My week as an uberX driver

uberX Austin

A FIRST-PERSON JOURNEY INTO THE COLLABORATIVE ECONOMY

I’ve been keeping an eye on the rise of the “collaborative economy.” In a nutshell, I see it as a progression of social business, where individuals use technology to harness cultural trends and change commercial market dynamics. But rather than just read and write about this new movement, I wanted to experience it for myself. After all, experiencing is believing.

 

FACEBOOK ADVERTISING WORKS

It started with an ad on Facebook. You know, the kind that stands out because it’s in the middle of your newsfeed and references a couple of your friends who have liked the brand’s page, but probably have no idea that their profiles are being referenced for this particular message. In this case, I kept seeing an ad for Uber related to SXSW: drivers wanted!

I’ve been using Uber as a passenger for about a year, spending $443 on rides mostly in New York. The convenience is unbeatable, especially when you need a specific type of vehicle. For example, I called my first Uber ride when I was by myself and needed a large enough vehicle to transport six boxes of workshop materials from the Meatpacking District to the office.

So I clicked on the Facebook ad and signed up to become an uberX driver during SXSW. The application consisted of a background check, a 30-minute online training session, and upload of license, registration, and proof of auto insurance. I assume that all checked out, because I was invited to an orientation session to pick up my phone and get activated as a driver.

 

BUT WHAT IF SOMEONE THROWS UP IN MY CAR?

I walked over to the first offered orientation session, which was a few blocks away from my (soon-to-be-former) office. There were two guys in a conference room, part of the activation team based out of DC. Each seat at the table had a padded envelope, paperwork, and pen; I sat down and began reviewing the driver contract. The young man next to me started photographing the pages with his iPhone. One of the Uber guys said, “hey, you can’t do that.” Young guy: “but my mom would be really disappointed if I signed this without consulting a lawyer first.” Uber guy: “don’t worry, it’s just standard legalese.” The young guy stopped taking pictures and signed.

For the most part, it was a pretty straightforward agreement making clear that the executor was 1) not becoming an Uber employee and 2) not going to discuss how the system worked, especially with the media. The contract was primarily in place to protect trade secrets, as we would be using a custom software application. Moreover, Uber and their marketing promotions partner had no intention of violating Austin’s ground transportation city ordinance, as volunteers would be paid by a third party marketing promotions firm.

I looked around while waiting to finalize my application. One guy was having trouble clarifying some issues. “But does your car have commercial license plates? If so, you can’t drive that car as an uberX.” Another guy had on a Roto-Rooter shirt; hopefully for his passengers he wasn’t going to be leaving straight from his day job to drive people around. Another woman came in and said in a breezy tone, “I saw your ad on Craigslist!”

My documents were verified pretty quickly and the discussion was direct. Did I take the online test? “Yes and I passed.” Okay, here’s your phone. Any questions? “Actually, yes.”

  • “What if I arrive to pick someone up and they want to squeeze six people in my car?” You can tell them you can only fit four.
  • “Since the service is free, what if someone wants to be driven back to their hotel in Round Rock?” You can call them to verify their destination and if it’s someplace crazy, you can decline the trip.
  • “What if someone throws up in the back of my car?” Save the receipt from the cleaning and we’ll reimburse you.
  • “Umm…” Anything else? Just call or email us.

 

Uber at SXSW 2014

 

LET’S RIDE

A week later, I was set up and ready to drive. UberX service began on Thursday evening at 5 pm, the day before SXSW started. I finally got out of my house, on the road, and heading downtown at about 7. I figured I’d give a couple of rides and then stop by a few of the opening night parties that were on my calendar.

I turned on the iPhone that served as the dispatch device. After opening the driver app and taking a few minutes to register, the madness began. I started getting pickup alerts from all over the city. 24th Street. Barton Hills. Congress Avenue. I thought there was no way I could be the closest available driver for some of these requests, but later on I would be able to guess why — the demand for cars was far greater than supply of drivers.

