The ride-hailing app Uber was built on a simple principal: Take an asset or service not being used and monetize it by providing it to someone in need.
A big reason this concept is possible is because of the technology and complex algorithms that enable people to communicate their demands and services instantaneously to one another.
Uber has changed the global economy as we know it and has inspired a new wave of digital entrepreneurs looking to uberize everything from houses to helicopters to dog-walkers.
While the trend shows no sign of slowing, can it really last?
In a few years, will I be using an Uber-like platform to borrow household kitchen pans from my neighbors? Or maybe a huge flat screen TV for the super bowl party?
Hard to say, but I think the overload of technology and apps on our phones will start to have a numbing effect on the number of uberized services and assets that people use.
Nobody wants to have to scroll through five pages of apps on their phone or to remember any more passwords and login information than we already have.
That’s not to say the demand for uberization is necessarily slowing.
Over the last year or so, I have written in some capacity about more than 90 startups in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Within this sample size, I found a handful of early stage ventures still chasing uberization in very niche forms.
Specifically I came across these five startups:
Legably: A marketplace that connects lawyers for individual projects or freelance work, specifically meant to help lawyers who have clients far away in other states. Legably allows attorneys to post projects they need help on, share documents, discuss the project and pay for work through the platform.
Chewsi: Founded by the venture arm of Delta Dental of Rhode Island, Chewsi is an app that connects users with a network of dentists willing to provide significant savings to patients for dental services not covered by dental insurance. Roughly 20 percent of dental claims submitted for insurance claims were not covered by their employers’ plans. Dentists like Chewsi like the idea because it brings them more patients, provides competitive reimbursement and eliminates hassles with insurance companies.
BikeLord: Launched by a Babson MBA candidate, BikeLord is a peer-to-peer marketplace for buying, selling and renting bikes.
RecoverHub: A concept from a Boston University student, recoverHub was proposed as a web app that would connect opioid patients with open beds and available care. The enormity of the opioid crisis in Massachusetts and throughout the U.S. has put available beds at a premium for patients and led to an information asymmetry issue.
Zipspec: An online marketplace that allows architects to advertise what products they are looking for to vendors. Every year, architects spend $150 billion on off-the-shelf items such as carpet or lights. The problem is architects and designers are overwhelmed with information and don’t have enough time to find the best products, and vendors in turn are essentially relying on spam to reach architects. One side is searching for the product and the other side has all of this product, but they don’t know how to sell it.
As the founder of Legably told me, there are 1 million licensed attorneys in the U.S., but the platform certainly doesn’t need all of them to work. In two years, the platform had acquired about 1,200 users.
And this is the main idea still driving uberization.
There are more than 320 million people in the U.S. and more than 7.5 billion in the world. You only need a very small portion of one of those segments to make a profit, obviously depending on your company.
At the same time, other startups I interviewed and recent data suggests the uberization of everything simply cannot be sustainable.
For one, people’s attention spans are only so big.
Despite Instagram’s addicting effect, people eventually get overwhelmed by all of the distractions around them and will only retain what matters. We have already started to see evidence of this trend when it comes to app usage statistics.
In 2017, according to The Manifest:
- Over half of respondents (51%) deleted an app only one week ago or less.
- A full quarter of respondents (25%) say they deleted an app simply because their phone’s storage space was full and they needed space.
With all of the photos these days, apps and constant updates, that standard 64 GB of memory goes quick.
In 2018, according to Localytics:
- The average monthly time spent in an app declined from nearly 33 minutes to less than 30 minutes in the second half of 2018.
- App launches also declined from 10.24 in the second half of 2017 to 8.76 in the second half of 2018.
Perhaps more indicative was another trend I came across in the 90 plus startups I profiled: A lot of new apps and concepts are focused on consolidating apps and combining tools to make technology less overwhelming.
Four companies I interviewed all seemed to embody this:
NowRenting: This web-based software platform not only connects landlords and leasing agents with tenants, but also simplifies and automates the entire rental process. That means everything including finding people, sending pre-screening questions, electronic lease signing, collecting rent and managing maintenance requests.
Persona: In the age of the internet, users are forced to create countless accounts for different websites, remember loads of passwords and constantly verify that they are not robots and in fact a human being. Persona is hoping to get rid of this newfound misery by reducing account creation and human verification down to a single click.
Care Thread: A real-time app that provides secure mobile messaging, clinical information and collaborative workflows for care teams. With Care Thread’s end-to-end encrypted, HIPAA-compliant platform, doctors and nurses can send messages to the entire care team, push a patient’s clinical information and offer collaborative work flows through the app’s patent-pending care team mapping.
Yotme: A new events-driven, network-powered customer relationship management system used by brands and non-proﬁts to turn attendee data into helpful marketing data that will drive sales and generate new business. Through research, Hinckley has found that most companies and organizations will need to use three to five pieces of technology to run an event. Yotme on the other hand allows companies to run events — soup to nuts — all within its platform including the online invitation process, ticketing, social components and the CRM.
While all very different, each one of these startups is trying to bring all of the technology you need for one activity into one place and one app.
Interestingly enough, the founder of Yotme told me he first created the company entirely as a mobile app. But that proved to be a mistake for two reasons: He found through research that people were deleting more apps than ever before and no one wanted to download an app to go to an event.
And I believe this resonates with most industries.
Even look at ride-sharing apps. There are now many more in addition to Uber. But despite my quest to find the cheapest ride, I have only downloaded Uber and Lyft because I don’t want to open three or four apps every time I am looking for a ride.
All of this tells me that like most things in life, only the best of the best will survive.
Uber and Airbnb solve huge problems related to transportation and lodging.
But for other less pressing problems, people will probably opt to solve them without technology.