On The Horizon Weekly - Platform Proliferation

On-Demand Platforms | Fashion | Facebook’s Crypto Ecosystem | Regulation

New York NY – 2019-06-25 – Platforms and ecosystems are proliferating and evolving, as they always do. On-demand work is exploding. Fashion rental is building out. And amidst a lot of wind about platform regulation, Facebook introduces a cryptocurrency ecosystem.

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The Present and Future of On-Demand Work Platforms On The Horizon founder Stowe Boyd looks at the explosion in membership of these platforms, and uses the example of one of the earlier ones, Wonolo, as a window into their future evolution.

recent NPR/Marist poll suggests that 20% of US jobs are filled by contractors, workers that are hired on to a particular project, for a specific period of time, or on a discontinuous basis, and not as full-time, permanent employees. This ranges from Uber drivers to your cleaning lady, and also includes highly skilled-knowledge workers in tech companies. More than 120,000 of Google workers are contractors, compared with just over 100,000 full-time employees. This trend is growing, and not going to go away. Yes, there will have to be major social readjustments — since these contractors generally receive no benefits, and are skimping on saving for retirement — but the economic rationale for workforce agility and flexibility for employers currently holds sway.

Stowe summarizes a few slides from venture capitalist Mary Meeker’s annual presentation on all things Internet.

Almost 7 million of the US workforce is now on-demand platform workers. This is about 4.4% of the US workforce. The discrepancy with the NPR/Marist figure of 20% is explained easily: not all contractors are finding work through platforms, although that number is likely to rise, as we shall see.

Then he looks at Wonolo, a platform that also tries to help its workers get full-time jobs at their on-demand gigs.

Wonolo is demonstrating a non-exploitative, ecosystem-oriented set of principles that benefit all involved in the ecosystem they are growing on their platform. They explicitly seek to help the hourly workers deal with the unpredictability of hourly work (see Continuously Discontinuous, for thoughts on that).

Perhaps that philosophical grounding represents the future for on-demand work platforms, where the on-demand platform establishes a foundation of principles that benefit all involved, not just the platform owner and the employers. By working to make the platform fair for the on-demand workers — as well as providing the employers with prepared, professional, positive, polite and punctual workers — everyone’s interests can be balanced. And that is likely to be a better situation for all involved than direct employer-to-contractor negotiations. Because Wonolo — and other on-demand platform companies — have access to lots of data, they can weed out less-than-wonderful workers and block exploitative employers.

In that way, the on-demand platforms are playing a role more like a regulatory agency of government than simply a marketplace. We should expect to see a continued expansion of this sort of governance in other platform ecosystems, just as we have found it in Wonolo. And countering the problems that on-demand workers have may explain why so many on-demand workers are streaming onto the platform.

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Rent the Runway’s Platform Strategy Becomes Clear Here, Stowe looks at how the fashion exchange has moved beyond a subscription rental service dependent on inventory it purchased from designers to an ecosystem of suppliers and renters.

Clearly, having to purchase all the inventory requires a huge capital investment. Imagine if Uber had to buy all the cars in its network, or Airbnb had to acquire all the real estate rented by its guests. It’s essential to lower that barrier to growth by shifting to a platform ecosystem model, where the investment costs are distributed across the ecosystem.

The company built out its RTR Platform:

Partners joining the ecosystem have access to critical data, to help guide their plans about what to rent through the service. But much more importantly, they can learn more about their clients’ preferences, which will ultimately lead to faster iteration in design of their next generation of clothing and accessories.

Aside from that, Rent the Runway provides the platform services that it has pioneered: fulfillment, reverse logistics, cleaning, inventory care (repairs, etc.), and customer service.

But unless members of the ecosystem – and Rent the Runway itself – develop a learning innovation approach, much of that data could go to waste.

The focus on access to data is in fact demonstrating that an obsession with the customer is infectious, and behind it all is the second engine of platform strategy: learning how to innovate as quickly and inexpensively as possible to better serve the customer. That’s what has fueled the growth of all the most successful platform orchestrators. And Rent the Runway is no exception.


Elsewhere

Facebook rolled out its strategy for a cryptocurrency ecosystem called Libra. There are a lot of components to the strategy, including technology, partners, policies, and local regulation. The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduling a hearing next month. Facebook says its plan is aimed at the “unbanked” and the remittance market: emigrants sending money to their families at home. But its planned wallet is housed in Facebook Messenger, and we’ve seen how Asian messaging companies have built huge businesses off of general transactions, something Facebook’s failed at previously. There’s a lot to unpack before deciding how influential this ecosystem could be.

The Guardian summarizes What is Libra? All you need to know about Facebook's new cryptocurrency

Binance Research digs deep, including into the currency, the platform, and technoogy First Look: Libra

The Block points out a big missing element in Facebook’s partner list Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency: where are the banks?

While Spotify explains why it is a Libra partner Why We’re Joining the Libra Association

And if you still want to dig deeper, here are two link collections that tend to focus on the negative angles: One from venture capitalist and journalist Om Malik, and the other from the FT

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Just for contrast, Square founder Jack Dorsey gives The Next Web a typically cryptic view of Square’s cryptocurrency strategy. Jack Dorsey answers our questions about Square’s plans for Bitcoin

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There’s a lot of talk of platform regulation these days. The Financial Times’ Rana Foroohar lays out how Big Tech is America’s new ‘railroad problem.’ The New York Times notes that U.S. antitrust legislation would have to shift its focus from consumers to competitive markets in To Take Down Big Tech, They First Need to Reinvent the Law. Here’s a long analysis in the Columbia Law Review from Lina M. Khan The Separation of Platforms and Commerce, and a pro-tech perspective from Ben Thompson  A Regulatory Framework for the Internet.

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Axios summarizes The hot new debate over the future of the smartphone. Will its functions be replaced one by one by dedicated devices? I’m not sold, even if sales growth seems to have plateaued.

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Modern Retail goes Inside Shopify’s efforts to become the operational Amazon of DTC. While Shopify is starting to offer the key components of a platform, perhaps its fulfillment system ought to look more like an ecosystem than an expensive set of Shopify warehouses.


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