The 21st Century: if you don't get it, it's not for you

9 October 2012 by Steve Blum
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“We’re living life in an ambient data stream,” said Bridget van Kralingen at this morning’s MobileCon keynote session. The 21st Century will be about “creating value from abundant information.”

Van Kralingen is a senior vice president with IBM Global Business Services. Her talk was conceptual and enterprise focused, and provided the perfect lead in to Scott Griffith, the CEO of ZipCar.

For the past nine years, he’s been living that life. ZipCar allows members in certain cities and 300 college campuses – 730,000 members as of last year – to jump into cars, drive for an hour or two, then park and walk away. The basic business model is renting cars by the hour, but the secret sauce is pointing members to the nearest car, making an instant reservation, managing the trip, logistics and the intricacies of any given car, and closing out the transaction. Instantly, wirelessly and naturally.

Especially naturally. Griffith emphasized that he’s targeting drivers under age 35 – Millennials – who live life as digital natives, trust their friends and not marketing messages, and are plugged in to their friends – they don’t think socializing necessarily involves being in the same room – and to entertainment and information sources all the time. Mostly, via mobile devices.

ZipCar manages the end-to-end customer experience via mobile applications, which account for about 60% of transactions. The rest come in via the traditional web, which Griffith says is due to Millennial disdain for browsers and increasing reliance on apps.

Members buy access to cars when they need it, with 40% forgoing car ownership completely. That figure is expected to grow. 46% say if forced to choose, they’d pick Internet access over owning a car. Griffith claims that ZipCar members spend 6% of household income on transportation, versus a U.S. average of 19%.

Some of that difference can be dismissed as simple self-selection. A 19% average covers a wide spread of individuals, and the ones at the lower end of the range in the first place might be the ones that opt to buy cars by the hour. But Griffith’s point is that, particularly in urban areas, the business models that are taking off are the ones powered by mobile access and apps.

The change is permanent and “driven by cultural shifts and big shifts in demographics,” Griffith says. His business is completely mobile and “100% self service every time”. It – and others he pointed to such as Uber and municipal bike sharing ventures – are made possible by “ubiquitous wireless service.”