Ride 1

I picked up my first ride outside of Civitas Learning on 5th Street. Capital Factory had organized a “startup crawl” at various startup offices around the city and a couple of venues were on the outer reaches of the downtown area. Four guys piled in my car to be taken back to headquarters. They had never used Uber before and were all part of local startups, except for the one who worked at Tocquigny. It was a quick and easy one mile, eight minute trip.

Ride 2

I picked up my second ride outside of Speakeasy, a group of three guys who were also on the startup crawl, one of whom worked at FeedMagnet. They were heading to the other startup crawl on the outer edge of the map; a hassle to walk, but a pretty quick drive. After I dropped them off, there was a minivan taxi stopped in front of me that refused to move. I got out of my car after a few minutes to talk to the taxi driver, with five cars waiting in line behind me. The driver rolled down his window and gave me a blank look and I explained that he was blocking traffic. It appeared that he was having a problem processing a credit card; without saying a word to me, he rolls up the window, the passengers close the sliding door, and as I get back in my car, he finally pulls forward and out of the way so all of us can drive past.

I should’ve stopped then as I had originally planned, but there was something energizing about the experience. It certainly wasn’t about the money. The rides were short, the service seemed useful, and the riders seemed grateful to have a free ride. Then…

 

ARE YOU A CEO OR SOMETHING?

Ride 3

I headed back to the center of downtown to park my car and go offline for the night. But then a ping came in that was just two blocks away…so I answered the call. I picked up my third ride at the corner of 7th & Congress right at the Roaring Fork. He had a duffel bag and was the first of many riders going to or coming from an AirBnB. As we drove over to the east side, he told me about how he worked at a social TV startup and had made the mistake of flying into Houston instead of Austin. He wasn’t a huge fan of Uber, but taxis were impossible to find. When I told him the ride was free, he was in disbelief; as someone coming from New York, he had just assumed that the service would work like it did back home. As we pulled up to the apartment complex where he was staying, he asked why I was driving, because I didn’t seem like a regular driver…”I thought you were a CEO or something when we started talking!”

WE WOULD GLADLY PAY TO HAVE MORE CARS AVAILABLE

Ride 4

Not being able to find a taxi became another recurring theme during SXSW. I decided to take one final trip before logging out and I had a momentary sense of regret: the rider was downtown and needed a ride to her hotel, the Westin at the Domain. It wasn’t very far away in absolute terms, as Austin is a fairly small city. However, it was certainly felt like one of those situations I asked about in orientation where someone might ask to be driven to a faraway place. I decided to pick up the rider — actually two sisters, one who worked at Google and the other at Yahoo — and make this my final ride.

They were from the Bay Area and told me that they had tried various methods of finding a car: calling taxi dispatch phone numbers, using the Hail-a-Cab app, and repeatedly calling for Ubers. While getting an uberX ride for free was nice, they both agreed that they would gladly have paid for the ride if that meant that more cars were available and in service. When you’re on the road, you don’t want to be stranded not knowing how you’ll make it back to your hotel…or waiting indefinitely for a taxi to pick you up.

 

BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER

Ride 5

On Friday, after getting some work done and attending a corporate brunch, I decided to go online on my way back into the city. I picked up a couple of guys on the east side of town from a small house. I asked them if they were staying at an AirBnb…yes. And coincidentally, they both worked for AirBnB. In the collaborative economy, birds of a feather flock together. I gave them a ride over to the southwestern suburbs, dropping them off at Tacodeli.

 

DID WE JUST SEE THE START OF SOMETHING AWFUL?

Ride 6

I was out east past the airport for personal reasons on Saturday morning and decided to go online while I drove back in. Again, a pickup from an AirBnB on the east side. I define the “east side” of Austin as east of Interstate 35 where many of the neighborhoods are in transition/early stages of gentrification. I picked up a rider from a small house located in a neighborhood that I’d never been in before…for good reason. My rider was going to the convention center and as I looped around the narrow side streets to get back on a main road, a black SUV stopped, a man jumped out of the passenger side, and ran off into the woods, under the elevated roadway near the train tracks. At first I thought he was going to relieve himself…but then he stopped and was looking for something.

