Sharing is the new normal

I had my first experience as an OBiker last week. Obike is one of three bike-sharing platforms available in Singapore today (Mobike and ofo being the other two) — a new generation of personal mobility platforms that let you rent a bicycle using a mobile app.


It was the last day of my week-long holiday and I was lucky to spot this bike close to my house. With a free hour on hand and the perfect weather (lovely, cool breeze blowing under a mild cloud cover), we set off like two friends, Obike and I. Unlike most days that are chock-a-block with agendas and checklists, this was a day when both the bike and the mind could indulge in the carefree wandering they so crave, but often have little time for.

So, as I was riding, I thought about these new paradigms of utility and ownership in modern economies. Our children are going to have such a different expectation about the route to accessing things like cars and bicycles (just two examples and there are so many!). But the recurring thought in my head was — why buy a bike, when you can Obike? Why own a car when you can just Grab or Lyft one on demand? I’m pretty sure our kids are going to be very comfortable not feeling like they need to own things, when they can get them on tap instead.

And actually, it’s not just for the next generation of kids — this likely applies to us too. Until recently, I owned and drove a car. When it came time for the mandatory scrapping at the 10-year mark (a uniquely Singapore phenomenon), I switched to using the local taxi-hail apps and my commuting experience, far from worsening, has actually significantly improved!

See earlier, I had to worry about parking lots, road taxes, car maintenance — but now, I just hail a cab when I need it and don’t give a thought to any of the non-transportation aspects of the vehicle. Also, when I would normally not want to be driving (ex: when we go out for a late night meal or when I’m really tired at the end of a long day), someone else is doing the driving for me! So, really, it’s a hassle-free experience, especially with the number of taxis now plying the streets. I’ve seen my own expectation about what constitutes a comfortable mode of transportation transform in less than a year. For my kids, this is just their new reality.

Utility on demand is not a passive, one-way mechanism either. Already, the simple act of renting a bicycle is integrated with social media and eCommerce. Taxi hailing is integrated with messaging, location share etc. So, the old model of one supplier providing one service to a passive user is gone. Here instead is an interactive model with different service or application providers offering modules of value at different stages of a user journey and oftentimes, users are interacting and engaging with the service delivery and experience process too.

What this does is it completely changes the traditional value chain model, where a certain, finite value was supposedly added at each step and morphs it into a non-linear, multi-dimensional, criss-cross pattern that, far from being in a steady state, is almost like a live creature— it continually evolves, it adds new stuff and removes redundancies, while continually interacting with and influencing its environment!

The implications to businesses and economies are huge — both in terms of challenges and disruptions but also in the sense of creating brand new, previously unimaginable ways of unlocking value via innovation.

Exciting times!