“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Have you used Uber or AirBnB? What about Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or AmazonFresh? How about Instacart? Have you heard of Handy yet?
All of these companies (and many more) are built upon the newly emerging On-Demand Economy. The concept is fairly simple—companies leverage technology to fulfill customer demands almost immediately—but the execution and impact is significant. People of means have been paying (and, sometimes, forcing) people of lesser means to complete domestic tasks for centuries. However, with the ubiquitous nature of the Internet and mobile technologies, there’s been an overwhelming shift in expectations of convenience*. It’s been called the “Uber effect.”
Also known as “the gig economy,” the On-Demand Economy has, indeed, caused some serious disruption. Recently, several on-demand companies—Uber being the most notable—have faced criticism, investigations, and lawsuits, (even Hillary Clinton has taken aim at Uber) and people have begun to think about what this disruption might mean for both employers and employees. Ken Davis, CEO of TaskEasy and contributor to TechCrunch, asks whether a new class of worker should be recognized.
Sites like Elance and oDesk—now merged and re-branded as Upwork—promise to help start-ups with staffing needs, reducing the costs of insurance, benefits, and office space associated with full-time employees. While some freelancers enjoy the flexibility and freedom of the gig economy, others struggle with a lack of security and fight for fair wages. Researchers such as Lilly Irani and Aniket Kittur (among many others) have begun to question the utopian ideal of crowdwork and ask how crowdworkers might best be fully and ethically engaged.
*Brian Sharples, chairman and CEO of HomeAway, says “easy money” from VCs is also contributing to the rapid rise of the On-Demand Economy. But he notes that new companies in this sector may want to save some of their seed funds for lawyers.
How does the On-Demand Economy affect you? How will it affect your business? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.