We drove on and I joked with my rider, who was a strategist at ChiatDay attending her first SXSW, about how we had just seen the start of something illegal. She told me about how she had walked home from downtown the night before. It’s not a terribly long walk — only about three miles — but it’s not the nicest part of town to be walking through alone and drunk, late at night. So why did she walk? Because she couldn’t find a taxi the night before or get an available Uber…so she started walking.

Later that evening, I met someone who lived a block away from where I had picked up my rider…who told me that a few years prior, a dead body had been discovered in those woods. Yikes.

 

IT’S A MIRACLE YOU SHOWED UP

Ride 7

I was under the weather and busy with work, so I didn’t give another ride until Wednesday morning. As I was driving towards downtown, I got a ping from a neighborhood and swung by a house (another AirBnB) where three people were waiting outside. They work at Patagonia and were heading to the airport to fly home, but the taxi they had reserved the night before decided to not show up. Upon calling the company, they said the best they could do (despite the prior reservation) was to get a car there within an hour…well beyond their flight’s departure time. One of them decided to try Uber and luckily was able to secure a ride. “It’s a miracle you showed up.” Coincidentally, I had been reading a field report in the latest Patagonia catalog the day before. They expressed their gratitude by giving me a discount coupon and hopefully made it on time for the flight to Los Angeles.

Ride 8

Probably the most mellow ride of all. A group of four Brits staying at an AirBnB on the east side. They worked for Playstation and had flown over on the new British Airways nonstop 787 service from London. Today, they were heading in separate directions with two flying west to SF and two east to the UK. However, the first order of business was to stop by Magnolia Cafe for a proper Austin brunch.

Ride 9

My last ride of SXSW was my first passenger who was in town for Music, not Interactive. She was the manager of a band from North Carolina called Messenger Down and staying at a friend’s apartment. She told me that all bands are on YouTube, Facebook is a necessary evil, and Tumblr is increasingly the place for bands to be. As I dropped her off and told her about the static between Austin and Uber, she said, “don’t worry. I drive uberX in Charlotte and I know the deal.”

As I was waiting to turn at a red light heading back to my parking garage, a taxi starts honking at me. I point out the window to a sign on the traffic light that reads “NO TURN ON RED, 7 AM – 7 PM, MON – FRI.” At the next light I roll down my window and ask the taxi driver why he was honking at me. “Those rules don’t apply because it’s a special day today.” I told him to be more patient and we both drove away.

 

LOOKING BACK ON THE ROAD TRAVELED

SXSW is a huge conference and attendees have solved the hotel room shortage by turning to AirBnB. But when it comes to ground transportation, there was much more rider demand than hired car supply, due in part to the city’s regulations. Taxis, the beneficiaries of from government intervention, were unreliable (e.g. not showing up when called), often unavailable, and their drivers don’t seem like the most pleasant people to ride with.

A simple market dynamic in play: with constrained supply and high demand, the equilibrium price of a ride rose and many people complained about surge pricing. Microeconomics 101. Watch for this to creep deeper into society as more businesses and buyers realize this is how free enterprise works, in online auctions, travel pricing, and coming soon to baseball seating.

All of the people who rode with me were cordial and willing to chat, most likely due to SXSW. Otherwise I’m not sure that either they or I would’ve actually enjoyed this experience. As I was waiting in traffic, I was reminded of one reason I enjoy living in Austin more than Boston: traffic.

If you haven’t yet tried Uber, here’s a referral code to that will get you $20 off your first ride: https://uber.com/invite/uberpkim

Lessons learned, phone returned, and I got what I wanted out of my uberX experience — a look into the collaborative economy from the driver’s seat.

Briefings this week: March 17 – 21

As I ramp up my analyst coverage, I’m interested in hearing from companies that enable customer experience management (including relationship management, social networks, content optimization and publishing, advocacy, and analytics), provide marketing services (including agencies and consultancies) and support innovation agenda items (including social business, omnichannel, and global digital trends).

