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How the sharing economy paves new paths in social business

Companies like Sidecar are driving new social business trends and changing work with peer-to-peer models.

If mobility is changing the nature of business operations, collaborative technologies may not be far behind. Collaborative...

tools are helping companies generate new product ideas, bring subject matter experts together, make healthcare breakthroughs and even provide customer service options through peer-to-peer communities. Sidecar is yet another take on the collaborative business model.

Maria Ogneva is the head of community at the company, which is a peer-to-peer ride-sharing marketplace that connects drivers with those who needs rides through a custom-built mobile application.

According to Ogneva, the San Francisco, Calif.-based company offers a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional commuting, but the company is about more than going green. The company provides financial benefits to drivers, from defraying commuting costs to making a full-time or part-time income. By pairing more than one rider with the driver, Sidecar’s Shared Rides also makes ridesharing more affordable compared with other transportation options, enabling people to connect with each other who might not have met otherwise.

But the challenge is to instruct, encourage and even inspire drivers, who are not employees of the company but platform users who participate in the network voluntarily. Her job is to instill the values, best practices and passion through online and offline community building. Ogneva, a speaker at the Social Shakeup, which takes place Sept. 16 to Sept. 17 in Atlanta, previously worked at Yammer and at Salesforce.com, so she has "social in her blood," she said. She sat down with SearchContentManagement to talk about the sharing economy and how it’s affecting social business.

How does communication between drivers and riders take place?

Maria Ogneva: From the ride request to pickup and drop-off, it all happens in the app. If I’m a rider, I put in my destination address (it already knows where I am because it uses GPS triangulation). I then get a list of drivers I can pick from. I can sort by price, ETA and. Drivers set their own price and location where they want to pick up and drop off. They will only be matched with passengers whose needs match theirs. There is transparency and control on both sides: As a rider, I know who the driver is, when they’re coming and how much I will pay. There is no surprise at the end, say, with taxis where they take the long way to increase a fare.

How do you interact with drivers?

Ogneva: There is [the] tried-and-true method of email, but we also have an online community, which allows us to streamline communication and invite discussion. Our community, the Garage, is the "mission control" for all things driver-related. We also have a weekly newsletter, which serves as a way to lead drivers to the place where the news articles live in the Garage.

When there is news or something that I want to talk to drivers about, we post in the community and encourage questions and discussion. Drivers also share tips, local traffic and event news, and ask questions there proactively. Most of our communication happens in the online community. But, we invest in, in-person events as well. Through our official headquarters, we organize casual barbecues during off-time. We have a group of outstanding drivers that we call captains – leaders and mentors to other drivers. They create meet-ups where drivers come in and ask questions and talk to others who are doing the same thing.

How does Sidecar exemplify new trends?

Ogneva: Sidecar exemplifies the concept of micro-entrepreneurship. Drivers are in control. Our drivers are not our employees, but they are the face of our brand. So how do we encourage, coach and empower them? How do we become the kind of company they want to give time to even though there is no employee relationship?

There is a larger future-of-work conversation here. As businesses become more modular, they need access to the right people to accentuate the human resources they already have -- contractors who don't go to an office all the time and don't even work for the company. How do you motivate and partner with such a marketplace of talent, in a decentralized way? How do you empower people to interpret and live out your brand values when they don't work for you?

What does the collaborative economy mean for businesses in general? For example, if you're a big business and have a lot of employees commuting, and there's another business in the same office park, how can you use a service like Sidecar to use resources more effectively together?

Is that an initiative on the horizon for Sidecar: sharing commuting between employers?

Ogneva: Anything is possible. What we're focusing on right now is Shared Rides -- when more than one passenger gets matched with a driver along the same route. We've been testing this concept since May, and as of August, 13,000 passengers requested a shared ride.

If you're a rider, and there's another rider going somewhere along the way, why don't you go together? So, we're using our app's destination technology to make the matchups more efficient, take advantage of excess capacity in cars, put more money in drivers' pockets, and provide breakthrough pricing innovation to riders.

What's most important in encouraging non-employees support the brand?

Ogneva: The No. 1 way is to have a shared vision, something that you are passionately dedicated toward as a company and as a group of providers who are executing the work. If it's not something people are excited about, it is going to be very difficult get them to contribute.

No. 2, you have to be the right kind of company that cares about the community, because when you invest in the community, the community comes together and helps you build the brand and awareness for the brand.

No. 3: The community itself is your key asset. Our captains know the business inside and out. The community "bottles" their expertise and passes it on to new generations of drivers.

Does it help that you’re ecofriendly to draw a certain crowd?

Ogneva: People use Sidecar for different reasons. Some do it because it's more affordable than having a car in the city. I don't have a car -- I rely on Sidecar and don't have to pay for car insurance, gas or parking tickets. And I feel good about putting money in the pockets of my peers and reducing congestion. It's not just one person driving to work; it's at least two -- and even more with Shared Rides.

Drivers do it for various reasons, some of the most important of which are financial freedom, control and flexibility, and even business networking. We have a guy who is an entrepreneur and drives in between appointments. Sidecar has been a powerful networking tool.

Another got job offers while driving. There is that amazing serendipity that can lead to great results --- and that serendipity is increased with Shared Rides.

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