Future or Sharing: Potential Pathways for Disruptive Companies

Sunil Paul co-founded Sidecar in 2011 on a novel premise—that technology could allow anyone to become a driver and accept money for that ride. According to Paul, Sidecar, which was purchased by General Motors in early 2016, pioneered the term “ride sharing”. Paul, who views IT as a “solvent for transaction costs”, discussed his early battles regulating ride sharing in California. “In the beginning, you’re operating in a gray area,” Paul said, “but it’s more or less inevitable that there’s going to be some level of regulation.” Paul supports regulation on the state level, because he sees municipal regulation as too scattered and disparate. He encourages policymakers to look out for the public interest, and believes that promoting innovation is part of that public interest. Paul laid out three potential pathways for disruptive companies facing resistance from incumbent companies or industries: 1) Start so small and silly that you’ll be ignored, 2) Co-opt the interests of the incumbent, and 3) Challenge the incumbent head-on. Sometimes, Paul says, there’s no substitute for saying that you’re the better way.

Paul also discussed the complicated relationship between the sharing economy and sustainability. Paul describes himself as a “deep skeptic of efficiency as a solution to climate,” and talked about how making goods and services, like a ride or a place to stay, more convenient and cheaper tends to increase the demand for them. Paul also pointed out that once the capability for making something more efficient exists, other services tend to get built on top of it. “People adapt their behavior to take advantage of new efficiency,” said Paul. Paul was more optimistic about the social connection that the sharing economy engenders, and describes witnessing these connections as one of the highlights of his experience with Sidecar.