Here’s who I’m speaking with this week:

Monday

  • IBM
  • Performance Horizon Group
  • Pressly
  • Lithium
  • Oracle

Tuesday

  • MyBuys
  • Adobe
  • OneSpot

Wednesday

  • Beckon

Thursday

  • Shoutlet

Friday

  • DomainSkate
  • SAP

If you are interested in briefing Constellation Research on your marketing technology, visit the Contact Us form.

sxsw

If you can’t get business done at SXSW, you’re not doing it right.

Austin panorama

South By Southwest interactive has come to an end for 2014. This was my sixth year of speaking at the conference and it gets better every year. It also gets bigger every year and some people say that experience quality is inversely related to attendance growth. Why? Because they miss the serendipity of the days when SXSW was smaller. What’s the benefit of serendipity? Reasons cited by Techcrunch include job hopping and love affairs.

Those two things have never been on my SXSW (let alone any professional conference) agenda so I haven’t been disappointed yet. In fact, the bigger SXSW gets, the better it becomes for a place to get business done. Here’s why.

  1. Guerrilla is out, grownup is in.
    Forget the street teams handing out flyers and putting massive stickers on everything. The only people who need to stay up all night to get lucky are desperate startups and “serendipity” seekers. Real businesses have rented out proper meeting spaces like Oracle at the Waller Creek Boathouse and Samsung at Vince Young Steakhouse, so executives can sit down with partners and clients to conduct meetings without having to yell to be heard over the noise of a DJ or without being interrupted by free beer seekers shoving their way through a conversation.
  2. Everyone is here.
    Well, not everyone. About a week before interactive started, I noticed an uptick in public declarations along the lines of “I’ve been so busy this year — and it’s only two months in! — that I deliberately choose not to attend SXSW because it is too low signal high noise for a person of my status.” It’s #FOMOSXSW. For the rest of us, this week brings heavy hitters to Austin from politics, media, entertainment, brands, and beyond. While Edward Snowden was remote, presumably due to visa/travel issues, it’s tough to be disappointed with the lineup of people available to meet in person.
  3. It’s about the hands-on experience.
    Most conferences are limited to the constraints of a single venue, like Centers Moscone or Javits. SXSW takes place over a large part of an entire city. So instead of trade show booths, most brands are able to offer hands-on activations, like giving rides in cars, sitting on an iron throne made from swords, setting up a go-kart track, walking through a wired home, eating 3-D printed candy, eating food made from artificial intelligence recipes, and so on. Brands also leverage local spots with world renown, like WCG’s event at Franklin Barbecue and Umbel’s party at Austin City Limits Moody Theater.

Hope you had a productive time in Austin — and see you next year.

For more on how business gets done at SXSW, check out David Berkowitz‘s Ad Age column “Let’s Be Honest: SXSW Is About Innovation in Marketing, not Tech” and Hubspot‘s “9 Unforgettable SXSW Moments.”

My #SXSW session “Capital vs. Talent” is today at 5 pm, Hilton 616AB #whosboss

Tax wealth not work

I’ll be hosting a core conversation today at 5 pm in Hilton 616AB.

What is a core conversation?

“The informal discussions that take place in the hallways between sessions have traditionally been one of the most productive parts of the SXSW Interactive Festival. In 2008 we formalized this process by adding our Core Conversation program, sessions in which a single moderator leads an open discussion with attendees around a specific topic for an hour’s time.”

Here’s what we will discuss:

Every business must manage a fundamental conflict between individuals who control the means of production and individuals who operate those means to a profit. Roger Martin outlined this struggle in the classic HBR article “Capital Versus Talent: The Battle That’s Reshaping Business.”

Today, businesses are challenged by an added dimension: the rise of social media. Individuals seek global recognition by sharing insider viewpoints with the world and Talent has embraced the leverage of new tools. Management has tried to quell the rise of a workforce filled with “personal brands,” wondering what defenses remain to mitigate the risks of an employee base that is active in social media.

I’ll discuss how the best solution for Capital is counterintuitive — brands are best off by wholly embracing social business. Far from condoning revolution, management can harness the collective efforts of seemingly self-guided individuals for corporate gain under the umbrella of “social business.”

