How many engineers does Airbnb have

BreinlingerEngineers

With just a few clicks of the mouse or a couple of taps on the smartphone, you can book a cleaning help, borrow Lego bricks, swap an evening dress that has become too tight for a handbag or book private accommodation with the accommodation broker Airbnb. For more and more people this offers a welcome alternative to the conventional offer.

The concept is not new, says Daniel Veit, economist at the University of Augsburg. The origins of our business ultimately went back to partial and exchange models:

“We are, so to speak, leading a circle to the end and come back to an economy that - supposedly - works in a similar way. Because in reality most business models look very different. "

Because sharing, or even joint use, has long been more than a niche phenomenon in which fellow human beings do something good for others: It is a billion-dollar business. New providers, some of whom are very aggressive business practices, are constantly pushing their way onto the market. The taxi and hotel industries are currently feeling the most impact: their sales are suffering from the cheap offers on platforms such as Uber and Airbnb. The providers, on the other hand, emphasize that they only supplement old business models with innovative concepts - and thus simply make the cake bigger.

“We don't want to displace the taxi, we just want to show more possibilities,” says Fabien Nestmann, Uber's head of Germany. “If that creates a bit of competition, that's an interesting thing. I'll say that for myself now, I always think it's good when competition arises. "

But can we really speak of fair competition when a hotel or a normal taxi company has to meet a whole series of legal requirements, but a private room rental company or Uber driver does not? The economist Daniel Veit has doubts: “If you look at, for example, a private car is insured for a certain mileage and a certain driving style. If you take this insurance, which is around a thousand euros a year, as a basis and suddenly use this car as a taxi, then you are in competition with taxis who have to pay an annual insurance of around 5,000 euros in order to be able to operate this vehicle. ”
From his point of view, it is urgently necessary to create new rules for these newly emerging economic sectors. Uber managing director Fabien Nestmann also sees it this way - in principle: “Uber is part of a development that we are currently experiencing when technologies, especially technology platforms, are opening up or facilitating new business areas. And what is important is that you find a legal framework where such technological realities are assessed and then allowed. "

In essence, providers like Uber are concerned with as little regulation as possible. You pursue a libertarian approach and see yourself as a symbol of free enterprise that should develop as freely as possible. "We believe that the Passenger Transport Act does not take into account all the possibilities that already exist today, and thus opportunities for the citizen, for all of us, cannot develop properly as they should actually be."
Sigrid Bender opens the door to a narrow hallway that leads into a nicely furnished room. A French bed, refrigerator, toaster, microwave: for a good 30 euros per night, the Bender couple offer a room with a private entrance and bathroom on various online portals such as Airbnb, 9Flats or Wimdu. The idea for this came up two years ago when the two grown sons were out of the house. “Well, what do you do with so many rooms, with two people? We would have had seven rooms and two bathrooms, that's just too much. " Instead of moving into a smaller apartment, they are now financing part of the rent by subletting on a daily basis. The rental portals make this very easy: you create a profile with pictures and a short description of the accommodation, set the price per night and then just have to wait for inquiries. And they came quickly, says Sigrid Bender: "Cologne is a student city - rooms are always in demand."

Especially since the Benders apartment is located in the popular southern part of Cologne, centrally and easily accessible by public transport from the university, trade fair or city center. The guests are mostly distance students or professionals on business trips - many come back regularly. Billing is conveniently done via the respective portal: Depending on the provider, they charge a commission of up to 20 percent. An offer from which everyone obviously benefits: The Benders, because they make optimal use of the apartment and earn a few euros on the side; the guests because they get cheap accommodation that is larger and more personal than most hotel rooms.

Nevertheless, the rental platforms on the Internet have come under fire: Especially in the inner cities of large cities, where living space is scarce, there are more and more landlords who prefer to offer rooms or entire apartments on the Internet on a daily basis than to rent them out permanently. That is more lucrative and more flexible.

"We also have a lot of inquiries from students who want to stay longer," says Sigrid Bender. "But we don't do that because we sometimes want to let friends live there, then we need it for ourselves privately." Many cities are trying to legally put a stop to private subletting: Berlin, for example, passed a law against “misappropriation of living space” at the beginning of the year. Sigrid Bender knows how controversial the room service is: But in her case, the accusation of a shortage of living space does not apply. "Well, with us it would be that if we weren't allowed to do that anymore, it wouldn't mean that this room would be available again as living space." After all, no one benefits from having the room empty, she argues.

Critics tend to see the expansion of consumer behavior
Providers like Uber or the online accommodation broker Airbnb see themselves as pioneers of a new, more sustainable economy: Because not everyone is forced to own everything they need and people share many things instead, fewer resources are used. But is that really true?

