needs she buys with a few keys strokes on her smart phone.) She’d much rather have a memorable experience.
She said, “I prefer stories, not stores.”
Maybe it’s a private chef through on-demand site Kitchit.
Or an instant-access private car and driver (instead of a cab) at the snap of the fingers in any of 21 cities through Uber.
Or replacing a cookie-cutter hotel room with an interesting stay in a home through Airbnb.
Or being one of 3 million women, mostly under 35, who have already rented an outfit for a few days through Rent the Runway.
What they’re actually doing is “buying on a temporary basis.” And enjoying personal, authentic experiences they might otherwise not be able to afford. You could call it the Access Economy instead of the Ownership Economy.
And the trend is growing.
How will this affect the rest of us?
Well, if we look carefully we might see another trend among our peers, one in which people are downsizing. Living minimally. Living more intentionally. More authentically. As such, for us to decrease our level of purchasing is perfectly in keeping.
So next time you’re thinking of buying something, think about whether there is a way to access it without acquiring it. And with the money you don’t spend, think about what you can do that adds a layer of excitement or uniqueness to your life.
Remember: stories … not stores!