For over a decade, sharing economy companies (“sharecoms”) have been operating on an international stage with novel digital platform-based business models that create and capture value through unique dimensional configurations. However, the relationship between these business models and the international expansion of sharecoms remains under-theorized. This longitudinal study addresses this gap and presents new empirically driven insights. Based on a cross-border, cross-sector case study of six sharecoms, we investigated the evolution of the business model in relation to internationalization. The results showed that multidimensional changes took place within the business models, impacting the sharecoms’ internationalization in terms of speed, scale, and scope through circular causality. Moreover, by creating virtuous cycles of business model change and internationalization, sharecoms were able to achieve network effects and unlock value.
In an era driven by technology and globalization, the development of a firm’s business model and its international endeavors often go hand in hand, especially in the case of young entrepreneurial firms, which are both highly innovative and highly international (Onetti, Zucchella, Jones and McDougall-Covin, 2012). One such firm type operates in the sharing economy; referred to hereafter as “sharecoms” (Thornton, Campbell and Owusu, 2019).
Sharecoms are characterized by innovative business models and accelerated internationalization (Parente et al., 2018, Thornton and Sandberg, 2020). Their value proposition facilitates access to and redistribution of individual peer-to-peer (P2P) users’ tangible and intangible assets delivered via digital platforms (Frenken and Schor, 2017). The asset-light, internet-mediated nature of sharecoms’ business models provides them with increased scalability, meaning that they can reach a global audience with low transaction costs and limited capacity constraints (Täuscher and Kietzmann, 2017, Zeng et al., 2021). As such, they can internationalize immediately (Van Alstyne, Parker and Choudary, 2016) and, typically, do so.
According to Teece, “the right business model is rarely apparent early on in emerging industries” (2010, p. 187). Sharecoms innovate and develop their business models to align with the flourishing environments in which they operate. This strategy often begins early and proceeds rapidly, similar to their international expansion.
Discussion and conclusion
In this study, we sought to answer two research questions: (1) How do sharecom business models evolve during internationalization? and (2) How do changes in the business model affect internationalization? In doing so, new insights emerged regarding how business model change and internationalization relate to one another and evolve. This study also meets the calls for research on sharecom business models (e.g., Täuscher and Laudien, 2018, Bohnsack et al., 2021), aswell as the nexus between business models and internationalization (e.g., Onetti et al., 2012, Bohnsack et al., 2021). Thus, the purpose of this study — to explore cases of internationalized sharecoms over time to enhance the present knowledge of business model changes and internationalization in the sharing economy — has been fulfilled.