Niko Paech, who conducts research on environmental economics and sustainable management at the University of Oldenburg, among other things, is skeptical: In his opinion, the cheap and easily available offers tend to lead to an expansion of consumer behavior: “Because it is annoying when you want to multiply things , and things need to be a) bought and b) housed and c) serviced and looked after. And then you can increase the consumer goods inventory by outsourcing certain functions. In other words, the car that I don't want to pay for or store myself will be kept by the car sharing company and made available to me. "

Our economy is designed for growth, explains the scientist - and under these circumstances it is not the case that sharing models contribute to a “dematerialization”: “It is rather the other way around: that sharing models lead to a condensation of our material wealth. In purely theoretical terms, the “sharing economy” offers the opportunity to get by with fewer resources and money: But that only applies in a society that has freed itself from the idea of ​​growth.

“But under the current conditions, which correspond to a logic of increase in income and consumption, sharing basically only means enriching our lives with even more services and products that become cheaper through sharing.”

In plain language this means: The money that someone saves by booking accommodation with Airbnb on a trip is spent on more trips - or on being able to afford an expensive flight to the other end of the world. And the many car sharing and ridesharing offers that are springing up in the big cities compete with local public transport in particular - and clog inner cities even more. "One speaks here of so-called rebound or boomerang effects."

Niko Paech also understands this to mean that certain offers lead to certain consumer behavior in the first place:

“If, for example, young people who would never have had the idea of ​​driving a car because they would have had to buy the car, once they have been introduced to driving, i.e. motorized individual transport, through the availability of such sharing solutions, will too Routines or mobility cultures are stimulated - or people are introduced to certain mobility cultures. "

Sharing: That sounds cozy and communal, like justice and social equilibrium. Nevertheless, there have long been more fundamental concerns about the economy of sharing. The economist Daniel Veit sees many positive aspects in principle: “The only problem is that this phenomenon, which has so far represented a strong niche function, is much broader. And this widespread use naturally leads to side effects for society as a whole. "

One of these effects is that agency portals such as Airbnb or Uber offer new tax loopholes: Who wants to control whether the landlords or part-time drivers also pay tax on their additional income? Veit also refers to the effects on the world of work: On the one hand, the “sharing economy” theoretically offers everyone a simple opportunity to become a small business owner. On the other hand, this would create largely unregulated areas that could undermine hard-won workers' rights.

Anyone who offers their labor or certain services on a platform is usually self-employed and therefore bears all the risks themselves. Collective wages, occupational health and safety, health insurance? - Nothing. Trade unions warn of new forms of exploitation: there is a threat of a new precariat consisting of poorly paid and largely unprotected workers.

Some therefore speak of a rude “platform capitalism”, which is less about customer sovereignty and self-determined networking, but more about market power and long-term profits. Many even doubt that the concept of sharing even fits many new Internet offers: After all, with the large sharing platforms it is no longer about agreeing with neighbors to use the washing machine in the basement together. Or lending someone a drill or a couple of moving boxes. It's about a tough business.

The small providers are being pushed out of the market

This is supported by the fact that here too, as in other areas of the economy, there is a trend towards market concentration. For example, Uber is backed by major investors such as Goldman Sachs and Google Ventures. The market value is now estimated at up to 25 billion dollars - that would make the transport service worth more than Adidas or Lufthansa. So far there have been many small startups in this area, according to economist Daniel Veit. But with increasing popularity, what Veit calls “economic network effects” also arises in this area: “These network effects mean that the 'big fish' always win and the small fish don't even reach the critical mass, so to speak, in order to be able to play this game to be able to play. " The result: the smaller providers are forced out of the market or bought up. "Which leads to a strong concentration of market power on individual players." The consequences can already be seen: Successful platforms that provide cleaning staff or, like Uber, driving services, earn up to 20 percent of the hourly wage. "For which, however, apart from providing this digital platform, they ultimately made no valuable contribution."

Uber managing director Fabien Nestmann sees it differently: "As a platform, we have no employees, that's right - but everyone benefits from such platforms when providers and searchers are brought together faster, more efficiently and more securely." Despite all the negative side effects: It is precisely this efficiency and simplicity, believes the scientist Daniel Veit, that the importance of the sharing economy will continue to increase in the future:

"The question will be, and this is the great challenge for our society, to meet this in a way that this does not ultimately undermine the positive achievements of our community agreements, but that it will take place in a way that creates value for us all."

Source: Deutschlandfunk - contribution from November 21, 2014