The Sharing Economy and The Chain of Trust

The number one question people ask us about with regards to Airmule is security. It’s understandable as the platform connects senders to travelers to take items in their luggage on an airplane across international borders. We would not have established this business, if we did not have a viable solution.

The reality is that the air courier industry has existed for decades. DHL, one of the largest logistics companies in the world, even began by paying people to fly with others’ items to Hawaii and beyond. There is a great piece on how DHL pioneered the Shared Economy on Techcrunch. When I tell people about Airmule, many have responded with ‘that’s how I first came to the U.S., as a courier’ or ‘I used to do this to get free trips to England.’ This industry is older than Apple Computers and punk rock (that is, if you follow the predominant theory that punk formally transitioned into it’s own genre with the New York Dolls, Television, Patti Smith, and The Ramones with outfits like Iggy Pop and The Velvet Underground as their grandparents).

We adhere to the belief that people are inherently good. I know certain philosophical train of thoughts differ, but the explosion of the shared economy over the past half-decade has proven that the vast majority of people desire to trust and treat each other with respect and decency. We grew up being told never to step into a stranger’s car, yet millions of us use Uber. The concept of opening your home to strangers or staying in a stranger’s home would have been ridiculed not so long ago, yet millions of us book entire vacations on the other side of the world in stranger’s homes with Airbnb and Couchsurfing. In the not so distant past, people would think it was crazy to enter in your credit card information into a website to pay someone across the country who might mail you that original Black Flag t-shirt.

We think people desire cross-cultural experiences. The same motivation for why I want to stay in a real Paris apartment rather than a hotel, is what motivates someone to want to earn money delivering items for others while they’re traveling. The feeling I received when, as a Mule, I met a recipient at a subway station in Beijing, is the same feeling one gets when they interact with a guest from the another country. It feels fulfilling and reminds us that we are one humanity.

Along with social reviews, social network verification, government issued ID verification, geo-location tagging, encrypted credit card entry forms, and the like, people are putting their faith in others more so than ever before. This culture of trust has momentum.

At Airmule, we have taken specific steps to encourage trust while also protecting our users.

  1. Identity verification. Travelers are required to verify their identity by uploading their U.S. government issued ID such as a drivers license or passport. Travelers are also required to provide with bank account # and home address in order to get paid.
  2. Online verification. Both senders and travelers are encouraged to connect with social accounts with Facebook and LinkedIn. The more accounts you connect, the trustworthy you will appear to other users.
  3. Reputation. Senders and travelers will both be able to review each other’s experience with the other. A user’s desire to continue to use the platform for shipping or traveling requires that they be a good and helpful citizen in the shared economy.
  4. Disclosure. Senders are required to upload photos, a description of their item, declare if it is a gift or for commercial purposes, and are encouraged to message the traveler with additional information when requested. With our offline results, we found that it takes a few ‘touches’ before arranging a meet between the Sender and Traveler and we’re working ways to reduce this.
  5. Inspection. Travelers retain the indisputable right to inspect all items they are asked to deliver. If a traveler doesn’t feel comfortable with anything, Airmule advises they don’t take it. If it is something illicit, we advise them to notify the authorities.
  6. Insurance. Airmule is aware that problems can arise. An airline can mishandle or lose luggage. Something may break or could possibly go missing in transit. This is why we offer up to $200 per package in insurance to provide users peace of mind. In the future we will offer additional insurance options.
  7. Payment only upon Delivery. Airmule holds payment to the Traveler until the recipient verifies delivery by allowing their phone or email to be scanned.

Even with taking all of these measures into effect, Airmule’s success will rely on people’s willingness to trust someone to carry their items across the world, or to take items for somebody else on an airplane with us. It’s people that will be what make Airmule work.

There will be challenges. And when they do arise we will be provide customer support. We do ask that users please review FAQ’s before reaching out for additional assistance.

If you’re still a pessimist on trust, perhaps the shared economy is not for you. I would recommend though that you watch Joe Gebbia’s, co-founder of Airbnb, TED talk on Designing for Trust where he highlights “turning fear into fun is the gift of creativity.” It may make you a believer.

Be excellent to each other.