There’s an Uber for that…Jaspreet Bindra
Heard of MonkeyParking? Bet you haven’t. This Valley based company claims itself to the be the ‘uber of drive-way parking’ and it’s business is ‘connecting people looking for parking with driveway-owners at the tap of a button’. So, if your home drive way or parking space is empty, you go on the app and let it be known. A neighbour or visitor with a car, who is hunting around for temporary parking will presumably respond, and park his vehicle there. And, you will be $8 richer for your troubles.
GreenPal is an app that connects lawn mowers and lawn owners. CEO Bryan Clayton describes his company as an ‘Uber for lawn care,'” reported The Tennessean. “He developed it after more than 15 years of experience in the lawn care business.” Sure.
The Uber of grocery delivery, I am led to believe, is Instacart. This is a service that enables you to shop food and groceries online from a range of local stores, except that instead of receiving them from the online grocer, orders are shopped for and delivered by locals who apply to work with the company. For those choking on your cereal right now, it has raised $44mn Series B funding from Andreessen Horowitz!
Uber is a bad word in India these days, and so it is in a few other companies. But do not tell the burgeoning ‘Uber of X’ companies in the Valley that. Uber is a phenomenon, a rare company that has truly harnessed the power of the mobile internet, and, along with Airbnb, innovated the concept of the ‘sharing economy’.
The sharing economy basically recognises that there is huge, underutilised supply of utilities/real estate/services available, and enables people to ‘share’ them – for a price of course. So, Uber is not about a taxi service. It recognises that there are millions of cars lying unused at that point of time in a city, and drivers who would like to make money off them; so people who want to go from Point A to Point B can connect with these cars and pay them to take them there. Similarly, Airbnb has harnessed the power of the huge amounts of empty second homes, spare rooms, farmhouses, trailers, even boats and makes them available to tourists and visitors, who traditionally had a limited inventory of hotels available. Airbnb, therefore, is the Uber of accommodation.
So, the race now is to figure out what else is available out there, which can be ‘shared’ for a price – driveways, lawn mowers, grocery deliveries. Also, there is laundry with Washio. BloomThat for flower delivery, SpoonRocket and a host of others for food delivery. The Uber-clones then start getting into grayer areas: Saucey is the ‘Uber for Alcohol delivery (you have to be over 25 and live in SFO)’ and Eaze does the same for medical marijuana! ManServants, a service that apparently delivers ‘ hot, order-following men’ (in San Francisco, of course, and as long as those orders are PG) to your door to ‘unleash your inner lady of leisure’…..
My favourite is this ‘Uber of parking spots in downtown SFO’, whose name I have forgotten. Basically, you wake up early in the morning and go park your car at a desirable parking spot on a busy road. Then you go on the app, and hawk the spot out to whosoever wants it badly!!! The parking spot does not belong to you; it belongs to the City of San Francisco, and basically you go and occupy it and then take some money to give it off! The City came down heavily on these guys, and I believe the company has closed down. But you cannot fault them for their chutzpah!
The list goes on and on. It is a great idea and frees up vast inventories. It also creates huge employment and entrepreneurship opportunities – case in point being the taxi drivers in India who have suddenly become much more well off through Uber and some of the other clones. The objectives of these companies are also audacious – Uber wants to basically eliminate taxis and there are reports that car buying and ownership amongst the younger demographic in the US is sharply down. Airbnb wants to disrupt and shut down the hotel industry, and the hotel titans are not unaware of that. Washio, I presume, wants to shut the Laundromats down and MonkeyParking will free up all the parking lots…
However, the basic assumption behind the sharing economy to work is ‘trust’ and that basically people are good and well meaning, and will do good to their fellow men (and women, more importantly). That assumption is getting severely tested though – and that is where the ghastly rape incident in Delhi, or several Airbnb issues elsewhere, have created doubts and impediments. But these are mere speed breakers in the triumphant march of the sharing economy…
One day, perhaps, someone will make the ‘Uber of Ubers’: an Uber app that will manage all the ‘Ubers of X’, the uber alles perhaps?