Technologists from across the globe recently gathered in Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress, the annual conversation on connectivity and celebration of new gadgets. While the conference traditionally focuses on phones, the discussions about mobile—in Barcelona and beyond—have grown increasingly wide-ranging as mobile technologies continue to seep into more areas of daily life. As one journalist covering the conference eloquently noted, “The Internet is becoming an invisible fabric—like air—that enables all the services we’ve come to depend on.” In this schema, mobile devices and their apps are the stitches weaving together these services that help us work, play and live.
Indeed, the rise of mobile technologies has spurred the transformation of industries once considered sleepy into areas where some of the hottest new startups are operating. Uber and Lyft drivers have largely displaced cabbies; Airbnb has won over travelers who had previously booked hotel rooms; Postmates couriers have sped past the bike messengers of yesteryear with their promise of any local product delivered to your door in under one hour.
Looking at the common denominators of these startups gives us some clues about where the next mobility-enabled disruption might occur. First, these companies all offer services characterized by high time-sensitivity. After all, it’s far more likely that someone waiting for a ride they’ve requested will return to a service that supplies a driver in four to five minutes as opposed to ten. By bypassing the dispatching step of traditional cab companies with location-based data capabilities, Uber et al. have cornered that competitive edge.
Second, these companies invest in technology but stay capital light by relying on assets that are already owned by the independent providers they partner with: Cars, bikes, houses and apartments. This low barrier to entry for service providers—no pricey taxi medallion to buy or hotel to maintain— results in the greater supply that drives down costs for consumers and thereby renders these services more desirable.
Finally, these companies are able to use technology to turn what I’ll call “serendipity” into operating efficiencies. Theoretically at least, Lyft drivers or Postmates couriers accept jobs close to where they already are when the job comes up. Jobs are done more quickly, which means that workers make more money in less time and customers are more satisfied.
While a variety of industries have one or more of these features of providing time-sensitive services, possessing the option to rely on shared assets, and capitalizing on serendipity, I believe three more traditional areas especially ripe for mobile-enabled disruption are healthcare, staffing and banking. Watch these spaces if you’re looking for the next company to have its “Uber moment.”
Pioneers in telemedicine are improving access to care for patients who live in underserved areas or who can’t otherwise travel to their doctor’s offices. Startups like American Well and Doctor on Demand offer live video doctor visits via mobile app for a relatively small patient fee, and they’re starting to gain momentum in part by making inroads to employer-sponsored plans. These services might be especially valuable in the arena of mental health, where on-demand offerings are growing and a shortage of face-to-face appointment availability means that patients are often unable to get the timely help they need to avoid crisis.
Many of today’s contingent workers find project-based “gigs” and other short-term work using mobile workforce platforms like Upwork, Fiverr and the company I co-founded, Gigwalk. The rise of such platforms has changed the game not just for independent workers, but also for HR departments and staffing agencies, which must now bolster their technological capabilities to stay competitive. The employers of today want to work with staffing partners who can anticipate and meet constantly and rapidly shifting staffing needs. The day when the average staffing agency employee wakes up and glances at an app on her phone to get that day’s work location and assignment is closer than we think.
Brick-and-mortar and online-only banks alike have been quick to offer mobile apps that let their customers check balances, transfer funds and deposit checks from their phones, but there’s still room for innovation in the key area of cash transfer. While mobile apps like Venmo and Circle let users send or receive cash instantly via text at no charge, we still haven’t seen this capability offered at large scale and integrated with other banking services. The area is ripe for players who can wrap these services together at a low price point.
Just like EBay changed the garage sale to a large-scale virtual goldmine in the ’90s as it used the Internet to match far-flung buyers and sellers, mobile is causing another wave of disruption that will reward a new crop of innovative players. Wherever they emerge from, they promise to further ease the “life on-the-go” that is our 21st century reality.Share this post via: