Thursday, July 24, 2014

Disrupt yourself or be disrupted

You've probably heard of Uber, the car service that works like a cab—except better. You hail an Uber car from an app on your phone. On the app you can see how long the car will take to get to you. When the car arrives Uber texts you (so if you're inside finishing a conversation inside you walk outside and voila!, there's the car—I've used it a lot and it really does work this smoothly). You can select the size of your car (big SUV if you need to haul the family to the airport). You don't need cash and you don't tip. When you reach your destination you walk out the door and Uber automatically charges your card.

Uber is launching in city after city all over the planet and almost everywhere people are having a fit. Well, not most people, just people who drive cabs for a living. Cabbies are angry, ostensibly, that these "untrained," unlicensed Uber drivers are scooping up their business. I get why that sucks if it's true (in Boston, cab medallion prices, which are basically proxies for how valuable being a cabbie is, have gone up, not down, since Uber came to town which suggests it might not be true.) I think their anger is misplaced, though. They shouldn't be angry at Uber. They should be angry at their employers, the cab companies.

After all, there's no reason why cab companies couldn't do this. Uber's technology is not all that complicated. Any cab company could have done this for their customers years ago and can still do it now. I'm sure someone—or lots of someones—who worked at cab companies has thought of it; I'm sure it was brought up in meetings in cities across the world. All these things Uber does are clearly benefits for customers. So why haven't any cab company on the planet made their own app?

Well, it turns out instead of griping, one finally is. Seoul's cab agency is going to make its own Uber-style app. 

The DNA of Uber is, in practice, very simple. Its power lies in the fact that a huge number of people on the planet now carry a computer connected to the internet in their pockets all day long (we happen to call it a phone). When you use something like Uber for the first time it can seem so obvious you wonder, "Why hasn't this existed before?" The elegance and utility of Uber makes the cabbies argument against it seem archaic. Sorry cabbies, you don't stand a chance on this one. And there are dozens of businesses just like you that are next.

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