Articles, Blog

Lisa Gansky: The future of business is the “mesh”

December 4, 2019

I’m speaking to you about what I call the “mesh.” It’s essentially a fundamental shift in our relationship with stuff, with the things in our lives. And it’s starting to look at — not always and not for everything — but in certain moments of time, access to certain kinds of goods and service will trump ownership of them. And so it’s the pursuit of better things, easily shared. And we come from a long tradition of sharing. We’ve shared transportation. We’ve shared wine and food and other sorts of fabulous experiences in coffee bars in Amsterdam. We’ve also shared other sorts of entertainment — sports arenas, public parks, concert halls, libraries, universities. All these things are share-platforms, but sharing ultimately starts and ends with what I refer to as the “mother of all share-platforms.” And as I think about the mesh and I think about, well, what’s driving it, how come it’s happening now, I think there’s a number of vectors that I want to give you as background. One is the recession — that the recession has caused us to rethink our relationship with the things in our lives relative to the value — so starting to align the value with the true cost. Secondly, population growth and density into cities. More people, smaller spaces, less stuff. Climate change: we’re trying to reduce the stress in our personal lives and in our communities and on the planet. Also, there’s been this recent distrust of big brands, global big brands, in a bunch of different industries, and that’s created an opening. Research is showing here, in the States, and in Canada and Western Europe, that most of us are much more open to local companies, or brands that maybe we haven’t heard of. Whereas before, we went with the big brands that we were sure we trusted. And last is that we’re more connected now to more people on the planet than ever before — except for if you’re sitting next to someone. (Laughter) The other thing that’s worth considering is that we’ve made a huge investment over decades and decades, and tens of billions of dollars have gone into this investment that now is our inheritance. It’s a physical infrastructure that allows us to get from point A to point B and move things that way. It’s also — Web and mobile allow us to be connected and create all kinds of platforms and systems, and the investment of those technologies and that infrastructure is really our inheritance. It allows us to engage in really new and interesting ways. And so for me, a mesh company, the “classic” mesh company, brings together these three things: our ability to connect to each other — most of us are walking around with these mobile devices that are GPS-enabled and Web-enabled — allows us to find each other and find things in time and space. And third is that physical things are readable on a map — so restaurants, a variety of venues, but also with GPS and other technology like RFID and it continues to expand beyond that, we can also track things that are moving, like a car, a taxicab, a transit system, a box that’s moving through time and space. And so that sets up for making access to get goods and services more convenient and less costly in many cases than owning them. For example, I want to use Zipcar. How many people here have experienced car-sharing or bike-sharing? Wow, that’s great. Okay, thank you. Basically Zipcar is the largest car-sharing company in the world. They did not invent car-sharing. Car-sharing was actually invented in Europe. One of the founders went to Switzerland, saw it implemented someplace, said, “Wow, that looks really cool. I think we can do that in Cambridge,” brought it to Cambridge and they started — two women — Robin Chase being the other person who started it. Zipcar got some really important things right. First, they really understood that a brand is a voice and a product is a souvenir. And so they were very clever about the way that they packaged car-sharing. They made it sexy. They made it fresh. They made it aspirational. If you were a member of the club, when you’re a member of a club, you’re a Zipster. The cars they picked didn’t look like ex-cop cars that were hollowed out or something. They picked these sexy cars. They targeted to universities. They made sure that the demographic for who they were targeting and the car was all matching. It was a very nice experience, and the cars were clean and reliable, and it all worked. And so from a branding perspective, they got a lot right. But they understood fundamentally that they are not a car company. They understand that they are an information company. Because when we buy a car we go to the dealer once, we have an interaction, and we’re chow — usually as quickly as possible. But when you’re sharing a car and you have a car-share service, you might use an E.V. to commute, you get a truck because you’re doing a home project. When you pick your aunt up at the airport, you get a sedan. And you’re going to the mountains to ski, you get different accessories put on the car for doing that sort of thing. Meanwhile, these guys are sitting back, collecting all sorts of data about our behavior and how we interact with the service. And so it’s not only an option for them, but I believe it’s an imperative for Zipcar and other mesh companies to actually just wow us, to be like a concierge service. Because we give them so much information, and they are entitled to really see how it is that we’re moving. They’re in really good shape to anticipate what we’re going to want next. And so what percent of the day do you think the average person uses a car? What percentage of the time? Any guesses? Those are really very good. I was imagining it was like 20 percent when I first started. The number across the U.S. and Western Europe is eight percent. And so basically even if you think it’s 10 percent, 90 percent of the time, something that costs us a lot of money — personally, and also we organize our cities around it and all sorts of things — 90 percent of the time it’s sitting around. So for this reason, I think one of the other themes with the mesh is essentially that, if we squeeze hard on things that we’ve thrown away, there’s a lot of value in those things. What set up with Zipcar — Zipcar started in 2000. In the last year, 2010, two car companies started, one that’s in the U.K. called WhipCar, and the other one, RelayRides, in the U.S. They’re both peer-to-peer car-sharing services, because the two things that really work for car-sharing is, one, the car has to be available, and two, it’s within one or two blocks of where you stand. Well the car that’s one