Takeaways from Robin Chase of Zipcar

Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, spoke last night at one of the David H. Liu Lectures put on by Stanford’s Product Design Program. Here’s a few things I took away from it.

We have very little transparency with respect to car ownership. It costs an average of $8000/year to own a car and runs about $0.60/mile. I thought it would have been lower. Makes you wonder what else we don’t know much about? Electricity? Food consumption?

She called herself a 2 trick pony. Her two tricks.
1) Find excess capacity. (for example, the fact that cars sit idle 22 hours per day)
2) Create a platform to exploit that capacity. (a car sharing service).
I couldn’t help but think of all the excess capacity that we have in sports stadiums. Giant arenas which sit vacant for 90% of the year. We’re in real need of Stadium 2.0.

She advocated thinking of the lessons of Web 2.0 to move towards Consumption 2.0. Which is consumption based on sharing, collaboration and user participation. The stumbling block to the shift in behavior is that ownership and sharing seem at odds. Rather than try to convince you that sharing is better, she simply breaks the equation down on financial terms. If you want ownership, great! But it’ll cost you.

In the case of a car, that means you need to pay for it all the time. When it’s sitting in the street. When you get a ticket. When you need to rent a van to move a dresser. All the time. On an organizational level, the system works in a similar fashion. If you want to own ideas, you are on the hook for developing all the innovation, services and value.

I think this has very interesting implications for how we think about fluid nature of new products. How do you develop a system that leverages the benefits of dynamic behavior without sacrificing the specificity of more dedicated systems?

So how do we do all this? She didn’t give much in the way of guidelines, but she did recommend what she called, Intellectual Honesty. It basically boils down to, “Don’t kid yourself. If it’s broken, deal with it and move on.” And since designing for these new modes will require us to be quicker and more flexible than ever, this type of Dr. Philism may come in quite handy.