MARIA OGNEVA'S BLOG
I posted my final pic of the Ferry Building from the Salesforce office yesterday – and people have been wondering where I’m going. You don’t have to wait too much longer!
Today I’m announcing that I’m joining Sidecar, (peer-to-peer ridesharing company, if you aren’t familiar) as Head of Community, where my mission will be to facilitate the awesomest community and the most engaging experience for Sidecar drivers. As with all community jobs, I’ll be there making sure that drivers feel supported and resourced, and are working with each other and with us to build a brighter future. But this particular opportunity is even more exciting: I’ll be working in a space that’s new to a lot of people – myself included. I’ll be one of the community practitioners that will define what community means in the peer-to-peer marketplace — where your community is your product, and your product is your community. Mind = blown!
Here are some reasons why I fell in love with this opportunity, and I’m literally on the edge of my seat until I officially start on Monday.
I believe that we are in the middle of a movement. Whether you define it as the Sharing Movement, Collaborative Consumption, or the larger Collaborative Economy, or in any other way — a couple of things are clear. People are sharing skills and assets, creating new things, learning from each other and financially benefitting from excess capacity and the shrinking world that puts anyone and anything at our fingertips. New business models are afoot that can benefit individuals and businesses that know what to do with it. Individuals are no longer waiting for governments and corporations to give them permission to create their financial circumstances. And people all over the world are becoming better and less wasteful consumers – because, let’s face it, we’ve only got this one planet. This is a movement – and a movement I want to be a part of.
Using the words of John Hagel, some communities are Communities of Interest, and some are Communities of Action. All of this sharing, making and learning action needs a solid community platform – and a community manager to facilitate and make sure that the conditions are there for participants to trust each other and thrive. Jeremiah Owyang talks about “Motivate a marketplace” and “Provide a platform” as key imperatives for businesses in the Collaborative Economy – and I think the role of a community manager is evolving to accommodate these new models. And of course, I want to be at the forefront of that.
When your community is so deeply built into your product and your company’s DNA that it can’t exist without it – that’s the highest expression of community management as a discipline. This excites me terribly.
When I was exploring companies in the space, I was really impressed by the vision Sidecar shared with me. Yesterday, the company launched its new marketplace that helps riders choose the car they want to ride, and drivers create the right experience at the corresponding price. This is a really important shift that takes peer-to-peer ridesharing from a commodity service to a true community-driven marketplace.
Fred Wilson blogged yesterday about his investment in Sidecar: “The human touch means not turning car owners who want to make a bit more money into limousine drivers. The human touch means allowing a driver to choose when and where they drive. The human touch means allowing drivers to market themselves in the app with a picture and a little bit about them and their car. The human touch means allowing the drivers to change their pricing whenever they feel like it.”
He nailed it – and I agree wholeheartedly. Where both sides of the marketplace get to choose, everybody wins.
Some companies are sales-driven, some are driven by product, and some are driven by community. These are the companies that motivate marketplaces. It is every community manager’s dream to work for a company for whom community is not just a silo on the side. Among its peer group, Sidecar is the one that demonstrates this commitment by building it into the product itself – and I’m thrilled to work for a company that “gets it.”
It’s still relatively early days of ridesharing, and all companies in the space are covering new ground – and the new Sidecar pivot is a pretty transformative change. I’m incredibly excited to be in this space at this time.
While some people prefer predictability and knowing what’s going to happen next, I’m motivated by uncertainty, chaos, huge dreams and even bigger outcomes. Standing at the precipice and looking out at what’s possible is not enough – I want to help the world understand the art of the possible. And I won’t have to do it alone — there’s a critical mass of peer sharing / collaborative companies, and working with other community managers in the space will be very meaningful for the community and for me personally.
It’s terrifying and extremely exciting to enter a space in hypergrowth, that’s still shrouded in mystery sometimes. Being the face of the company to a community is a fun and terrifying challenge. While being “on display” as a face of the company seemingly gives you little room for error, coming into it without preconceived notions but with a dogged determination to make it work by working together, you eventually earn respect and trust. Navigating uncertainty — a key capability of community managers — helps you become a better leader by constantly being aware of your vulnerability. I did a lot of soul-searching when thinking about what’s next in my career, and decided that I’m ready to start taking steps to becoming the kind of person I want to be.
I’m excited at the opportunity to depart from my comfort zone, to create something amazing from the ground up, in a space that’s changing the world. I asked friends who know me well, observe my reactions when I talked about various career directions I was considering. Without a doubt, and almost unanimously, my friends told me that I was most excited when I talked about Sidecar.
I did a lot of research while exploring the ridesharing movement. Of course, there are the deep studies of economic impact by Jeremiah Owyang. And then there are the very real stories of lives that are being changed by Sidecar.
I’ve met people who for one reason or another had to leave their jobs – or their jobs became not enough – and who could now replace or supplement their incomes, all while driving about town. A few days ago, I met a guy who left his job because he didn’t love it, and with the flexibility that Sidecar affords him, he doesn’t have to go back to work – or at least he can take his time figuring out what he really wants to do next. This is individual empowerment at its best – and what I believe is the purpose of a Community of Action. Through my work with Yammer and Chatter, I’ve seen people’s careers change in front of my eyes; I’ve seen people become meaningfully engaged with their work, and I’ve seen companies transform as a result. With Sidecar, I’m looking forward to continuing to experience this magic. Transformation is never easy, but the result always moves me.
I also listened to drivers’ stories – it’s pretty amazing what can happen when you put away your phone for 10 minutes. From one Sidecar driver, I learned about a Russian cultural festival, which happens this weekend nonetheless (some Russian I am who didn’t know this!) I met a tango instructor, who told me about an amazing local Tango studio. I’ve been dying to learn since I visited Buenos Aires with my hubby. Peer-to-peer marketplaces place us face to face with people we would’ve never met otherwise, and that’s pretty powerful. I’ve been learning about cool jobs I didn’t know existed and getting to know parts of the city I’ve never noticed before.
It’s so easy to get stuck in a routine, going between work and home, caught in the echo chamber of people who are just like you. The opportunity to meet someone new for 10 minutes each day– driving from place to place – is that human touch that Fred Wilson talks about. It’s a big world out there – and every single person has a story to tell. These small, serendipitous glimpses into the lives, experiences and dreams of others are meaningful and strangely intimate. Yet the experience confronts you with the idea that you don’t really know anything and that the purpose of life is to learn and experience. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to communities…
I can’t wait ‘till Monday! You have 4 days to download and use Sidecar – you’ve been warned