If you’re at the session, I’ll see you later today!

uberX service at SXSW starts today at 5 pm

Uber ATX

As an analyst, I’ve always valued the perspective of firsthand experience. So next week I’ll be an active participant in the collaborative economy during SXSW in Austin: I’ve registered as an uberX driver.

Users get free rides, as Uber doesn’t officially operate in ATX yet. So you might call for an Uber and get me to show you around! Just don’t ask me to drive you to Driftwood or Round Rock.

Service starts at 5pm on Thu 6 Mar and ends at 3pm on Sun 16 Mar. I predict that once people hear the phrase “free rides” there will be much more rider demand than driver supply.

And of course if you need to sign up for Uber, I’d be happy to refer you to sign up: http://uber.com/invite/esu88

The Dachis Group acquisition that wasn’t: Pittman Digital

For two days in January, the Dachis Group office was transformed into “Pittman Digital,” the setting for a flashback scene in NBC’s Revolution. If you watch this week’s episode, you’ll see a lot of familiar buildings in downtown Austin.

 

Pittman Digital

The view from my desk.

 

To Set

A sign next to the elevator directing cast and crew to Pittman Digital, along with a quote from Friday Night Lights.

 

Pittman Digital

The reception area, complete with a faux blue glass PD similar to the usual DG.

 

The video screen at reception usually shows real-time news.
At Pittman Digital, the video screen at reception shows real-time news.

 

Pittman Digital

Pittman Digital

Some of the artwork brought in to replace the usual artwork on the walls.

 

Workstations at desks ran video loops of compiling code.

 

Source Code

The background included code written all over the glass surfaces. Not sure where it came from, but according to the script it’s pretty important.

 

To find out more about the show and watch a re-run of the episode, visit the NBC Revolution website.

I’m taking my talents to Constellation Research.

Constellation Research

Austin, Texas, USA – Constellation Research, Inc., the award-winning research and advisory firm focused on how disruptive technologies transform business models announced today the addition of Peter Kim to the research team as Chief Strategy Officer and Principal Analyst.

Kim, whose research focuses on Digital Marketing Transformation, expands Constellation’s ability to provide marketing leadership research/solutions to its early adopter clients worldwide. The addition of Kim, a leading analyst in digital marketing and social business, signals Constellation’s commitment to providing its clients with the most comprehensive analysis of disruptive technologies.

As Chief Strategy Officer and Principal Analyst, Kim will focus on the intersection of marketing and technology, where brands need more help than ever orchestrating platforms and service providers to deliver innovative customer experiences. Kim’s research agenda will provide guidance to CMOs, CXOs, and business strategists in the rapidly evolving area of Digital Marketing Transformation.

“Constellation Research has been disrupting the research industry model and I’ve sought to do the same in my work over the past two decades as a strategist, marketer, consultant, and industry analyst,” said Kim. “I’m delighted with the opportunity to take my talents to Constellation Research.”

Peter Kim was previously Chief Solutions Architect at Dachis Group, a multi-million dollar business advisory firm that pioneered the discipline of social business design. Prior to Dachis Group, Kim was an analyst at Forrester Research, where he helped brands take advantage of the rapid rise of corporate social media.

“I’m truly excited to have Pete on the team as a colleague and peer. His ability to identify astute insights for marketing executives and grow multi-million dollar businesses is bar none in the industry research world”, said R “Ray” Wang, Constellation Research Founder and Chairman “Pete’s arrival will help our clients with co-creation and co-innovation in world of digital disruption. His domain expertise will bring gravitas to our Digital Marketing and Customer Experience business themes. We’re honored to have him on the team.”

COORDINATES
Twitter: twitter.com/peterkim
Website: Constellation Research
Blog: beingpeterkim.com
Geo: Austin, Texas

The place where everything’s bigger than Texas

Burj Khalifa

People sometimes say, “everything’s bigger in Texas.” Well, everything seems bigger in Dubai.

