Monday, July 11, 2016

How disruptive brands like Uber, Airbnb, transform lives

They offer opportunities that had not hitherto existed, giving people a chance at a better life

As a consultant I am a great admirer of “disruptive” brands like Uber and Airbnb. To someone like me whose very life and livelihood is about brands these are the ultimate aspirational brands. And yet, I am also aware of the bad press that dogs a company like Uber, at least which includes horror stories of rape, outrage over “surge pricing”, complaints from  the government of Karnataka  about its non-compliance (with some horribly archaic and unfriendly rules)… But as a consumer I have more often than not been delighted with the new cars, generally polite drivers and use of technology. I wish some of the companies that I work for including mine have half the energy of an Uber which is a happening company. But let me talk more as a consumer and less as a consultant  and about what happened last Saturday night in Bangalore as my friends and I attempted the impossible - driving through the city in the rain on a Saturday evening! We ambitiously left JP Nagar in South Bengaluru at 6.15 pm in pouring rain wanting to reach RMV stage 2 by 7.30 pm. As our luck would have it we had an Uber driver who was an exception and proved extremely uncommunicative and unfriendly as he kept talking on the phone perhaps to his wife who to all intents and purposes was extremely unhappy with him and our torturous ride continued till 8.45 pm. A small matter of two and a half hours for 20 kms as our trip sheet sadly showed! It took me fifteen minutes and two malts to get over the ordeal. Not one to take it lying down, I rated the driver poorly and promptly got a response from the company.  Another case of technology and its value in customer service.

Things change dramatically for the better
We left again at 10.30 pm thankfully avoiding the traffic and had the benefit of a smiling, chatty driver. On probing I discovered that his name was Waseem. He had completed his BSC degree in Bio Technology at Bijapur and was desirous of studying for his MSC. Thankfully one of the bigwigs in Bijapur is an honest government servant at Bengaluru (yes miracles do happen) who owns a few cars and he offered him a job for three months where he earns 1000 Rs a day should he meet his incentive targets.  He does that regularly, smilingly. So in the three month break he would earn close to 80,000 Rs which would enable him to study. I was pleasantly surprised at the demeanour of this friendly, ambitious young man who represents the middle class aspirations of India which strongly believes that the way to advancement is through education. More importantly companies like Uber are providing opportunities that had not hitherto existed and making a difference to the passenger comfort in cities like Bengaluru which have no public transport worth speaking  about even as they provide opportunities to the Waseems of the world.  Of course Waseem is not the only one to benefit.  My own driver of 27 years is today the proud owner of a Toyota Etios and as an Uber owner driver he earns more than twice of what he earned with me.  Even if a driver complains to you about companies like Uber rest assured it is a great opportunity to the entire driver community who promptly get their dues paid and makes twice at least of what they used to earn before.  The more enterprising ones are running small fleets of 3-4 cars and becoming entrepreneurs in their own right.

A State Government with its own agenda
Even as I pleasantly exchanged a good night with Waseem my overwhelming thought was one of regret for the way our state government operates. Instead of supporting enterprise that is providing an opportunity to people to move up in life they are putting obstacles and hurdles in their way, clearly with objectives that are not above board. But then such is our karma!
As I went to sleep I was just wondering if Waseem had been more cheerful because he was single!  But that’s another story!


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