For the past few months I’ve been talking about how much I love the new Uber Economy that we are seeing come into play. We have seen different consumer goods becoming more tailored or more personalized and easier to access than ever! With all the innovation and growth that we’ve seen in this field (Uber, AirBnB, Trunk Club, Zifty) though, I’m starting to wonder if some of these concepts are going too far.
I’m a personal user and fan of Trunk Club. This is an online service for men who like to buy decent clothes but don’t like shopping and frustrating trips to the mall. I signed up, told them a bit about my personal style, and had a stylist put together a “trunk” with several clothing options from various retailers. Once the trunk was mailed to me, I had 10 days to try everything on and decide what I did and did not want to keep. Then I mailed back the shirts and pants that I didn’t like, and they charged me for what I kept.
It’s a great service for me since between my wife and three boys, running a business and a radio show, and all the other projects I’ve picked up lately (have I mentioned my new book recently?), I hardly have time to do the things I want to, let alone something like going shopping. Trunk Club has proved to be yet another great example of the Uber Economy in action, providing a tailored (excuse the pun) service to online shopping. What’s interesting is that I’m clearly not the only fan of this service. Nordstrom just recently purchased Trunk Club.
Now, while Trunk Club was a new Uber Economy service that I was drawn to, on the other side of the spectrum I’ve recently been hearing about ManServants. While obviously I’m not their target market (notice I mentioned the wife and kids before), I think it’s an interesting idea, but I also think it’s too over the top. I think it’s an Uber Economy idea that really should never get funding, but probably will. This follows the Uber Economy idea of customized service and using the full potential of an underutilized resource (male chefs, bartenders, actors and models in the San Francisco area), but who is really going to pay for a man servant? This just doesn’t seem realistic, and I don’t think it will actually support a business.
In fact, this service reminds me of signs of the dot.com bubble that we saw in the early 2000s. Do you remember Webvan? It was an online grocery provider that guaranteed delivery of your groceries to your door within 30 minutes of ordering. They started in 1999, got a lot of funding (we’re talking millions of dollars), and then were bankrupt by 2001.
They went wrong in several ways. Their biggest mistake was trying to get too big too fast, and just relying on the money they had raised beforehand to carry them through to actually being profitable. Spoiler alert, it didn’t work. They had several other issues including not pricing their services correctly, and spending too much money on building their infrastructure from the ground up. All these things combined to prove the ultimate wrong business move — they were dumping money into a product that people didn’t want.
While Webvan was a good idea, it was not great in practice. I have a feeling that’s what will happen with ManServants, and I also think it’s a sign of an Uber economy bubble. Let’s all be smarter this go around after the dot.com bubble burst, and really focus on funding good ideas and not just Uber ideas.