Tallest building in the world. Tallest hotel in the world. World’s biggest fireworks display. And so on.

 


 

My take on the Sprinklr acquisition of Dachis Group

It’s a good fit; the core Dachis Group principles of social business design fit well with the Sprinklr concept of social experience management.

I’ll write more on the future later, but for now I’d like to take a look back. Over five and a half years, we built the world’s largest social business consultancy, completing six acquisitions, expanding to nine cities, and employing over 250 people. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Dachis Group Come Together I

In July 2008, here’s what I wrote about what we were setting out to do:

Over the past two-and-a-half years I’ve been focusing on two major concepts: social computing and customer centricity. They fit very well together; becoming “socially successful” today requires that companies use process and technology to facilitate internal and external alignment. Your market is calling for this in a voice that gets louder every day. Unfortunately, many companies try to ignore what they’re hearing – and I see an opportunity in helping enterprises listen, learn, and take action.

Our yet-to-be-named firm will help companies and their new leaders unlock value from social computing within the enterprise, driving customer-centricity and effective engagement. The evidence of success will be found in culture and profit.

The core concept that resonated with our clients and drove the growth of our business was what we ended up calling “social business.”

The end game should be an entirely social business. Not just point solutions to improve existing processes or programs – new ways of connecting and collaborating. Business models will change. Customer-centricity becomes a moot concept, as “us” and “them” no longer exist.

We were successful in helping spark a global movement. In the beginning, we had to fight to win remnants of marketing and IT budgets. Today, businesses understand the need to shift into social business and have devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to prepare for the future. With the successful acquisition of Dachis Group, our part in the story of social business comes to a close and becomes part of a new emerging narrative.

I learned plenty of lessons along the way about myself and others. About SaaS and services. About winning business, retaining business, and losing business. About founders and employees. About hiring people and firing people. About VCs and bankers. About spending money and saving money. About acquiring and being acquired. I don’t have stories about private jets and private concerts, but I do have plenty of direct experience in helping companies engage their ecosystems and become better prepared for business success in the face of the information revolution.

Thank you to everyone who’s been part of the Dachis Group journey: our clients, employees, alumni, investors, business partners, and supporters-at-large.

An Analyst’s Look Back at Facebook

On his Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg shares with the world: today is his company’s 10th anniversary. You’ve probably also seen your friends sharing A Look Back videos that pull from your personal site data.

Facebook Look Back

As a former industry analyst covering marketing and social media, I have one Facebook moment in particular that isn’t part of my video. In 2006, Facebook was two years old but I was more than a decade beyond my undergraduate studies. I had to use my alumni email address to create an account, so my user ID begins with a “6.”

In the summer of 2006, my colleague Charlene Li invited me to a briefing with Mark Zuckerberg and Melanie Deitch. Here’s a high-level summary of my notes from that 30-minute call:

  • Additional round of funding [$25 million]
  • Launched mobile in April: pull info from site / push info to site / receive info pushed from site
  • Enhanced flyer (advertising) capabilities
  • Prioritized functionality based on Facebook as “communications utility” and “social directory”

At the time, Facebook had nowhere near the attention of MySpace. Regional competitors posed formidable barriers to entry, including Bebo (UK), Orkut (Brazil), and Cyworld (Korea). Brands were most interested in blogs, podcasts, and widgets when considering corporate social media.

Today, Facebook is a public company with market capitalization of almost $160 billion. Over 550 million users access Facebook via mobile every day and the company pulled in $2.59 billion in revenue last quarter. Over the past eight years, the company has redefined what it means to be a “communications utility” and “social directory.”

One quote from Zuckerberg’s reflective post stands out for me:

“People often ask if I always knew that Facebook would become what it is today. No way.”

Too often and too frequently I think people are focused on the game’s final score instead of the plays that add up to a win. Alternately, people think success can be carbon copied into other situations. “We will be the Facebook of this!” “We will be the McKinsey of that!” If there’s a lesson to be learned from Facebook’s last ten years, for me it’s this: focus obsessively on making a great core product and success will follow.

 


 

Social business and beyond.