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Survival Skills

A toast to gutsy moves and forward thinking by entrepreneurs across all fields

Having started in marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist, collaborative consumption is entering into pretty much every area of life, from personal loans to travel, and reinventing the way we do business. Here, four companies that have led the way.

• IDEA: In 2000, Robin Chase used her MIT business training to co-found the car-sharing scheme Zipcar. Using its online reservation system and wireless access cards, members can pick up a variety of vehicles at myriad locations.

• BENEFITS: Persuading people to share cars once would have seemed as far-fetched as being able to unlock a car with a phone. Zipcar overcame naysayers by augmenting the obvious lures—economy and convenience—with technology that’s simple and sexy.

• RESULTS: Zipcar is the largest car-sharing business in the world, with around 700,000 members and 11,000 vehicles in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Since leaving Zipcar in 2005, Chase has gone on to launch Buzzcar, a car-sharing service in France, and GoLoco, an online ride-sharing community.

• IDEA: This San Francisco–based website, which enables people to rent out their spare rooms hotel-style, launched shortly before the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, where it helped alleviate a bed crunch. Airbnb now operates in 192 countries, providing anything from a room for a night to a castle for a week.
• BENEFITS: Inexpensive options for travelers, much-needed income for hosts— what’s not to like? And Airbnb takes safety seriously: As part of its services, it offers a $50,000 liability guarantee, email and phone verification systems, video profiles and a 24-hour customer-support hotline.

• RESULTS: Having racked up more than 10 million guest nights and some 200,000 property listings, Airbnb has raised over $120 million in investment capital and is looking at another, bigger round— to the tune of $2 billion–plus.

• IDEA: Founded in 2008 by former IBM software engineer Leah Busque after she ran out of dog food one night, TaskRabbit connects users with short-term personal assistants who will do anything from filing a tax form to assembling Ikea furniture to waiting in line for theater tickets.

• BENEFITS: The slogan “Life is busy. We can help” resonated with stressed American moms, the demographic that TaskRabbit first targeted. Now the client base has broadened and basic chores are giving way to more esoteric assignments, like orchestrating pranks on office colleagues.

• RESULTS: Having stormed nine U.S. cities—and amassed $40 million in venture funding—TaskRabbit has rolled out an on-demand courier service, Deliver Now, and raised another $13 million to further its plans for global domination.

• IDEA: In fall 2011, two Dutch brothers and an Austrian friend saw their mushroom foraging trip thwarted by the fact that they had no idea which species were edible. After striking out on Google, they spotted an opportunity to connect travelers with in-the-know locals to do fun things, and the website Gidsy was born.

• BENEFITS: Gidsy hooks users up with “experience hosts,” specialists who offer anything from piano lessons to nature walks to kite-flying sessions. It’s the commercial equivalent of getting a contact from a friend (assuming you have thousands of unusually well-connected friends all over the world).

• RESULTS: After debuting in Berlin and New York, the company quickly branched into San Francisco, Amsterdam and London. Backers now include Sunstone Capital, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels and actor Ashton Kutcher.

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