The gig economy challenge

I have never been a big believer in and much less a huge fan of the gig economy.

My analysis has been pretty straightforward : A few get rich or richer by taking advantage of the misfortunes of many.

Maybe it’s time to be a bit more nuanced. Because the gig economy is not one thing; it is several. I count at least three variations, and then the question becomes which one of the three should we progress given that there are some flexibility elements in the gig economy that are appealing to many?

Let’s briefly look at the three versions:

In the privileged version you enable people to get the most of their experience and expertise by helping them build upon their personal brands and get it out to more people, who pay for the privilege of special access.

Think Substack and what they enable content providers to do through paid niche newsletters.

In the convenience version you agree to a marriage of convenience a la “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”, where you get something for your troubles, but it’s not the main thing for you.

Think Uber and their drivers, where many of the latter get an extra income whenever they want to top what they do elsewhere, and Uber gets a flock of mechanical turks to make their service work, until we have self-driving cars or some other form of non-human door-to-door transportation.

It works until it doesn’t anymore. And that’s ok. It’s life.

The final version is the exploitation version. This is the unfortunate fundamentally unsustainable business model in a modern society, where clever people with a certain kind of moral compass use the misfortunes of other people to build a business and enrich themselves.

Why is it unsustainable? Because it does nothing to even the playing field. On the contrary it expands the gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’ in terms of income and prosperity, and looking at it through a historical optic it seldom ends really well for society.

This is where we have services such as meal delivery service Wolt whose business model IMHO is centered around a beautiful UX – or if you prefer; lipstick on a pig – a sizeable fee for participating (typically low margin) restaurants on every transaction and very little ending up with the ‘partners’ (i.e. not ’employees’ with any rights whatsoever) who do the brunt of the actual work.

This last version of the gig economy is what is giving the gig economy a bad name in many quarters. It may sound nice and flexible, but in reality its implications are poisonous over time to a lot of people. And potentially to society at well.

Looking forward we IMHO need to ensure that the development of a sustainable gig economy focuses on providing opportunity and access to the privileged version of it, for those who seek a more flexible lifestyle related to work and living their lives the way they see fit without in effect nesting at the bottom of society.

We can start that by developing services and programs that help these people deliver enduring value that they can actually capture the brunt of themselves.

(Photo: Pixabay)

Blind purpose

Purpose is a great thing.

Until it kills you and/or your business.

I was reminded of this on LinkedIn when I read a holiday greeting from a former colleague in my feed. He works in a very troubled industry, have had a super challenging year but was none the less grateful to be working on something with great purpose.

It’s all very well. But the trend line is still pointing one way. Down.

If you are working to serve a higher purpose, your biggest obligation as an executive or any sort of employee with just a minimum of clout should be to ensure that you can keep doing what you’re doing – fulfilling your purpose.

If that takes a change in business model, fine. It that takes change(s) to the product(s), fine. If that changes working hard on developing your mental model and understanding what it is that enables you to ultimately do, what you are out to do, fine.

But, for the love of God, don’t just lean back and reflect on your purpose, while the house is on fire.

If you do, it will end up killing you.


The new media mixtape

As a former insider turned outsider it continues to be interesting to follow the innovative developments within the media space.

Over a short period of years we have gone from monoliths over new entrants with ambitions to become digital monoliths to individual talents and a plethora of ambitious (monoliths-in-spe?) platforms aggressively hawking their capabilities towards said individual talents.

Name me just one other industry, where the atomization of the business model and its opportunities have been more distributed among those who have the talent to take it on and make something out of it?

Thought not.

The individualization of media is an interesting concept. You don’t subscribe to the omnibus model anymore. You subscribe to a variety of subjects and voices and you’re the editor-in-chief who pieces your own worldview together, independent of media channel(s) and content type(s).

It’s all a big mixtape. But it’s your mixtape.

On the flip side it of course puts into question what happens with the leading common narrative and the common agenda – something we can all relate to and discuss and – by extension – subject our opinions on, ultimately at the ballot box (if we’re so fortunate to live in a society where that is a real and unrestricted civil right for us).

Two points on that:

First of all, media monoliths have by and large done a less than stellar job at guarding that unique role and brought into serious question why it should continue to be theirs to steward.

Second, it is always infinitely better that the opportunities for talent and voices are out there – and more abundantly so than ever – than to have everything on relatively few hands. Like water all the news that remain fit to print will find a way.


Go for the consumer

When someone in a startup tells me that they are going for the enterprise segment, I get a ‘gulp’ feeling. In fact the only thing that makes me more anxious is if the startup is going for the public sector.


Because it can be super tricky to actually sell what you’re doing to them.

In the enterprise your user is often not the one actually paying the bills – especially for larger accounts. This complicates your sale; it doesn’t really matter if rank and file users are excited; if the person, who is going to fork over the cash doesn’t really see or understand the value of what you’re doing, it all may amount to nothing.

Best case? You can spend months and months and months closing just one sale. Worst case? There won’t be any sale despite your ongoing, costly efforts.

