In The Future, Your Uber Will Show Up Before You Even Request It
Here’s our vision of a transaction based ecosystem.
Bob Dylan may have been on to something when he released his album The Times, They Are A Changin’. Cultures change. People change. Technologies change. Even the internet itself is not immune to the relentless march of transformation. It’s been through two major iterations in the last fifteen years, and a third one is on the way.
As the cofounders of Whttl, Tim & I have had quite the opportunity to evaluate a ton of “-as-a-service” startups, including those in categories such as ridesharing, home cleaning, food delivery, and on demand rental cars. In fact, our internal database now has over 500 startups under review. (As we evaluate them, we’re publishing more and more.) We can’t help but to extract a massive wave of change that we see coming. With the rise of “internet of things” and “push-a-button-get-something” apps, humanity is combining the offline and online worlds like never before.
In its mainstream infancy, the ‘net was only a one way street for content. A privileged few had the technical chops to actually publish content. The vast majority of the community merely consumed said material. This cross section of users had no substantial affect on the composition of the web. Connected people lamented in the ubiquitous access to knowledge and resources, and titans of industry like Yahoo & Google were conceptualized, created, and cemented. We now reflect back on this period in the internet timeline as web 1.0. I like to refer to this as the information layer.
In the mid 2000’s, things started to change. We began sharing photos, thoughts, and experiences with one another. Blogging became more popular, and afforded average internet users a medium to broadcast their voice. They could create compelling and powerful 140 character messages, or distribute 100,000 word ebooks. Governments were overthrown. Social and civil reform gained the critical momentum needed to warrant change. For the first time, the internet comprised of nearly equal parts contributors and consumers. Barriers to entry for contributing knowledge, insight, and general trolldom were reduced to near null. Power was redistributed from the few to the many, and a democratic digital age was ushered in. We call this web 2.0, and it was the first major iteration of the internet. It represented a fundamental change, and the titans of this industry were Facebook and Twitter. I call this the social layer.
But alas, the march continues onward. Web 2.0 will be followed by another iteration, of which the exact nomenclature is to be determined. (Many experts dismiss the “web 3.0" term.) Long touted as the the semantic web, the vision is that information can readily be interpreted by machines, so that they can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding, processing, and acting upon information on the web.
In other words, you won’t need to tell your mobile device/smart watch/wearable/futuristic robo-butler what to look for. Rather, your bionic pal will tell you what you want to know, before you even implicitly ask. Moreover, it will even act on your behalf.
We are starting to see it already.
IFTTT allows a user to create recipes to plug automated events into the real world. For example, create a recipe of “If I’ve had more than 4 meetings in a day, then turn on the hot tub” and you’ll be soaking away the stress before you know it. Attach the Whistle dongle to your dog’s collar, and create “If my dog hasn’t had 30 minutes of exercise, then put an appointment on my calendar to walk her this evening.” One of my personal favorites is “If my wife lands at the airport, then flash the lights in the house green.”
Google has been one of the leading innovators in the space. Their mobile product, known as Google Now, has the ability to serve up information, before you actually need it. Through the use of predictive cards, they can cue up sports scores for your favorite teams’ games, driving direction to upcoming meetings, and information on restaurants, hotels, and venues relevant to where you are. It’s no longer fast enough to answer queries in near real time. Instead, Google cofounder & CEO Larry Page is adamant that the answers need to be provided before the question is even asked.
In the travel space, we have Adioso. The team built a product that doesn’t need a user to input constraints like exact dates and destinations, but rather a general concept. Want to travel somewhere tropical over the Christmas break for as cheap as possible? Boom, they’ve got you covered. They’ll serve up the best trip for you, determined with algorithms, computations, and artificial intelligence. You aren’t forced to input objective data to plan your trip. Instead, they give you the freedom to offload the burden of the minutia off to the bots.