or two blocks from your home or your office is probably your neighbor’s car, and it’s probably also available. So people have created this business. Zipcar started a decade earlier, in 2000. It took them six years to get 1,000 cars in service. WhipCar, which started April of last year, it took them six months to get 1,000 cars in the service. So, really interesting. People are making anywhere between 200 and 700 dollars a month letting their neighbors use their car when they’re not using it. So it’s like vacation rentals for cars. Since I’m here — and I hope some people in the audience are in the car business — (Laughter) — I’m thinking that, coming from the technology side of things — we saw cable-ready TVs and WiFi-ready Notebooks — it would be really great if, any minute now, you guys could start rolling share-ready cars off. Because it just creates more flexibility. It allows us as owners to have other options. And I think we’re going there anyway. The opportunity and the challenge with mesh businesses — and those are businesses like Zipcar or Netflix that are full mesh businesses, or other ones where you have a lot of the car companies, car manufacturers, who are beginning to offer their own car-share services as well as a second flanker brand, or as really a test, I think — is to make sharing irresistible. We have experiences in our lives, certainly, when sharing has been irresistible. It’s just, how do we make that recurrent and scale it? We know also, because we’re connected in social networks, that it’s easy to create delight in one little place. It’s contagious because we’re all connected to each other. So if I have a terrific experience and I tweet it, or I tell five people standing next to me, news travels. The opposite, as we know, is also true, often more true. So here we have LudoTruck, which is in L.A., doing the things that gourmet food trucks do, and they’ve gathered quite a following. In general, and maybe, again, it’s because I’m a tech entrepreneur, I look at things as platforms. Platforms are invitations. So creating Craigslist or iTunes and the iPhone developer network, there are all these networks — Facebook as well. These platforms invite all sorts of developers and all sorts of people to come with their ideas and their opportunity to create and target an application for a particular audience. And honestly, it’s full of surprises. Because I don’t think any of us in this room could have predicted the sorts of applications that have happened at Facebook, around Facebook, for example, two years ago, when Mark announced that they were going to go with a platform. So in this way, I think that cities are platforms, and certainly Detroit is a platform. The invitation of bringing makers and artists and entrepreneurs — it really helps stimulate this fiery creativity and helps a city to thrive. It’s inviting participation, and cities have, historically, invited all sorts of participation. Now we’re saying that there’s other options as well. So, for example, city departments can open up transit data. Google has made available transit data API. And so there’s about seven or eight cities already in the U.S. that have provided the transit data, and different developers are building applications. So I was having a coffee in Portland, and half-of-a-latte in and the little board in the cafe all of a sudden starts showing me that the next bus is coming in three minutes and the train is coming in 16 minutes. And so it’s reliable, real data that’s right in my face, where I am, so I can finish the latte. There’s this fabulous opportunity we have across the U.S. now: about 21 percent of vacant commercial and industrial space. That space is not vital. The areas around it lack vitality and vibrancy and engagement. There’s this thing — how many people here have heard of pop-up stores or pop-up shops? Oh, great. So I’m a big fan of this. And this is a very mesh-y thing. Essentially, there are all sorts of restaurants in Oakland, near where I live. There’s a pop-up general store every three weeks, and they do a fantastic job of making a very social event happening for foodies. Super fun, and it happens in a very transitional neighborhood. Subsequent to that, after it’s been going for about a year now, they actually started to lease and create and extend. An area that was edgy-artsy is now starting to become much cooler and engage a lot more people. So this is an example. The Crafty Fox is this woman who’s into crafts, and she does these pop-up crafts fairs around London. But these sorts of things are happening in many different environments. From my perspective, one of the things pop-up stores do is create perishability and urgency. It creates two of the favorite words of any businessperson: sold out. And the opportunity to really focus trust and attention is a wonderful thing. So a lot of what we see in the mesh, and a lot of what we have in the platform that we built allows us to define, refine and scale. It allows us to test things as an entrepreneur, to go to market, to be in conversation with people, listen, refine something and go back. It’s very cost-effective, and it’s very mesh-y. The infrastructure enables that. In closing, and as we’re moving towards the end, I just also want to encourage — and I’m willing to share my failures as well, though not from the stage. (Laughter) I would just like to say that one of the big things, when we look at waste and when we look at ways that we can really be generous and contribute to each other, but also move to create a better economic situation and a better environmental situation, is by sharing failures. And one quick example is Velib, in 2007, came forward in Paris with a very bold proposition, a very big bike-sharing service. They made a lot of mistakes. They had some number of big successes. But they were very transparent, or they had to be, in the way that they exposed what worked and didn’t work. And so B.C. in Barcelona and B-cycle and Boris Bikes in London — no one has had to repeat the version 1.0 screw-ups and expensive learning exercises that happened in Paris. So the opportunity when we’re connected is also to share failures and successes. We’re at the very beginning of something that, what we’re seeing and the way that mesh companies are coming forward, is inviting, it’s engaging, but it’s very early. I have a website — it’s a directory — and it started with about 1,200 companies, and in the last two-and-a-half months it’s up to about 3,300 companies. And it grows on a very regular daily basis. But it’s very much at the beginning. So I just want to welcome all of you onto the ride. And thank you very much. (Applause)


