Design transformational experiences – An interview with Neal Gorenflo

Neal Gorenflo thinks you should start small and replicate grassroot movements.

Design transformational experiences – An interview with Neal Gorenflo

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Neal Gorenflo thinks you should start small and replicate grassroot movements.

– Come with a thesis, but do not get stuck on it.

That is the best advice Neal Gorenflo, co-founder of Shareable, can give to aspiring entrepreneurs. As a thought leader and expert on sharing, an entrepreneur and a devoted practitioner of collaborative consumption, Gorenflo has seen many businesses succeed and fail.

– If I were to point at some common characteristics that lead to success in the sharing economy, it must be to start early on, get something in the marketplace, and iterate based on feedback from users, Gorenflo says.

Design for experience

Gorenflo believes that sharing economy solutions succeed because they design experiences, not just services.

– Sharing economy solutions are able to create a culture and way of interaction that is social and fun. Entrepreneurs should reach beyond creating transactional experiences to creating transformational experiences—ones that change lives for the better.

"To find ways to add value, you must work with all the stakeholders."

Sharing economy marketplaces can compete with non-sharing solutions with a lower price and convenience. These marketplaces always start by addressing a need but then have a chance to expand to transformational experiences.

Start with the community you want to serve. Get to know what they want and what they need, and try to create the service with them. Co-design it if you have the resources for it; empowering people is an appropriate strategy for the sharing economy. You are not just designing a business or a service, but an experience or—even better—a personal or collective transformation. That is the way you compete in this economy.

Gorenflo talks about collaborative cities, and how an entrepreneur's role is to cater to needs in a way that people value.

– To find ways to add value, you must work with all the stakeholders. Weave yourself into the fabric of the community.

He believes the best way to educate people about sharing is to give them a good experience of it—one that will be deeply felt and remembered. Gorenflo uses an example from his personal life.

– After my wife’s maternity leave, we had to find childcare for our son. We did not know what to do. We did not want to use corporate childcare, one where you drop off your child with strangers, and we could not afford our own nanny.

They decided to share a nanny with two other families.

– It was a big win for everyone. The childcare was less expensive and better for our son. He made friends in the nanny share, and we became friends with the other parents and built a small community around it. Our nanny also made significantly more money than just working for one family. It was win-win-win.

Neal Gorenflo hosting the talk at Ouishare fest. Photo by Antti Virolainen. Profile photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg.
Neal Gorenflo hosting the talk at Ouishare fest. Photo by Antti Virolainen. Profile photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg.

Reinforce the grassroots

Sharing a nanny renewed Gorenflo’s belief that sharing is good in itself, in addition to being socially, financially, and environmentally beneficial.

– Sharing is a part of everyday life that we take for granted. We should recognize how powerful it is—do more of it and build on it.

Awareness is still an issue, but less so than before.

– I do think awareness is growing, and people see sharing as a cool thing to do.

"Governments and people in general would do well to see the potential of what grassroots-level activities can achieve."

There are many ways to participate in the sharing economy.

– Becoming a full-blown entrepreneur is not the only route in the sharing economy. You can practice sharing in your personal life, your community, or neighborhood to reduce costs and make life more fun. Be a social entrepreneur on a small scale.

Being a big believer in small-scale sharing, Gorenflo is starting a project called “The public townhouse” at his home in Mountain View, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. The public townhouse seeks to redefine homes, changing them from a site of private, isolated consumption to a site of public sharing and connection. This is done through popup dinners, coworking, and hosting travelers using a home designed to be reconfigurable for these purposes.

Fundamentally, all kind of sharing is needed.

– I think governments and people, in general, would do well to see the potential of what grassroots-level activities can achieve.

Scale or replicate?

Grassroots-level sharing projects—like repair cafes, timebanks, and tool libraries—can easily be replicated, creating local instances of sharing innovations all over the world. Consider, for instance, how the number of co-working spaces has grown during the last ten years: from just a few in San Francisco to over 3,000 around the world. Most are independently run, not chains.

– Another example is little free libraries, small street-side stands with books where anyone can loan or donate a book. They are cute as hell. And there are 28,000 of them worldwide!

If you want to succeed with replication, Gorenflo believes you should hone your innovation through iteration, then document what works online so others can copy the idea.

The typical strategy promoted by Silicon Valley is to take a small thing and expand it geographically, leveraging technology to the max. But replication is equally (if not more) impactful: it is a people-powered strategy rather than one that requires technology and capital.

Gorenflo encourages everyone with an idea to create a sharing service.

– Try creating a service to the degree to which you can. If you are young, I’d go all in!

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