Imagine it’s December 2018 — one year after a spectacular corporate meltdown at Uber. The dust has settled, and we’re beginning to see the far-reaching consequences of the company’s collapse. Here’s how I see that possible future scenario:
1. The fire sale has turned into a wildfire
Much of Uber’s valuation related to future projections about self-driving vehicles, but in the short term, the board’s decision post-crash to licence the brand’s core ride hailing and driver management software has led to at least 50 companies in different countries building small-scale and moderately successful local equivalents. All have been widely accepted by local city populations and regulators alike, proof that much has been learned from the regulatory challenges Uber faced prior to its collapse.
The resulting licensing fees have helped turn Uberify.Inc, the scaled-back patent and licensing entity that arose from Uber’s demise, into a highly successful software and training licensing provider. The valuation may be nothing like the scale of Uber’s, but the social impact has been greatly appreciated. Ride-hailing services that play nicely with city authorities are becoming the norm.
2. Workers or small business owners?
The debate rages on, but landmark legislation in both the UK and Germany has now enshrined solopreneurship in law, with protections aligned to key aspects of employment law, such as health, unemployment benefit, and paid holidays/sick days. This development has given rise to at least two new startups in London specializing in so-called “solopreneur platform rights.” Their work involves consolidating workers’ ratings and performance data from 10 of the major gig operators so that workers’ reputations travel with them. It’s a promising start. Last month’s flash strike of Laundrapp workers in Spain illustrates the importance of gig economy workers’ rights. Not only are startups now designing these rights into their platforms; they are building whole businesses around them.
3. The rise of the personal data broker
Europe’s GDPR data protection legislation was too late to address the data breach controversy Uber faced back in 2017, but Uber’s behavior in covering up the breach, served to showcase the importance of that particularly European piece of legislation. With the US poised to address the possibility of individual rights over data, it’s clear that the Uber case massively advanced the cause of privacy advocates, if not individual control and monetization of data. Would the current crop of startups offering regular people the chance to monetize, pool, and trade their data have been as successful were it not for the massive public awareness of GDPR brought about by Uber? And with at least two major banks now offering data consultancy services for paid current account customers, it’s clearly becoming the next big Fintech wave.
4. It’s OK to leave without paying
The user experience leap that Uber took by allowing users to exit the vehicle without physically paying has had a massive impact on almost every industry. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Open Banking has its roots in Uber’s decision to implement this significant step. Within retail, the no-pay store has become a reality at least for some of the higher end brands, and there are promising experiments even with the supermarkets. The shopping-cart-as-payment engine debate rages. And several oil majors are very close to adoption of payment-less fuel stations.
5. Governance, and more governance
At least three of the major Silicon Valley VC funds have now appointed Chief Ethics Officers to look at the politico-ethical ramifications of their investments’ business models. Obviously, it should be incumbent on every investor to have a broad social view of her or his portfolios, but at least it’s a start. And various country-level and supranational bodies now have ethics and investment committees to bolster the capability of anti-trust or competition authorities.
There’s a widespread acceptance that the “fail-fast” mantra of the early 2010s is officially dead. In its place is a greater emphasis on “question your motives” in the various blogs and books that Silicon Valley never ceases to produce. We are also moving beyond the “disrupt or die” mentality and seeing many more cross-industry collaborations as a result. These include energy companies and electronics retailers jointly managing supply chains and financial services providers partnering with LinkedIn for loan provision. Uber’s demise also brought about the demise of the alpha-male bullishness so prevalent in Silicon Valley in the late 2010s. The future may not yet be entirely green and equitable, but the signs are promising.
6. Self driving cars are less selfish
With Uber’s driverless cars project screeching to a halt, its rivals — tech companies and auto manufacturers — have had a chance to consider the business model for self-driving cars within the context of their potential impact on jobs and the environment. Instead of racing to launch the next driverless car prototype, the likes of GM, Geely, and Apple are thinking long and hard about how self-driving cars need to be more cognizant not just of the road ahead but of the city ahead, its population, and its workers. With a thought to workers who drive for a living, we’ve seen massive activity around re-employment and papers on “jobs of the future” once the self-driving car is here.
Those of us who were sceptical about Uber’s meteoric rise have been surprised by the circumstances but not the fact of its demise. Now that we’ve come out the other side of a painful bubble-burst and a restructure, we can observe many green shoots of a complete politico-socio-economic rethink, powered by technology and design. We dream big but keep rooted.
This article is obviously fictional and the outward manifestation of a great deal of optimism as well as mild cynicism about the sectors covered here :)
John Oswald is Global Principal at Futurice, an international agency that helps businesses become future-capable.