  • Reply Micheal Macdonnchadha February 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Great video

  • Reply BattleWalrus February 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    This needs to be implemented across the globe

  • Reply Buddhabr0t February 18, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    no new creative concept

  • Reply Christopher Cottell February 18, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    So value stream analysis (Lean) and market analysis, just making use of the data now available

  • Reply DunbarConfederalist February 18, 2011 at 7:06 pm


  • Reply bluefootedpig February 18, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    @ClaritySWE Do you honestly believe that everyone knows about how resource sharing can work, or how it can help us? I know people who don't even know about time shares, let alone sharing cars. And she is bringing new ideas to spur innovations to get people thinking, "what else can i share?"

  • Reply bluefootedpig February 18, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    @Buddhabr0t can you define what is creative and new? the connectom brain, we already know that thinking is being done by the connections, all he did was map the brain, yet people loved it. That wasn't new, nor creative. Nothing is really new, how do you think TED finds people? hunting down in the backwoods of america, looking for a shack where a mad scientists just reanimated a human? these are concepts that are out there, but still haven't hit market penetration.

  • Reply bluefootedpig February 18, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    So how long before socialists take over this and make it government cars, free for everyone with a license, paid by tax payers?

    There was this one idea, where you would pay a membership fee, and you could barrow a book, and return it. It was a great concept of sharing a scarce resource. And now we have libraries.

  • Reply bluefootedpig February 18, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    @ClaritySWE Well, depending on where you live, these can be new ideas. I never even thought about sharing bikes, as I have never been to Europe, and my city barely has zip cars. That was a genius idea to me, and got me thinking about what else I don't use very often. Now, I am no country boy. I have a college education, live near san fransico, ca, and work for a company as an engineer. I subscribe to TED. This might have been review for you, but it wasn't for me.

  • Reply SiliconBong February 18, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Random women have feelings too, ClaritySWE . . .

  • Reply Crazylalalalala February 18, 2011 at 10:42 pm


    not necessrly.

    Energy companies are like any other company they run for profit. If people start coming up with economical technologies rather then just try to guilt them into buying things that would reduce their profits then these energy companies would jump in and many are.

  • Reply Riverdale270 February 19, 2011 at 12:59 am

    I hate sharing… I want all the icecream for myself!

  • Reply D.S. Wellhauser February 19, 2011 at 7:51 am

    Another faux-intellectual re-packaging/re-marketing old ideas with some pseudo-new ideas…TED is Dead.

  • Reply oclock1983 February 19, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    @ClaritySWE you r a pure shovinist

  • Reply ironmanstarks36 February 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Share ready cars from the manufacturer? She must be on crack as they barely sell any cars as it is. The last thing they want is people buying less cars because they have the ability to share them.

