Last updated: Owning the interface – when the broker becomes the brand

Owning the interface – when the broker becomes the brand


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Uber didn’t just disrupt the market, it caved the doors in.

I can’t think of any other startup that has led to Presidential Decree, arrests and riots. All around the world, it fired the debate over innovation and the ‘new’ economy versus the stasis and complacency of the “old.” Of course there’s an irony to the way that by bringing innovation to the market, it has opened itself up to accusations of monopoly. Nominative determinism at its finest.

What there can be no doubt about, though, is that it shows that startups really can shoulder their way into regulated industry. It wasn’t a one-sided thing. Uber simply offered a better service. Consumers voted with their feet. Behind the aggression and the veil of regulation that shelter the status quo, a pair of frightened eyes stare back, terrified that the game is changing and they don’t know the rules.

The magic of Uber isn’t in its service or its business idea, but its interface. Cab companies and private drivers exist all over the world – and many have had online booking for some time. But, by acting as a broker in a highly fragmented market and by making things easier for suppliers as well as clients, its platform enables both sides of the market.

Its success in making this happen comes down to terrific user engagement rather than a unique offering. It’s less-controversial cousins – AirBnb and even Tinder, not to mention a host of imitators such as the Dry Cleaner App and Bizzby, with their generic, one-size-fits-all websites – have all changed things, but they also mean a dilution for customer service.

When the broker becomes the brand, the real risk is that customer centricity suddenly drops. Perhaps fine if all you need to do is get people from A to B, but when the guardians of quality are disenfranchised you rely on consumers to tell you when things have already gone wrong.

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