Not Just An App: The Front End Of The Trillion-Dollar, Full-Stack Revolution

Stop calling Uber, Airbnb and Munchery just apps. These apps are the front end of a full-stack revolution powered by cloud, mobile, drones, robots and AI. These apps started as simple solutions to match demand and supply, but they have the potential to reinvent entire industries.

Today’s apps can best be compared to websites of the last tech revolution (or bubble) in late ’90s. The best of them, like Amazon, started as simple websites, but today invent drones, build robots and invest billions of dollars in all kinds of innovation and research to transform retail, logistics and even computing. Uber is beginning to show signs of that transformation with its move into driverless cars and maps — the other Uber-like winners will follow. Those that minimize what these apps do don’t understand that a full-stack revolution is afoot.

Misunderstanding Amazon

Amazon started as a bookseller. Twenty years later, it has redefined what a book is and what publishing is, and while doing so pretty much invented the future of retail and computing.

By all accounts, Amazon has invested billions in robots, drones and warehousing automation technologies. It has changed how we compute, how we buy, how we search and how we pay, and it’s only getting started, as Jeff Bezos often reminds us.

What Will Uber Do?

It’s clear that the founders and investors of Uber have no desire to be satisfied by just being the No. 1 multi-billion-dollar cab-hailing app. Uber is applying itself to solve other problems, such as delivery, just as Amazon expanded from books to sell everything from electronics to lawn mowers.

Uber also is going to help us reinvent cars. Its CEO, Travis Kalanick, is reported to have said he will buy half a million cars himself. Uber is also investing directly in the future of driverless cars by building its own R&D center near CMU and buying up the maps group from Microsoft.

Uber is going from a taxi-hailing app to a company that’s using billions of dollars to rethink what a car itself is, and what logistics is. It is changing the meaning of ownership.

What About Other Silly Unicorns Doing Laundry And Gardening?

Not every Uber of X app will succeed, but those that do could transform their industries. This is the real promise of “Full-Stack Startups.” Let me give you a few examples of what may be in store.

There is an app for laundry service. In fact, there is more than one such app — Washio and Rinse being two that have raised millions. At first sight, they seem like the kind of companies that spoiled, rich techies in San Francisco dream up. But then you start investigating the time we spend doing laundry and the economic impact of it, and you realize there is room to rethink the whole issue.

Why does your washing machine need to be a $1,000 device that takes two hours to do its job? What would you build if you could build a $100,000 machine? Think commercial laundromat on driverless Benz trucks (they are coming).

Another example is food delivery. Some of these apps do nothing more than charge, often double dipping, to connect us to some terrible food. However, food is the least disrupted, and yet one of the largest, categories out there. And there is room to rethink. One company I like is Munchery.

Do you think Munchery just delivers yummy food? No, it’s rethinking how food is made and how we can all get amazing food from top chefs at reasonable prices. It is essentially marrying great chefs with world-class commercial kitchens and warehouses. Imagine what happens when these chefs have access to robots as assistants, driverless cars for delivery and AI to help with recipes.

Finally, transportation. The disruption of transport by Uber and Lyft is well documented, but in my view, this is just the beginning of a multi-phase, multi-year journey of rethinking what transportation means and why we have cabs and buses.

Let’s not forget that the goal of all these apps is to transform the world we live in by rethinking every assumption and applying the latest in tech to make it better.

After all, why are these independent categories, when my goal is simply to get from point A to point B? Why can’t you have a combination of cars and buses optimally deployed to handle the traffic. Imagine what happens when cars are supplemented by buses to get you there faster and more efficiently. In China, it’s already happening.

While I have focused here on just a few examples in food, laundry and transportation, the innovators are hard at work rethinking all kinds of work that can be done by these futuristic full-stack app “systems,” from mowing our lawns to diagnosing our diseases — and even operating on them one day.

The Future Of Apps Is Brilliant Machines

While there is plenty to argue over valuations of $3 billion versus $30 billion for an Airbnb, Uber or Wealthfront, let’s not forget that the goal of all these apps is to transform the world we live in by rethinking every assumption and applying the latest in tech to make it 10 times better. That’s what full-stack entrepreneurship really means.