How the observers of the Gig Economy might not always get it right.

My dog, Lucy

Last week the Wall Street Journal published an article about how getting a gig as a dog walker is just as hard as getting into Harvard. The piece detailed the plight of several would-be dog walkers whose applications were rejected by the digital platforms, Wag! And Rover. These applicants were not alone, however, as the acceptance rate was only 5% for the former and 15% for the latter.  The underlying theme was the incredulity that someone could be rejected for a role as mundane as a dog walker.  To my mind, the story highlighted perfectly the complexity of the gig economy especially in the delivery of personal services.

The rise of the gig economy is based on any number of factors including advances in technology, big data, and demographics, to name a few.  Another key attribute, though is the development of trust in platform systems.  Think back 15 years — would you have ever gotten into the personal car of a perfect stranger at night in a major city and told that person where you lived? Now it is a societal norm that we trust the platforms that are delivering services to us.

The trust has developed in part because of the rating systems that are inherent to these apps.  Other users, just like us, give ratings for drivers on Uber,  restaurants on Open Table and web developers on UpWork. The more data there is, the better we feel.  Even though these assessments are made by anonymous people who may not share our view on what determines good service quality, we trust the law of large numbers, that if so many people approved, it must be alright.

That distinction, though, is a bit more nuanced in the delivery of certain personal services. One example is Shuddle, which was billed as the Uber for kids.  The San Francisco company was founded on the notion that so many kids need to be constantly shuttled to school, playdates, sports practices and other activities.  They created a cadre of drivers, who were mostly teachers or caregivers. Since it was a service dealing with kids, the vetting process was more expensive, including background checks as well as more significant insurance requirements.

LA based competitor, Hop Skip Jump went the extra mile ( pardon the pun ) and vetted its drivers through the Department of Motor Vehicle’s Trustline process.  Shuddle did not, and as that certification became a competitive issue, Shuddle had to back pedal to do the extra work to vet its drivers  through Trustline. Shuddle raised $12.2 million in two rounds of funding, but came up dry on the third round and had to close. Whether that closure was due to their failure to be as comprehensive with driver screenings as anyone in the market is tough to say, but it could have been a factor.

Dogs are part of the family too, so it is no surprise to me that there is a high rejection rate at a dog walking service.  (Indeed, as a dog owner, it is comforting…) I need to trust that my dog walker knows the difference between the weeds my dog might munch on and dragon tail which can cause serious injuries.  Just as important, I must be confident that he/she takes the initiative to be attentive during the walk. I need the right skills and quality of care in my dog walker. Which is the other point that is important to take from this story.  Gigs are not plug and play, especially when they involve the personal delivery of services.

Skills and attitude matter in the completion of a successful gig, whether it is dog walking or website development. The digital talent platforms who develop best in class screenings that also include personal attributes like attitude, conscientiousness, willingness to take initiative and a bias for customer service will fare the best.  After all, not everyone can be a dog walker.

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