The Sacrifice in Sharing
Daniel Dubois wants to put himself out of business.
That is an ambitious goal for any enterprise, least of all for a lean startup with a vision years into the future.
But the founder of ShareShed, an upcoming Vancouver-based online sharing network for outdoor-recreation equipment, has so embraced his principles he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his community.
“ShareShed is about extending connections between people,” Dubois exclaims.
Quickly cementing himself as a major player in Vancouver’s sharing economy, Dubois currently serves as an Entrepreneur in Residence at The Next Big Thing, a pre-accelerator foundation co-founded by Hootsuite leader Ryan Holmes and serial entrepreneur Meredith Powell that provides only ten annual fellowships to startup CEOs under the age of 23.
He also recently won top honours at the Entrepreneurs’ Organization regional Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, which bestowed him with $100,000 in professional mentorship and support, and was featured in RADIUS’s 2014 Young Innovators Crawl.
All of these accolades rushed in quickly, but Dubois is grounded enough to take them in stride. “They have all been pretty awesome,” he smiles. “The Next Big Thing fellowship in particular is opening a ton of doors for me. It is pretty much taking everything out of the equation that would distract from being able to start something disruptive.”
A positively disruptive notion is key to Dubois’s ideals, and why ShareShed has the potential to avoid, if not transcend, the political pitfalls many other sharing economy businesses face.
ShareShed began as a school project at Capilano University. Inspired by his studies, Dubois dropped everything to pursue the website into a full-time project, picking up about a half dozen “part-time software engineers and a growing group of mentors” along the way.
His goal is to establish ShareShed as an open sharing network providing people “unlimited opportunities for adventure – an Airbnb for outdoor gear,” as he puts it.
“Imagine you want to go stand-up paddle boarding,” he explains. “We are creating a platform that gives people access to items, so with ShareShed there is now a stand-up paddle board waiting for you, without you having to store a single thing.”
Our economy’s current model grants primacy to ownership, but Dubois’s biggest motivation is to move society forward by empowering people to live a more shareable life.
“I want to use business as a force for good, and ShareShed is part of a larger movement that can do that,” Dubois iterates. “I simply do not know anything else [than the sharing economy] that can save people money, help the environment, allow people to make connections, and create a more sustainable world.”
The Vancouver Foundation published a 2012 report citing, to their “surprise,” that the number one concern Vancouverites have with their city is not “poverty or homelessness” but “a growing sense of isolation and disconnection.”
This is a problem the sharing economy can solve, Dubois outlines. “It is about helping people establish trust in each other.”
Sharing economy proponents rarely hesitate to espouse this virtue. Geoff Dembicki argues it will decentralize wealth and ownership by “creating a vast new network […] to radically reduce waste, build more caring businesses, and create stronger communities.”
More specifically, using Dembicki’s article as an example, he references contemporary sociological philosopher Bruno Latour in explaining the importance of networks of actors to tackle the challenges of our time.
Living in a technocratic, globalized world, Latour proposes instead ever-expanding concentric assemblies and collectives, featuring actors and diplomats to represent the excluded, to strengthen democracy through networks of humans and non-humans via discourse and sharing. It is a world that complements the sharing economy well, as both rely on the strength of localized networks.
The risk with Latour, however, is the same as that with the sharing economy. Latour’s networks are metaphorical circles that figuratively enclose subjectivity. His rejection of transcendence mirrors the sharing economy’s privatization of development and individuality. For example, representation in these communities objectifies people insofar as their subjectivity is supplanted by the pretext of relying on each other for sharing goods, labour, and services.
In short, built communities in the sharing economy become new models for bureaucracy, wherein individuals merely interrelate with each other through commerce.
Back to Dubois, in light of all of these challenges, he does not seem phased; in fact, his cognizance, commitment, and enthusiasm to the world he is trying to help create could help him overcome everything that stands in the way of a truly egalitarian sharing economy.
“ShareShed is consumerism to an extent, but without any of the environmental drawbacks of our present-day hyper consumerism, while still increasing accessibility,” he argues.
From an historicist viewpoint, you almost get the sense that he is advocating the obstacles of the sharing economy as a necessary stage towards real community.
“I would love to put myself out of business so that people do not even need to rely on ShareShed to connect anymore, it would just happen organically,” he concludes. “The goal of a non-profit organization is to solve a problem. Thinking of charity in this sense allows us to imagine what creates systemic change and what simply puts a bandage over a challenge.”
People like Dubois are effectively proposing to not merely grow the sharing economy to alleviate the ills of our traditional capitalist economy – but to have it be an actual replacement.
“In that sense I hope to really alter the game,” he notes, “and if I can do it through outdoor recreation to help people live vibrant lives, then I really think we can change what is possible.”