The on-demand economy is here to stay. And guess what? It’s a double-edged sword.
Of course, we’ve heard more than our share of how the Uber for X model is working like a charm everywhere, especially when it comes to revamping extant, stagnant businesses that haven’t seen their share of innovation. The United States is currently riding on this wave, with India seeing the crest come up and batter the shores of its conventional economy, soon to be subject to change.
Arguably, we can say that India has always had its share of lazy. Most upper and upper-middle class individuals possess an army of people that are ready to cater to most of their demands. Even the middle-class households employ a maid to cook and clean – labour is cheaper than in most countries, leading to the outsourcing of many services in all sectors. This includes bringing in your morning chai, getting your vessels cleaned to sparkling, arrayed perfection, getting your freshly laundered clothes folded and ready to go as you step out of the shower, sparkling clean and prepared to make the big bucks that continue to fuel this cycle.
Lunches, dinners and most meals in-between are carefully chosen from some sort of delivery app or service that delivers right to your office, safely ensconced within glass walls. Occasionally, you may step out for an executive lunch-based meeting and get the bare minimum of exercise as you walk from office-door to car-door (air-conditioned, of course) and then into the environmentally comfortable habitat of the restaurant in question. Even the Xerox copies that you need are delivered to you by that peon, ready for the on-demand nature of your existence.
So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the on-demand economy is here to stay, and is going to feed the lazy that is barely contained within.
The entrepreneurial fever has firmly gripped the landscape of the Indian economy. Venture capital companies, angel investors, firms facilitating the start-up model of businesses so as to prevent them from crashing overnight, and even business gurus are gushing about how profitable this model is, and how effective it has been at changing consumer behavior. And why wouldn’t it be?
Firstly, the on-demand economy saves the consumer the effort of going out and purchasing needed infrastructure that is required for standard services – be it cooking-related devices, cleaning paraphernalia, tools for fixing household glitches, laundry machines and so on – because, for every need, there now happens to be a fully equipped individual that is ready to come over and do your job for you. Want a dhobi to launder your clothes? No need to go out and hunt for your local guy – he might as well be on Wassup, a dhobi on demand service that sends them over. Similarly, get your house cleaned, get your clothes laundered, get a meal delivered on your doorstep – and if you’re in certain other countries, you can even call someone to train and walk your dog, get alcohol and cocktail-based ingredients and can call a doctor over within the hour for medical assistance.
Even if you do decide to get out, Uber will send over a comfortable cab, and a well-turned out driver to boot to deliver you to your destination and back – on the way, you can surf the ever expanding digital landscape for more services and mull over the mysteries of the universe – because now, you have the TIME.
Stores and their cumbersome physical infrastructure are fast losing their appeal. On-demand start-ups know how easy it can be to avoid the hassles of maintenance and the cost of buying physical space, and can get by with minimum costs by simply developing an app and acquiring the right kind of technology that can streamline the marketplace that connects the consumer and the provider. Indeed, many of them function as efficient middlemen without making you feel like they are middlemen at all, since you’re most likely interfacing with your smartphone and nothing else.
What is also appealing that there are no longer any significant investments involved when it comes to entering the on-demand economy. There now exist services like Dispatch, that facilitate the speedy setting up of businesses within weeks, with all the essentials required for the same for as little as $10000 – significantly lesser than ever before. Technology is the lynchpin that powers the entrepreneurial machine and it is also the hijacking mechanism as concerns conventional businesses, as the sharing economy slowly creeps up and starts biting into the lion’s share.
Most of these companies simply enable the two things that the capitalistic nature of things have left us craving for – transparency, and efficiency. It’s easy to understand why Indian consumers would immensely appreciate this, given the sheer bureaucratic red-tape that many have to cut through normally – along with the less than efficient operation of businesses that have grown very comfortable in their niches because of a lack of competition. The on-demand economy has forced many of these to buck up and given them ample reasons to improve. Now, you do not have to deal with the whimsical nature of the cabbie who might not want to go to your intended destination despite having flagged him down with considerable effort. Instead, you can track his progress as he comes to you, and an implicit contract binds the two of you – both ethical, and economical in its scope.
Effective costing is the third reason in line – while on-demand companies do not offer the cheapest services as concerns the pricing spectrum, they are often treading middle ground. They also keep the consumer engaged with offers and other timely incentives, that may even influence the consumer to use their services despite the need.
The rise of the middle-class worker is perhaps the most stark – the smartphone has made finding work extremely easy. Individuals with the required skill sets can now effortlessly connect with their intended markets as more and more online marketplaces continue to spring up overnight, instead of being devalued as they were before. The mobilization of a huge, private and distinctly individual workforce enables the consumer to be lazy, while also getting a good deal out of the laziness.
So, while the on-demand economy is just getting its second wind, you are inevitably turning lazier with every new service. Perhaps your laziness can also be remedied with an on-demand exercise app, or a yoga-instructor at your doorstep. If the economy has encroached on so many aspects of daily living, the concept is not at all far-fetched – all we can do, is wait, watch and perhaps capitalize on the irrefutable tide.