Uber’s contribution to the business world goes far beyond cheaper rides to client meetings. The business, through its very nature, has sparked the imagination of business owners around the world. “The Uber of…,” has become a common and sometimes overused phrase to describe almost any start-up that seeks to change the status quo. Uber must also assume partial responsibility for the tiresome and now standard business terms “disruptive,” and “unicorn.” Terms used to describe businesses that force change in a particular industry, and start-ups that reach a $1billion valuation.
However, it’s not for extending our vocabulary that we thank Uber, but rather for enabling business owners and senior executives to look at their own organisations differently and, potentially more importantly, how they effectively engage with, not only their clients, but their community as a whole.
Uber’s strength of course, is in the simplicity of its business model – get someone to give me a ride, rather than catching a cab. And the robustness of its platform – I trust this driver because the Uber application offers protections. It’s in this simplicity that we have discovered a new approach to business. Just as Lean Manufacturing forever changed the landscape for those who generate a product, the new business model is likewise about removing unnecessary complexity and the impression of complexity. The trust economy is often mentioned in relation to online consumer platforms, but this serves to understate it’s impact – the true paradigm shift is in the way that businesses are now perceived by the market as a whole.
During the late 90’s and early 2000’s, it was the ethos of many organisations to take a simple product and create value through increasing the complexity of integration or understanding, or to take a complex product and come up with a simple description while maintaining the difficulties naturally inherent in the product. This all related to a product based mentality that separated the organisation itself from the product and the consumer.
Now however, organisations are seeking to reduce complexity and through that remove the barriers to open communication and simple solutions to problems. This has had a major impact on how many sectors work, including global business consultancies. McKinsey & Co., the creators of business consulting as a product, have been quick to adjust. The McKinsey Quarterly, still a cornerstone for relevant and researched business intelligence around the world, has had to adjust based on market need. 10 years ago, articles in the Quarterly were written in the same style as a technical paper or doctoral thesis, they were also long and immaculately presented. Now, many of McKinsey’s publications are short, sharp, and solution focused. Still adhering to the importance of age-old expertise, the business has adapted and incorporated what would have been seen as ‘new age thinking’ only a few short years ago. McKinsey has learnt that their reputation, while still a vital commodity, is no longer the cornerstone of their offering.
Marketing and advertising has likewise had to pull down the curtain of reputation, and engage more directly with their prospects and clients. Ad giant Saatchi & Saatchi, who’s legendary ability to sell the complexity of creating an idea will go down in business folklore, has been forced to move toward a far more inclusive, and collaborative engagement model with their clients and the prospect market they inhabit. Meanwhile, other advertising businesses that have been slow to adapt to an economy that values relationships and results over reputation, have suffered and often floundered.
It is in unlikely industries however, that the real impact of Uber and the trust economy will likely to have a significant impact. Businesses who are reliant on a skilled workforce and have low barriers to entry are in highly susceptible positions, as employees finally begin to regain their confidence in global economies post GFC, and see opportunity in working for themselves, using a lower cost base, lower pricing strategy, and increased profitability. Industry specific online portals, have been designed with employees such as this in mind and enabled many dissatisfied but successful employees, to start their own business in a matter of hours.
The sentiment for the next decade or so then is likely to be on adaptability and simplification, breaking down barriers between businesses, employees, clients, and prospects, and building not only a robust business model – but one which can be destroyed and then rebuilt as market conditions change. As we head toward 2020 and beyond, it’s impossible to tell how many sacred cows remained to be slaughtered, but as the taxi industry is learning, it’s difficult to stand in the way of progress when your only defence is that you’ve ‘always done it this way.’