Editor’s Note: Semil Shah works on product for Swell, is a TechCrunch columnist, and an investor - as a disclaimer for this post, he is an investor in one of the companies mentioned here, Instacart. He blogs at Haywire, and you can follow him on Twitter at @semil.
One of the hottest trends in “mobile consumer tech” is the idea where one can simply just tap their phone and receive a range of services in the form of on-demand labor. While many services are in this crowded space, there is one which exemplifies the trend: Uber. As we all know by now, launch Uber, wait for it to grab your location, request a car, and you’re on your way, with the payment automatically charged. Consumers love the ease and simplicity of these check-out and delivery service flows, so it’s no surprise legions of entrepreneurs are riding on the back of the mobile wave and Uberizing other daily tasks.
This post will discuss some of these new apps — but it will not list all of them. The main point of this post isn’t to be a laundry list of apps in this space, but rather to consider what the future of these services could be. Here are some ideas I came up with:
App Discovery Within This Vertical: Uber and other transport companies like Lyft and Sidecar have already captured audience and brand attention, so they could be great channels for customer acquisition by the other startups in this category. Right now, new companies in the space are acquiring customers through a mix of public relations, Facebook mobile app installs, creative Twitter promotions, and targeting location and affinities on Facebook. But, if I use Lyft and Uber a few times a week, and I’m already predisposed to these types of services, maybe a potential revenue stream for them is to help adjacent businesses find similar customers and cross-promote and cross-target. An idea like this could really help outside the echo chambers of the Bay Area and lower Manhattan.
“Sign-in with Uber”: Assuming that a decent slice of Bay Area and NYC folks already have Uber on their phone and have a username and password associated with it. So, when I signed up for Postmates, Munchery, and the rest of them, it would be easier for me as a consumer just to sign-in with my Uber keys that contain my credit card information and social graph, where appropriate. As people who develop mobile apps know painfully well, there is so much user dropoff at the top of the funnel at sign-in, so creative one-touch options like this could lead to gains, though the future seems to eventually be in fingerprints for mobile identification.
Build Loyalty Among Consumers: Just like airlines fight over every available inch, the competition among startups in this space will only increase for a variety of structural economic reasons. Lately, I’ve ordered dinner from Munchery, or via DoorDash, and once had some food sent to me in SF via Postmates. Where is my loyalty at that time? It’s an obvious question and one I suspect these companies will introduce internally within their app at some point (maybe Munchery credits?) when they reach scale, though the real part that interests me is a cross-service rewards program, akin to what Starwood does with its suite of hotel brands. Loyalty creates a reason for users to keep coming back, extra reasons to communicate (push notifications!) with them, and affords more creativity in pricing plans by segmenting customers and creating incentives for them to reach certain milestones.
Twists On Pricing: Most of these apps charge customers on a per-transaction basis, tap and charge the card, but once a service gets more sticky, another form of loyalty hooks could come in the form of subscription-based revenue lines, such as monthly or yearly plans for premium levels of service. For example, Instacart recently introduced their version of Amazon Prime, called Instacart Express, where customers pay an annual fee of $99 in order to receive free deliveries for a year. Consumers are already comfortable with subscriptions so long as they’re priced reasonably and deliver value, and companies (and investors) love subscriptions because they all love the ability to model recurring revenues.
More Efficient Uses Of Labor: Many of these services — what TechCrunch’s Josh Constine has brilliantly dubbed “Convenience Tech,” apps which turn taps into instant gratification — are growing at a time of massive economic restructuring and (what I believe are) permanent changes to labor markets. Some of these services who use contractors have enough work to provide a full week’s worth of work, which is pretty incredible when you stop and think about it. Last night, I ordered DoorDash for takeout food delivery in a pinch, and the gentleman who came by mentioned to me he’s making almost 1.5x more with DoorDash than he did previously in construction, and there’s a lot of construction going on around here. I asked him if he’d like the option to fill slack time running deliveries around the area, and he said yes. Maybe he could do that for Shyp. So, what if these companies created agreements to share access to contractors? This is akin to what Uber does for town car drivers, who can fill in slack time by having Uber send them leads for rides.
The taps on mobile are powerful things. Users are addicted to the instant gratification. As Josh Elman pointed out last week, the up-and-coming generations are “Generation Touch,” accustomed to simply tapping buttons for what they want. Inputs like typing in credit cards and location and instructions present friction. At the same time, there is some inefficiency in using hyper-specific services for laundry versus dry-cleaning. While all of these industries have their own economics, the competition among startups in all of these spaces is good because it is a race to see which teams can figure out the best model, and then someone else will figure out the scale. And, whom might that be? I always come back to Uber here. It may sound crazy, and it’s a long way in the future, but I believe Uber has a terrific chance to be the one global brand that unifies all this disparate consumer demand activity on mobile. Tap Uber, pick what you want (like a Google search), and Uber will just deliver that service to you. This may take a decade or more to happen, if it does at all, and like all things these days, could get derailed by something that doesn’t even yet exist.