For public sector it can be even worse;

Take the complexity of the enterprise sale and add political layers, various discussion and decision fora that need to get aligned without any timely deadline and a procurement process where someone completely detached from what you’re trying to sell is going to decide IF and WHEN they will open up the tender process that’s relevant – and crucial – for your ability to make a substantial sale.

It can quickly turn into a nightmare. And a costly and frustrating one at that with little or no luck in the other end.

Now, I am not saying that it can’t be done. Of course it can. It’s just hard and extremely risky, and you will have to fight more than most for whatever deals you’re able to close. But once you get that done, the reward can be good as well; bigger deals, longer terms, more stability on your revenue etc.

However, I still like the consumer play the most; the shortest possible way to someone with a creditcard willing to pay for whatever kind of relief you bring to the customers pain.

To me, the consumer approach has several advantages;

It can be easier to figure out what the right product is because you can better experiment your way towards a better understanding of your future customer and her pain(s). Your user is your customer.

It can be more efficient to market and ultimately sell, because the journey to get to the individual customer is easier to map and get right.

It can be easier to at least drive trial of your product or service to give consumers a taste of what you can offer – and then deliver above and beyond, so they fall in love with your solution and stick around for more.

And ultimately it can be easier to get the satisfaction of actually having helped someone be better off because of something you did and made available. A feeling you really shouldn’t discount.


The negative value proposition

Is creating value as a startup with something new always inherently positive for everybody concerned?

Maybe not.

What if part of the value creation you offer is to help take away the uncomfortable pain of someone having to confront someone else with a problem, the first one really just want to be rid off? Is that a positive for everyone concerned?

Case in point:

If a healthtech startup as part of it’s value proposition offers doctors the ability to spend less time with patients, is that a net positive for all? Why it may help drive down cost for the health sector as such, wouldn’t it be a loss of value instead to a lot of the patients affected by being less able to actually meet an expert?

I am not saying here that it’s wrong, and you shouldn’t try to deliver that kind of value. I am just suggesting that what you may offer as a positive value to one set of stakeholders might be seen as the opposite to another. And you need to be aware of that and own up to the fact that that is what you (also) do.

Especially so if you’re dealing with vulnerable people.


Lies are free

Nathan Robinson from ‘Current Affairs’ has an excellent opinion piece out, where he argues that the big problem with paywalls is that while you’re keeping quality knowledge and information behind bars, fake news remains in the open and free.

Wow! Think about it for a second; as traditional publishers of information, content and news are trying to get to gribs with a new digital subscription model – because the world – needs more quality information (and it truly does), they run the huge risk of alienating people and sending them in the arms of fringe, fake media instead.

The problem is only magnified in countries, where (1) people have little tradition for spending the time actually analyzing what they see, read and hear to judge it’s quality and/or (2) are ill-equipped to do so in the first place through the sheer lack of a proper education.

The good question is: What do we do, if we both want to preserve and expand the quality of information while at the same time not shooting ourselves in the foot?

Again the answer is: The business model.

While it is super great that media can get some people to pay for content, we need to make sure that we also have a valid and great proposition for those who won’t or can’t pay directly.

Advertising has been tried and has failed, so what’s left?

Maybe it’s time to think in new ways of being of service for people in a way that more people WILL actually pay for and then throw in access to all the quality stuff as an add-on or bonus, if you will.

Will it be enough to effectively combat fake news that will always remain free and alluring for people? Maybe not. But what is pretty clear by now is that something new needs to happen.

And yes, I know a lot of publishers will say it’s not their job, and they have a different role.

But this is one of those instances, where they need to realize that if they want to keep a free, open and democratic society, they need to play a bigger part in trying to uphold it.

A part that does not only get the elite onboard but gets the masses engaged in the right way and leave the sea, fake news and extremists are fishing in with far, far less fish.


Go for subscription, Twitter

Twitter is reportedly exploring adding a subscription model to their offering.

Good for them!

However, they should go full throttle and turn Twitter into a full blown subscription product with no free tier.


First of all, my bet is that there is a great willingness to pay from those who see Twitter as a strong platform to communicate, get the message out there and be heard by those who needs to hear and get the insights. There are plenty of other niche examples of this. This goes for politicians, business executives, investors, NGOs of various sorts and media people.

Speaking of those, I think they would actually prefer for a lot of Twitter ‘users’ NOT to be present any more on the platform, which gives me reason number 2 why turning Twitter into a full blown subscription platform is a no-brainer.

Because after all; when was the last time when you heard someone truly relish a Twitter debate full of trolls?

I thought so.

If a lot of of the trolls and bots fell off a cliff and off the Twitter platform, when it turned full subscription, would that be a loss? Eeh, no.

So go, go, GO!, Jack Dorsey! Make it happen.


A new exciting chapter

Today marks a truly exciting new chapter in my professional life as I embark on a new role as Head of Studio at InQvation in Taastrup on the outskirts of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Together with the greatest colleagues, you can imagine, I will be running experiments on ideas for new businesses with the goal of validating them enough to enable us to build great companies with strong teams set for success.

I will be utilizing all my passion and experience from developing and validating concepts and business models, and I look so much forward to this insanely cool challenge.