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I have a love/hate relationship with business books. On one hand, there are few experiences like peeling the layers away from an intriguing new concept and getting fueled by the depth of thought that is usually not present in a typical tweet or blog post. But too often, these books have about ten pages worth of original thought followed by 150 pages of redundant padding.
This is not the case with Mesh: Why The Future of Business is Sharing by Lisa Gansky, a serial entrepreneur who has led several start up ventures, most notably Ofoto. Gansky makes the case that businesses built on a model of the sharing of goods or services, rather than the selling of them are perfectly positioned for success in the modern marketplace. In addition to share-ability, Mesh businesses also have several other unique characteristics like use of advanced web and mobile data networks, a focus on physical goods, and utilization of social networks to augment word-of-mouth recommendations. Prime examples of Mesh businesses include the car-sharing service Zipcar, and Netflix, as well as lesser-known ventures like Crushpad, a make-your-own wine facility in Napa Valley that is growing at a phenomenal rate, and a Christmas tree rental business in California.
Gansky attributes the rise of Mesh businesses to a variety of factors, including economic and climate change which are forcing many consumers to rethink their values and attitudes, and giving rise to emerging clean tech and renewable energy sectors. Increasing population density in urban centers also enables Mesh businesses that might depend on close proximity of customers to each other.
One surprising piece of Gansky’s Mesh story, for me, is that these businesses tend to be built as much on consumer and demographic data as they are on the actual item that is being shared. “Zipcar,” Gansky writes, “is primarily an information business that happens to share cars.”
The measure of a good business book for me, is the degree to which I find myself bringing the ideas from that book into my daily work. I’m finding myself referencing Mesh over and over—and it’s making me sound really smart.
Here’s a clip of Lisa Gansky at the Web 2.0 Conference late in 2010: