How the Sharing Economy Works

Major Players in the Sharing Economy

This stately home in England is available for rent through Airbnb.
This stately home in England is available for rent through Airbnb.

For all of its homespun talk of neighborly generosity, there is big money at play in the sharing economy. In June 2014, the ride-sharing service Uber was valued at $17 billion, higher than both Hertz and Avis [source: De la Merced]. Airbnb, the apartment-sharing site, is valued at more than $10 billion — more than Hyatt or Wyndham Worldwide — and is the constant subject of IPO speculation [source: Lyster]. Market watchers are split over the true value of sharing economy companies, but they have caught the attention of big-name investors like Google Ventures [source: Rogowsky].

Here's a list of some of the major players in the sharing economy organized by sector:


  • Uber began as a "black car" service for licensed, independent chauffeurs, but now anyone turn their own car into a taxi with UberX.
  • Lyft, which bills itself as "your friend with a car," is identical to UberX plus a cutesy pink mustache.
  • RelayRides is like Zipcar with your own car. Car owners post daily and weekly rates for renting out their own vehicles.
  • Boatbound lets you rent boats from locals, with or without a captain.
  • MonkeyParking lets you get paid for giving up your parking space; currently only available in San Francisco and Rome.

Home and Vacation Rentals

  • Airbnb is the largest home-sharing site, connecting property-owners in 190 countries — including a surprising number of treehouses and castles — with short-term vacation renters.
  • HomeAway and VRBO are more traditional vacation rental sites, also with hundreds of thousands of listings.
  • Vayable connects you with local tour guides who will give you an insider's view of their hometown.

Tools and Household Items

  • Zilok makes it easy to rent seldom-used tools (think drills and ladders) from local owners and also outdoor equipment like kayaks and tents.
  • Streetbank in the U.K. (and a few other countries) specializes in the free sharing of goods and services

Pet Sitting

  • DogVacay connects vacationing dog owners with local sitters who host the furry friends in their own homes
  • Rover lets you search for local dog sitters (in your home or theirs) and includes daily texts and photo updates


  • Feastly is your connection to the underground supper club scene. Home cooks and moonlighting chefs host meals for strangers in their homes and apartments
  • Instacart is a grocery delivery company — not a true sharing site — with a twist. Instead of investing millions in warehouses like defunct Webvan, the company hires smartphone-toting 20-somethings who physically go to the store, buy your groceries and deliver them to your house

Next we'll dive into the controversies over the sharing economy and try to predict the future of this hot phenomenon.