Seats2meet.com is the co-working space that offers people the opportunity to pay with social capital. I (Josphine Meijer for Startupdelta.org) meet with Ronald van den Hoff, co-founder and a man with a vision. What evolves is a conversation about the sharing economy, the arrogance of the startup scene and the potential of blockchain technology.
From startup to scale up
“Seats2meet.com took off as a startup in 2007, at a time when the idea of co-working for independent professionals hardly existed. I think we were perhaps the first in the world to offer what we did: work at Seats2meet.com and pay with social capital. It was a revolutionary concept and we were overrun by people who felt a need for this. Apparently we had our hands on a scalable growth model: organizing social capital and connecting people. We opened several successful locations and realized we had a proven concept, and that’s when we went from startup to scale up. It’s the software that is at the base of Seats2meet.com that we made scalable. During our growth process our focus shifted 180 degrees: we became a people connector using smart software.”
Social capital: making money
“The old-fashioned economic idea of supply and demand is based on scarcity. Internet makes perfectly visible what we have in abundance: knowledge. To share this you need to create an environment that makes knowledge visible, which is what we do, consequently allowing people to pay with knowledge. Our next step was to cultivate serendipity: meeting the people that are unexpectedly of relevance to you. It’s when co-operation happens and businesses evolve. Then those businesses need our services like software, conference rooms, bread funds, and a money flow is created. You need to find a business model with a healthy balance between social and financial capital to be sustainable. What we see emerging now, is that companies, schools and libraries also want to connect to the Seats2meet.com model, tapping into the abundance of social capital. This rapidly grows our network and supports both our financial and social capital: they buy our software licenses and enable more sharing. It’s Metcalfe’s law: the more users are connected to the network the better the network works.”
The Netherlands as laboratory
“In my view connections made between people will span the entire world, making national borders irrelevant. The Netherlands is the perfect laboratory for the sharing and network economy; the Dutch know how to create value in networks. We are a small country, which means we have a smaller quantity of successes, but we also have amazing infrastructure, a high level of education and a wealth of entrepreneurs. There is a globalization of cooperation happening, but at the same time innovation enables activity on a micro-level. That’s the true impact of the sharing economy: we all have access to amazing software to do things ourselves. A service like Airbnb has an enormous impact on what happens within neighborhoods. Dutch startups catch on to these developments, illustrated, to name a few, by Peerby, MyWheels and Seats2meet.com.
The arrogance of the startup scene
“There is a certain arrogance to the startup scene in that they think they know what determines growth. But it’s the eco-system that will determine what will grow, and how. Seats2meet.com wants to create a culture of emergence. We want to also facilitate the initiatives that are important at a micro-level but may not expand into hugely scalable businesses. They may inspire others to take it to the next level. My objection to venture capital is that it works with structures of ownership: ‘it’s my network, my software, my clients.’ Take Uber, their success lies in visualizing abundance, social capital, but they finance it with capital from the old system, meaning they have to work with the paradox of shareholders whose interest is opposite from that of the stakeholders – the drivers and users. We are in a transition towards the sharing economy. We need to share what’s been done already, share the abundance of knowledge and consciously look for collaboration at an early stage.”
Decentralized autonomous organization
“The ideal scenario for the future is to work with the model of a decentralized autonomous organization, setting up a system that allows for shared ownership of the networks that Seats2Meet creates. It is a recent development I have been following with interest: a decentralized autonomous organization is made possible with blockchain technology, blockchain being the underlying software of bitcoin. Check out the Israeli startup LaZooz, who are building a kind of Uber, but basing the ownership structure on the blockchain technology. It is a decentralized transportation platform: those who use it, own it. So many people don’t yet know what Uber is while the next killer app that may finish Uber off is already being built! Ronald laughs: “It’s not socialism, more like capitalism 3.0. In the end everyone shares in the success. That’s the crux of shared ownership.”