Hopefully, by now, no one is skeptical about the awesome power of the Internet. Look back 20 years however, and that wasn’t the case. Storms of scientists, anthropologists, and other “ists” argued that the Internet was a trendy fad, a wasteland of unfiltered data. Thankfully, the Earth possessed an assembly of forward-thinking entrepreneurs, who found that cyberspace was the new frontier. This was the birth of the goods and services revolution.
In 1994, young hedge-fund computer scientist Jeff Bezos left his lucrative career in New York and set sail for the programming capital of the world—Seattle. Inspired by regret minimization framework, Bezos decided that it would be a lot worse to miss out on a booming economic opportunity than to possibly lose out on some time crunching numbers for stock traders. For reference, the Internet was then growing at about 2,300% annually. Good move Bezos. Today, Amazon.com is the largest online retailer in the world, worth over $120 billion. Not too bad for a company that started in a garage.
But why bring up Amazon.com? The answer is because it changed everything. That may sound horribly cliché, but that doesn’t make it untrue. While Amazon started as a book vendor, they have become one of the most important venues for commerce in history. Amazon is dedicated to keeping prices low, but that’s not what makes it the industry giant it is today. Bargains are great, but Amazon’s breadwinners are convenience and data.
To illustrate the value of convenience and data, let’s turn to three relatively new companies: Uber, TaskRabbit, and GetKosher. These newcomers have extracted key lessons from Amazon and have collectively provided millions of consumers with sharp improvements to the way they receive goods and services.
If you haven’t heard of it yet, Uber is an application that connects passengers with drivers for hire. Sounds pretty unexciting, but you have to use Uber to really appreciate its worth. After signing up and linking your payment info, Uber guarantees you convenient travel from wherever you may be. Simply drop a pin, request an Uber, and drivers in the area quickly respond and show up minutes later.
Still not convinced? Uber allows you almost complete control of your ride experience by providing a rating system and the ability to choose your level of luxury. The rating system ensures that drivers are courteous, timely, and sometimes generous. It’s not uncommon for an Uber driver to keep some snacks and cold water to get an edge. You can also track how far away the driver is. As for the level of luxury, that speaks for itself.
Uber was launched in San Francisco just three years ago, but has already managed to break into cities across the continent, and even internationally—hello Bangalore. The company has become such a force to be reckoned with that airport police officers have had to start fining Uber drivers in order to keep municipal taxi services operating. Some may call this an overreaction, but Uber really is taking over. Just this summer, Google invested $258 million in the company in exchange for a promise to purchase 2,500 of Google’s GX3200s. What are those? Driverless cars. Okay Uber, we’re swayed.
The next pioneer is TaskRabbit. This Boston born company was launched in 2008, by Leah Busque. The inspiration behind its creation is the epitome of American laziness, but isn’t that what makes this country great? Leah and her husband Kevin realized that their dog was out of food, but neither wanted to go to the store.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a place online where we could say, ‘We need dog food,’ name a price we’d be willing to pay, and find someone in our neighborhood, maybe at the store that very moment, who could help us out?” There was no such service. Four months later Busque quit her job as a software engineer at IBM and launched RunMyErrand, the precursor to TaskRabbit.
The site structure is simple, yet brilliant. Hailed as an eBay for services, users post tasks, state their desired cost and date of completion, and are then answered by TaskRabbits in the area who bid on the project. It’s up to the posting party to choose the bidder, but generally that decision is based on price and user rating. Rating seems to be a reoccurring theme.
The next and final company is GetKosher.com. Inspired by food delivery giants Grubhub and Seamless, GetKosher has locked in on a large but frequently under-served population, Orthodox Jews. Granted, kosher restaurants are no strangers to New York, but in terms of convenience, it’s like getting a shwarma in the middle of the Sahara.
GetKosher is the brainchild of Morris and Charles Sued, two Brooklyn natives who knew their community could use a better way to, well, get kosher. Kosher restaurants are notorious for large crowds, slow delivery, and occasionally messing up orders. Whatever the underlying issue, it has since been solved. GetKosher has signed up with over 80 of the most popular kosher restaurants in New York, providing a clean simple way to order food online. Let’s face it, computer algorithms are a lot better at storing orders than a busy cashier.
So there you have it, starting with Amazon, the basics of human existence—travel, tasks, and of course food, are now available at the click of a few buttons. The way consumers receive goods and services will be forever changed. This has been the commercial revolution. Turn to the dining out section for a special offer for IMAGE readers.”
Samuel Landau is a business and academic writer from Brooklyn. His areas of expertise include marketing, economics, and finance. He is a first-year student at UCLA Law.