The Mesh: The Biz Model That Shares, Listens, and Saves the Planet

Just finished reading Lisa Gansky’s new book, The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing, a great book which explains a new and rapidly growing model of business that takes advantage social networking technology and growing desires to save money and help our planet.

What is the Mesh?

In Lisa’s words, “The Mesh is the new way of doing business. Mesh businesses leverage data and social networks to enable people to share goods and services efficiently and conveniently-to gain superior access to what they need without the burdens or expense of ownership. There are already thousands of these businesses-in transportation, fashion, food, real estate, travel, finance, entertainment and many other categories-with more starting every day. The Mesh has emerged as the best new creative engine for getting more of what we want, exactly when we want it, at less cost to ourselves and the planet.”

Example. Blockbuster let thousands of people rent and watch the same DVD, making access more cost-effective than ownership. A mesh business. An even better example of a mesh business, though, is Netflix, who is taking over the movie rental biz because they’ve listened to people’s frustrations (ie. returning those DVDs on time) and offered a more convenient way of accessing the entertainment we want. Very meshy.

Heirloom design and saving the planet.

Drawing inspiration from natural ecosystems, where there is no such thing as “waste”, Gansky suggests that by incorporating mesh business models we can make more efficient use of our resources and create less waste. This involves sharing high-cost but relatively seldom-used items like vehicles or tools. For example, our cars spend 90% of their time sitting unused in the driveway or garage. Companies like WhipCar, DriveMyCar Rentals, SprideShare, in an “Own-to-Mesh” model, have provided a platform for car owners to rent their cars to people that need to use them. (Meanwhile, ZipCar has provided an alternative to car ownership altogether).

One of my favorite terms in the book, borrowed from Saul Griffith, is heirloom design, which is the idea of designing products that are built to endure for generations. The mesh business model flies in the face of the often-employed “disposable product” model, where products are built to expire, requiring customers to return to buy again. “Access over ownership” encourages a long-term relationship between business and customer (they don’t just come back when the product dies), and lets the price of high-quality durable products be shared amongst several people, rather than being footed by one family. Being in Holland while reading caused me to notice the many ways in which Europe, partly by necessity due to limited geographical space, has for centuries embraced “heirloom design” in many products, from clothing to houses to kid’s toys.

Resources make me happy.

In true mesh fashion, Gansky has also created the “mesh directory” at meshing.it, a directory of businesses exercising the mesh business model. Check it out, learn and be inspired to incorporate mesh thought into your business or see the mesh opportunities knocking on your door.

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