Peter has a big interview next week with a future employer. He’ll need to get downtown from his home in the suburbs twenty miles away.
There are no buses where he lives but he has several other options. He can take an Uber, ride a bike, or drive a car. The only catch is he doesn’t own a bike or a car. Of course he could buy either. Buying a car can take a some time and is relatively expensive, but then he’s guaranteed to get to the meeting exactly when he wants. The bike is the cheapest option but he’ll be sweaty when he arrives – not the best way to impress at an interview. And what if the weather is bad? The Uber is going to be way less expensive, expertly driven and still very reliable. The logical choice is the Uber.
This little story is a metaphor for building a website or app. For comparison, buying the car represents hiring a full-time team (expensive long-term and complicated to purchase), the bike represents a freelancer (cool, but not always the fastest or weather friendly option), and the Uber represents a firm of experts for hire.
So why do so many companies still buy the car?
For some clients, ownership of the car represents control. Of course, it’s an illusion of control because as we know, the ownership process is bureaucratic, cars can break down, get stuck in traffic, and the long term costs are significant in comparison to the public transport or biking options.
If you live in a city, you’ll notice we are slowly moving towards becoming a collaboration economy. This has also been called the sharing economy but it’s more than sharing. It’s trusting each other. It’s the division of labor via shared ownership. We collaborate to make things better, easier, faster and less expensive. We already share desks (co-working space), bikes (Hubway, Velo), homes (AirBnB), cars (Zipcar, Lyft), retail space (pop-up stores), education (Coursera, Kahn Academy) and labor (oDesk, TaskRabbit). Collaborating with shared resources is a way of life for almost every business on the developed world, and yet the we hold onto the idea that innovation and product creation has to be an internal employee-owned activity. Sharing the design or development of a product with a strategic partner is advantageous in more ways than just price. It gives you access to cutting edge innovators without the hassle and opportunity cost of full-time labor costs. It’s faster and reduces the friction of hiring, training and HR management.
Ownership should be focused on the outcomes and not on the process. Let’s figure out ways to create awesome outcomes without the overhead. Go ahead, start collaborating with someone outside your company.