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Sharing startups struck it big and struck out in 2013

Caitlin McGarry | Jan. 2, 2014
2013 proved the sharing economy has come a long way, but has a long way to go.

Global expansion: While sharing economy companies face regulatory hurdles here at home, they're also working to build out their international business. Airbnb grew quickly overseas before developing a smarter, slower strategy this year to avoid burnout. Uber rolled out service on new continents this year. Lyft is also pursuing international expansion. These companies are designing a future where you'll use one app to hail a car or find accommodations in every major city around the world.

Marketing gimmicks we support: Lyft probably didn't pay Conan O'Brien for this excellent (both excellent and NSFW) product placement, but it put the ride-sharing app in the public eye in the best possible way:

The misses
Regulatory purgatory: Humans have been sharing resources for all of recorded history, but the sharing economy has thrown lawmakers for a loop. Companies like Uber and Airbnb are apps that are also partly mired in old-fashioned industries—transportation, hospitality—that are deeply entrenched and slow to change. Uber clashed with D.C. officials this year while critics claim Airbnb is running afoul of New York's temporary hotel laws—not to mention the tax issues.

Uber controversy: 2013 was pretty good to Uber, but the company is wrapping up the year by making a whole bunch of East Coasters very angry. The on-demand car service regularly institutes surge pricing when demand is high, like a particularly snowy Saturday night in New York. Some riders paid seven times Uber's normal rate—that's $175 minimum, even if you're only going a block—and are taking the company to task on Twitter. But Uber isn't backing down from the policy, claiming that surge pricing ensures that more drivers are on the road.

Terrible, no good, very bad apps: This year saw an abundance of "like this for that" sharing economy startups: like Airbnb for pets, like Zipcar for babysitters, like Uber for helicopters (that last one is real). Most of them are terrible business ideas with even worse names. But, hey, anything for a shot at that sweet venture capital, right?

Lame marketing gimmicks: Sharing economy companies have handily won over early tech adopters, but they have to prove their worth to average folks who don't live in the Bay Area. So a few enterprising companies regularly do promotions—or what I call gimmicks—to get people to sign up. Want an ice cream truck or a kitten to cuddle? You could order those on-demand during promotions this year. They're silly but effective at grabbing people's attention. Uber's latest, a $135 Christmas tree delivery run in New York , was particularly ridiculous, because you can get a tree in New York for less than $50—and most tree lots offer delivery.


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