  • Reply sonados February 19, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    so, Communism was right?

  • Reply djAmiracle February 19, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    @neokanzler this is like a capitalist spin on communism. you own your own car, but you can share it if you want (not for free, you get paid to share it). so your car doesn't just get run down by people using it because you get money which you can use to maintain it. also, people have a choice of the car they pay to use, which would keep the system fresh with maintained cars. I that is vital step that communism is missing, and which leads to the eventual wear-down of that infamous infrastructure.

  • Reply angelwhite February 19, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    @ClaritySWE Wow, I can't believe a bigoted comment like that has gotten so many upvotes on a channel like TED :/

  • Reply Arcus Veles February 19, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Much more likely things to happen than everyone sharing a lot of things: Costs (and thus prices) will come down, materials and energies will be more "green" and loops will be closed, and everyone will be able to afford their own units for travel, communication and self-expression/individuality, more and more naturally integrated in to our lives (and even our bodies).

    This sounds like one of the many, many idealist pipe dreams we saw in the 90's, still limping on 15 years later.

  • Reply angelwhite February 19, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    @LuckyCharms432 So if she was a black guy and someone said "Aaaaaaaaand as always, some random black dude comes along and says stuff everyone already knows", then you would all go upvote it because you thought that he "sucked at making a point"?

    Why does having a negative opinion of her talk make you think it is legitimate to extrapolate that to all women?

  • Reply Crazylalalalala February 19, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Im pretty sure that they do not own nearly every patent, that seems like a large over exaggeration. Even if they do, wouldnt they want to make more money? of course they would.

    If they believed that these patents would allow them to make more money they certainly would have made them more available. If these patents cant then they really dont matter much because they are obviously not advanced enough to be cost efficient. and If they are advanced then we need not worry, oil will not last.

  • Reply -DepthCharge February 20, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    @Gegenhall I bet you share lots of other things too. 😉

  • Reply DeimosSaturn February 20, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    @cyberdems We wouldn't be so concerned with privacy if these corporations weren't colluding with governments run by megalomaniacs and psychopaths. If there were no governments, i wouldn't give a shit about people knowing which porn videos I watch or where I happen to be at any given time. The ultimate problem of civilization are the sociopaths are the only ones ambitious enough and conceited enough to want to control everyone else.

  • Reply Sequoyah February 21, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    "Sold out" are the favorite words of any business person? That's total bullshit. "Sold out" tells the business person that they should have produced more of the product or set the price higher. Any business person who knows what the hell he's doing (and clearly this speaker does not) knows "sold out" usually means "you misjudged demand, and lost profit as a result." Generally speaking, a company that produces 10 million of something should hope to have 1 left at the end of the day.

  • Reply morthim February 22, 2011 at 3:41 am

    @ClaritySWE three secconds in, paused and stopped watching cause of this comment thank you for that.

  • Reply chas ames February 22, 2011 at 6:39 am

    @ClaritySWE Only women?
    Why do you make this distinction?

  • Reply ilotitto February 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Gringos you cry too much about recession. Try to live in Venezuela with a 25% inflation a year for the last 10 years and then we can talk about you having a hard time.

  • Reply doloppost February 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    sigh… I'll just watch some Russian dude show some new gunz again and trying them out on fruit and just forget about TED…

  • Reply Tolstoievsky February 26, 2011 at 12:21 am

    sounds like glorified renting to me

  • Reply GHortaV March 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    How about sharing GOOD talks for a change now TED?

  • Reply Richard Coward March 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    there is no structure to this talk

  • Reply Richard Coward March 19, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    To summarise her talk:
    1) some random generic comments about the economy.
    2) summary of zip car

  • Reply Richard Coward March 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    really frustrating to watch

  • Reply Andreea Weed November 3, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge.

  • Reply Colin Barnett June 25, 2013 at 2:51 am

    This sharing society is so connected in the UK that Whip Car has unfortunately folded about 3 months ago in March this year so I think cynicism is alive and well over here!

  • Reply tetromeda September 2, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    do you have a better alternative to propose?

  • Reply AhShah Newell December 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Personal  vehicles used only 8% of the time. Wow. Makes me want to share!

  • Reply alexanderb April 20, 2015 at 2:57 am

    now we have uber and airbnb, these companies fit the mesh definition

  • Reply alexandros vog October 25, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Ce dracu

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