Alumna Robin Chase shares wisdom on the peer-to-peer concept and starting a company from scratch

November 21, 2012

Robin Chase, SM ’86Buzzcar founder Robin Chase, SM ’86

When Robin Chase, SM ’86, co-founder and former CEO of alternative car service Zipcar, was considering what to name the innovative company in 2000, some suggested “car sharing” be in the name. But Chase wouldn’t hear of it.

“Can you imagine if we called hotels ‘bed sharing?’” she asked.

Fortunately, the Zipcar brand is now synonymous with convenience and Chase is wagering that her newest venture, Paris-based Buzzcar, will elevate peer-to-peer car sharing to a new level of practicality and acceptance.

Chase spoke at MIT Sloan Nov. 19 as part of the Dean’s Innovative Leader Series and was introduced by Deputy Dean Richard M. Locke as a “great example of the entrepreneurial spirit of our students.”

“I do feel like I’m home,” Chase said to the crowd of students and staff packed into Wong Auditorium.

Buzzcar, which Chase launched in France nearly a year-and-a-half ago, is based on car owners renting out their vehicles to neighbors and friends. It’s “Buzzcar,” because “there is enough honey for all of us,” she said.

One of the company’s greatest strengths is its reliance on localization, as well as neighbors and friends sharing information. For example, if a Buzzcar user picks up a car from his neighbor, the two might engage in friendly, casual conversation in which the car owner may share travel tips and local restaurant recommendations. It’s the face-to-face interaction which gives the company an edge over other alternatives.

Chase spoke about her optimism for the future and an organizational concept she called “Peers, Incorporated,” which is the partnership between companies and individuals where each side does its best and each benefit. It expands on the idea of the peer-to-peer trend where anyone can be both a consumer and a producer of goods.

“If you just call it peer-to-peer, it’s like saying eBay is the same thing as a yard sale. Peer-to-peer does not explain what’s going on,” she said.

These companies provide the economies of scale and the customers provide localization, customization, and specialization, or “all the things that are really expensive for a company to do,” Chase noted. Some successful examples include e-commerce website Etsy.com and task-based marketplace Fiverr.com.

“Peers, Incorporated is the model that will deliver,” she said. “You get the power of companies and combine it with the speed of collective action provided by all of these individuals and the innovation and creativity that they bring.” In other words, aided by the Internet, this model has given the authority that the companies had and handed it to the people.

The next scheduled DILS event is March 7, 2013, when Ilene Gordon, SB ’75, SM ’76, chairman, president, and CEO of Ingredion, Inc. will speak at MIT Sloan.