And finally, let’s chat about Push For Pizza. Despite the introduction of online ordering from nearly all pizza joints over the last decade, let’s be honest, it’s a pain in the butt to order a pie. Creating accounts, entering credit card information, and choosing toppings from a seemingly infinite selection of combinations and meal deals can be enough to resort to raiding the fridge for leftovers. Push For Pizza ripped all that unnecessary complexity out and asks one simple question: “Would you like cheese or pepperoni?” Ninety five percent of the decision tree has been offloaded to bits so you can focus on bites.
Digital, meet analog. Analog, meet digital. I think you two will get along nicely. You heard it first here, folks, I’m dubbing this new wave as the transaction layer.
I think it’s safe to say that Uber has already taken one of the tops spots for a titan of industry in the on-demand age. They combine digital computation with physical logistics, and are working towards more accurate prediction and placement of vehicles. Their secret sauce ultimately lies in their ability to have a car never more than a couple minutes away. And it’s going to get even more intuitive.
Mark my words. There will come a time when you will step out of a meeting, ride the elevator down to the ground floor, walk to the curb, and an Uber (or Lyft) will pull up. You didn’t specifically call the car, yet you didn’t have to wait. The system just knew you were going to need a ride.
Call it creepy. Call it too much. I call it damn convenient.
Let’s rewind the clock a little bit and pretend it is 2004, the heyday of web 1.0. Imagine you are hungry for some grub. You would go into Google, type “food delivery”, and review the results that come up. You’d do some research and narrow down your options, and then commit to one company. You’d make your purchase, either online or over the phone. Food would show up 30 minutes later.
Now, let’s look at 2014, when web 2.o is in full swing. You’re hungry again. (Amazing how that happens, huh?) You post a Facebook status that says “Who’s the best delivery joint in SF?” Four of your friends reply. Because two of them answered that SpoonRocket is the best, you conclude that’s the company to go with. You order your food and half-an-hour later, you are grubbin’ down.
You ready for what 2020 has in store? (Drumroll please.) You tell your phone, smart watch, or home assistant, “I’m hungry for some Thai Food.” The system looks at what you’ve ordered before and what your friends have recommended over the years. It processes a number of different parameters, decides the best option, and then places the order for you. The food shows up at your door, perfectly timed as you get home from work. Time to pig out.
You didn’t order your food because of a high search result placement. You didn’t order it because your friends directly suggested it. It was ordered for you because the system selected the highest likelihood of a satisfactory order.
With each successive advance of technological iterations, the prior generation is put to pasture, so to speak. Even before web 1.0, radio had an adverse effect on print advertising. Then, TV stole some of the thunder from radio. Later, web 1.0 stole the show from TV. At present day, web 2.0 is garnering all the attention for ad spend. Search Engine Marketing is being displaced by Social Media Marketing.
What’s next in the pipeline? Tim & I believe that the next big opportunity is in preferred transaction partners. When all of these transactions happen automatically behind the scenes, the players that can get in front of more transactions will earn the business. That’s where we come in.
Here at Whttl, we are very bullish with this hypothesis. In fact, we are already building technology that will embrace the transaction ecosystem. Whenever there are competitors in any one category (same day delivery, home cleaning, on-demand rental cars), we think it is inefficient to treat them all as disparate products that require separate engagement. All available options should be in one spot, easy for the user to digest and make a quick decision. In this setup, the number of decisions a user needs to make is drastically reduced, thanks to smart computing power.
Only time will tell when people are ready to completely hand off the entire purchasing burden to bots. It could be five years, ten years, or even a couple decades. In the interim, we’ll keep working hard at Whttl to make the point of purchase as close to semantic as possible.
In San Francisco, we’ve already made our first big step here. We recently introduced a feature that combines the inventories of the major meal delivery startups, so that you can order from any of them in one spot. (Note: enter a San Francisco ZIP code, such as 94102, to see the product in action.) It’s not yet predictive, but technical innovation suggests such capability is only an inevitable function of time. In the interim, it’s a sure bet way to integrate all of your favorite food delivery services into the transaction layer.
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Greg Muender is the founder of Whttl, described as the “Kayak.com for startups.” Use it to connect to new on demand services that roll out to your ZIP code. Drop Greg a line via greg<at>whttl/dot/com. For further reading, check out the Official Whttl Blog.