In this morning’s news, I just saw a perfect expression of one of the points I make here, that these platforms will evolve to support middlemen again. I had already noted that approximately 40% of Airbnb’s were from professional hosts. Here’s Fast Company talking about Airbnb’s first to market advantage in Cuba, a market that has neither internet penetration nor credit cards:
“ In 2011, the country’s National Statistics Office and the International Telecommunication Union estimated that about 22% of Cubans have Internet access, but that included people who only had access to a government-controlled Intranet. Until 2008, Cubans were banned from buying their own computers. Meanwhile, having a bank account is uncommon. “It’s not just that people prefer cash,” says Henken, “It’s almost the only way. People don’t trust anything else, at least not yet.”
Thankfully for Airbnb, however, it didn’t have to start from scratch. It simply tapped into an existing network of middlemen.
The company partnered with a handful of what it describes as “Internet cafes for hosting” that were already facilitating bookings online. These small businesses already had connections with most of the homes for rent on the island, and already charged them a fee for management services. Now they will handle Airbnb listings. Even for hosts who have bank accounts, Airbnb needs to work with intermediaries to deposit funds into their accounts. For the many hosts without access to bank accounts, it partnered with third parties who, in some cases, will deliver cash to their doorsteps (Henken says Airbnb is likely using an established money transfer service to handle payments to unbanked hosts, Airbnb declined specify who’s providing the service for them). All of these are informal partnerships.”