Friday morning, I had a magical moment with my Karma Go mobile hotspot. It changed my opinion of Karma from “useful hotspot doodad” to “maybe game-changing and special,” and it hooked me on the peer-to-peer economy.
My day started off like most weekdays, with a 45 minute train ride from San Francisco to Palo Alto. But this week, I was sporting a newly delivered Karma LTE hotspot.
I had been waiting since last year for the thing to arrive, and it finally came earlier in the week. It worked as advertised in my first few train rides, giving me dependable and fast internet (honestly a pleasant surprise considering the delays).
So Friday I board the train, turn on the Karma, and get down to business. We make a few stops, I’m triaging emails left and right, time is flying, and then my phone buzzes. And that’s really weird, because my phone never buzzes — I aggressively turn off notification sounds for most apps. So I’m thinking, “What app do I need to disable now?”
I take my phone out and see this:
Push notifications are sometimes helpful, or they can be spammy and annoying, but rarely do they make me stop everything and think, “That’s so cool.”
Let me back up a bit. Karma’s schtick is that unlike most data plans, you get pay-per-use LTE data if you blindly share your WiFi with strangers. No monthly plans, and no paying for data you don’t use, but you can’t put a password on the WiFi network or change its name. I was just excited about having non-zero internet for myself, and had totally forgotten about the sharing part by Friday morning.
You see, I’m always on the receiving end of the peer-to-peer economy (or whatever it’s called now). I ride in other people’s cars, stay in other people’s homes, have my dog stay in other people’s homes, but I never volunteered my own resources.
But the Karma Go changed that. It gave me something that not only do I find immediately useful, but that automatically helps out other folks. It’s not a burden or extra work to share my internet — I just use my Karma and it handles the rest.
I can’t stop thinking about how clever this model is: build something inherently useful to one person, but make it automatically (and frictionlessly!) shareable. Are there other products where this makes sense? Where we can subsidize costs or use an alternate financing model because sharing is baked-in?
What about self-driving cars? Instead of paying the full sticker price for a car, the cost could be artificially lower because the manufacturer not only made money from selling the car but also from connecting it to a ride-sharing network. The proceeds get split between the automaker and the car owner, so everyone is aligned.
Or maybe something less futuristic, like apartments: instead of fighting Airbnb, apartment companies could work with their tenants to book temporary visitors while they’re out of town. The tenants get a portion of the proceeds deducted from their rent, and the apartment company earns some extra income while controlling who stays on the property.
Regardless of the product, the traits I’m seeing are inherently useful to just one person but can be frictionlessly and automatically shared to benefit the one owner.
On the ride home Friday, I took a break from work and kept my laptop in my bag. But I turned on my Karma anyway. There wasn’t a downside to broadcasting: I only get charged for the data I personally use, and maybe I’ll earn some extra data by sharing with a guest. I guess the “sharing economy” has finally got to me.
If you’re on Caltrain 220 in the morning and see a Karma WiFi network, it’s probably me! Here’s an invite link to get your own Karma at a discount.