Michelle Regner

Title: Founder and chief executive
Company: Near Me
Size: 14 employees

IDEA TRUST: On making digital reputations transportable

Michelle Regner wants to use social technologies to boost trust in the most social of businesses—companies like hers that make up the so-called sharing economy.

Ms Regner is founder and chief executive of Near Me, a peer-to-peer marketplace platform; it is the third company she has founded since leaving Morgan Stanley as a financial analyst in 2004. Near Me gives companies a set of tools to help them create marketplaces focused on different market segments—such as recreational vehicles or rock band gear—complete with payment systems, customer reviews and rankings and location-aware features.

A business and finance graduate of Notre Dame de Namur University near San Francisco, Ms Regner, age 34, got involved in the sharing economy with her first venture, Innercircuit, which developed systems for landlords to collect rent and communicate with tenants. That venture led her to co-found Near Me and its flagship product, DesksNear.Me, a website that connects mobile workers to available desk spaces all over the world.

DesksNear.Me has been an important influence in the development of Near Me by helping the company to “understand what our clients needed to start a marketplace,” she says. “We needed to taste our own champagne.”

Social businesses thrive on the mutual trust that is reinforced by open collaboration and transparency. So Ms Regner wants to solve a critical problem: people and companies that have spent years building strong reputations in one digital space have to start from scratch when they move to another.

She is making a start at Near Me, where buyer and vendor ratings can transfer among marketplaces on the platform. “We’re making a point of allowing trust to be transportable across all the different marketplaces that we power,” she says.

Ms Regner believes that Near Me is well-placed to help create a standard that spans marketplaces, but cross-industry cooperation would be vital. “How are we going to set standards for trust across many sites?” she asks. “That’s really the critical part—to get the sharing economy to collaborate under the same umbrella.”

Social technologies can play an essential role in making reputation mobile and driving the sharing economy forward, Ms Regner believes. She wants to create a data-driven “trustworthy index” that could be integrated across both social platforms and peer-to-peer marketplaces. Such a trust engine could use ratings data on buyers and sellers from various marketplaces to create index scores for individuals that could be shared broadly. Meanwhile, newcomers to the sharing economy could potentially benefit from associations with high-scoring friends and connections on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks.

Ms Regner is also using social media to expand her firm. “As thought leaders, we use it to educate our staff, our potential clients and current clients on the latest in our industry.” The Near Me platform has about 20 clients today, which Ms Regner believes is just the beginning. Using social media to build a community, the company has generated thousands of sales leads in the past six months, she says.

But using data and social principles to create trust across marketplaces would be a much bigger contribution—one that, if she can make it happen, could help expand the entire sharing economy.




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