Unless you’ve joined social media in the past 240 seconds, you would have seen this image on your news stream at least once. I tried calculating the number of Likes it’s got, but that proves futile – a lot of users re-post this image as their own.
It looks fancy-shmancy, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t like to have these “facts” in their presentation slides, get some oohs and aaahs from the audience, and have a stab at digital guru-dom?
You don’t even need to hat-tip the IBM flunkie who probably did this creative word-smithing – do an image search of any of the statements on this slide and see how many variants there are already! (which makes me wonder which one of them is the original. What about the Tom Goodwin version?)
So what’s wrong with this slide?
I’ll admit that it grabs attention – that’s precisely the reason why it’s gone viral. But the statements hide more than they reveal. Some are a clever twist on classic definitions, others are plain wrong. Either way, these statements need be read with a context and not in isolation – unless you actually want to start thinking of Uber as one massive taxi company or Airbnb as one giant hotel chain.
World’s Largest Taxi company owns no taxis (Uber)
Great statement, except that Uber has a problem with it. It isn’t a classic taxi company by its own definition. Uber calls itself a tech company that runs an app where riders get connected to drivers (check uber.com). An Uber driver is not an employee bound by a company-employee relationship – its drivers are independent contractors who sign partnership agreements with Uber.
But you ask: that doesn’t matter, does it? Because if Driver + Rider + Metered fare = taxi, then Uber = taxi company. The answer is “not exactly” – Uber itself contests this in lawsuits against it by drivers, unions and customers, where it calls itself a platform, rather than a taxicab company. If I had to explain Uber to my dad, I would ask him to visualize a dedicated Yellow Pages for cars, only that it is amazingly convenient and cool. Any frequent Uber user will tell you – the drivers who ride for Uber also ride for Olacabs, Meru, and independently as well.
Uber has already disrupted the paid personal transportation business by providing an interface where users meet suppliers– or if you care, the taxi business. Tom Goodwin, dwells further about how the disruptions are about the interface in the famous Techcrunch article that is obviously an inspiration for this slide (read it here). Probably, “platform business” is a more wholesome definition of this model.
But the fact remains that Uber isn’t a taxi company.
- World’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate (Airbnb)
- World’s largest phone companies own no telco infra (Skype, WeChat)
- Most valuable retailer has no inventory (Alibaba)
- Most popular Media Owner creates no content (Facebook)
- The fastest growing banks have no actual money (SocietyOne)
- World’s largest movie house owns no cinemas (Netflix)
- Largest software vendors don’t write the apps (Apple, Google).
World’s largest accommodation provider owns no real estate (Airbnb)
Read the above, ctrl-f Uber and replace with Airbnb. Ditto.
While Airbnb is an ideal app to monetize that empty flat or a room, most listings, at least in India, are by hospitality providers who own property. Where would they have listed in addition to Airbnb? Sulekha, Rediff, Justdial and a dozen other places. Oh and Housing.com as well.
If you are well-read on the hospitality business, you would know that many leading hotel brands do not own all their property. Several chains like Marriott and Hilton manage and operate properties owned by others, in some cases by merely licensing their brand and revenue software.
So why is Airbnb such a disruption? Goodwin has an explanation – it’s the interface. Or more accurately, it’s the platform.
World’s largest phone companies own no telco infra (Skype, WeChat)
Cool, right? But they own massive datacenters and network infrastructure! This data point hides the fact that these chat/voice services invest millions in infrastructure management and bandwidth. Microsoft itself invested $15 billion in infrastructure as of 2013. No doubt Facebook and WeChat have substantial investments as well, though I was unable to get their figures.
Also, data has outstripped voice as the primary purpose of telecom infrastructure in the US (2013). We’re far away from that tipping point in India (80% of telecom revenue continues to be voice) though.
Most valuable retailer has no inventory (Alibaba)
Sounds fascinating, but here’s the fact: Walmart and Amazon are retailers. Alibaba isn’t.
The more apt comparison for Alibaba is the high street. Like Fifth Avenue (New York), Chor Bazaar / Bhendi Bazaar (Mumbai), Sarojini Nagar, Khan Market or Connaught Place in Delhi, or Bond Street in London.
Does the NYSE own all the stock it trades? No, right? That’s what Alibaba primarily is. A marketplace where a host of suppliers interact with their customers. To paraphrase Tom Goodwin again – it’s the interface.
Most popular Media Owner creates no content (Facebook)
Well, this would be surprising if JC Decaux or Bright Outdoor owned any of the content they host. Or the if the Sydney Opera House, for example, owned all the content produced within its walls. Some media houses are in the business of producing their own content, many aren’t.
The standalone statement again misses the real disruption – the definition of media, as we understood it in the last century, doesn’t hold good any more. You can ask the same of Google. Is Google a search engine or a media provider? And why not extend that definition to our friendly neighbourhood ISPs or telecom service providers – are they a utility or a media entity?
The fastest growing banks have no actual money (SocietyOne)
No actual money? The website/app helps you source loans in real currency like US or Australian dollars from your network. It isn’t Monopoly money, Linden dollars (#youremember?), loyalty points/coupons or bitcoins. It’s real currency, unless your definition of “actual money” is paper notes and metal coins.
The difference is that it’s a tech-enabled peer-to-peer network without a financial company as an intermediary. Banks are generally shylock-type entities who mollycoddle you into giving them your excess money and torture you when you want it back, or owe them (I challenge you to prove this definition wrong). A peer-to-peer network like SocietyOne is hardly a bank. Also, peer-to-peer banking has been in existence for a long time. Heard about chit funds?
This had me check and recheck if Tom Goodwin’s actually said this. He hasn’t, at least in the TechCrunch article. Wonder where the IBM flunkie picked this one from.
World’s largest movie house owns no cinemas (Netflix)
A creative leap if ever there was one. Equates an online film watching experience to going to a movie hall.
I’d say Netflix has probably disrupted the TV broadcasting model, if anything.
Largest software vendors don’t write the apps (Apple, Google).
That’s why they’re vendors. They don’t write the apps. They sell the apps. Am I missing something here?
Or perhaps the IBM flunkie was trying to tell us that the iOS App Store ($20 billion for 2015) or Google Play are eCommerce heavyweights in their own right?
What do you think?
PS: If you are an IBM flunkie, I didn’t mean you. Really.
First published here.